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Exploring every option at quarterback for Sean Payton and the Denver Broncos if the team moves on from Russell Wilson

Zac Stevens Avatar
January 15, 2024

In only a matter of weeks, or potentially even days, Sean Payton and the Denver Broncos will make their decision on the future of Russell Wilson.

After Payton benched Wilson entering Week 17, it’s more likely than not that the Broncos will move on from the 35-year-old quarterback and go a different direction at the most important position in sports.

If that’s the route the Broncos go, they will, once again, be on a search to find their next quarterback to pair with Jarrett Stidham.

Here are all of the options that could be available to the Broncos.

NFL Draft

Tier 1

  • Caleb Williams, USC
  • Drake Maye, North Carolina
  • Jayden Daniels, LSU

In order to land one of these quarterbacks, the Broncos would have to trade into the Top 5 of the draft, costing them at least their No. 12 pick and an additional first-round pick, if not even more.

Tier 2

  • Michael Penix Jr, Washington
  • Bo Nix, Oregon
  • J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

The Broncos could draft one of these three quarterbacks with the 12th pick. However, if they want to guarantee a specific one among this group, they might need to trade up a few picks. There is also a chance that one of these quarterbacks falls significantly past 12.

Later rounds

  • Michael Pratt, Tulane
  • Spencer Rattler, South Carolina
  • Jordan Travis, Florida State
  • Sam Hartman, Notre Dame
  • Joe Milton, Tennessee
  • Austin Reed, Western Kentucky

None of these quarterbacks would be a Day 1 starter for Sean Payton. This route would make sense if the team decides to bring Wilson back for an additional year. In that scenario, one of these quarterbacks could develop under Payton for a season or two before taking the starting job.

Free Agency

Big-money quarterbacks

  • Kirk Cousins, Vikings
  • Baker Mayfield, Buccaneers

Dream on. With the roughly $80 million in dead cap the team would have after moving on from Wilson, the Broncos simply do not have the cap space to afford either of these quarterbacks.

Competing to start

  • Gardner Minshew, Colts
  • Jameis Winston, Saints
  • Jake Browning, Bengals
  • Joe Flacco, Browns
  • Sam Darnold, 49ers
  • Ryan Tannehill, Titans
  • Marcus Mariota, Eagles
  • Drew Lock, Seahawks

Any of these quarterbacks would have an opportunity to grab the starting job in a competition with Stidham. Flacco, Mariota and Tannehill would likely represent a short-term answer at the position, while the rest would have an opportunity to be the team’s long-term answer if they played well.

Backups

  • Mason Rudolph, Steelers
  • Jacoby Brissett, Commanders
  • Joshua Dobbs, Vikings
  • Tyrod Taylor, Giants
  • Tyler Huntley, Ravens
  • Easton Stick, Chargers
  • Carson Wentz, Rams

If Denver were to sign one of these players, it could be bad news for Stidham as they would likely be his replacement as the team’s backup quarterback.

Trade

Instant starter

  • Justin Fields, Bears
  • Kyler Murray, Cardinals
  • Daniel Jones, Giants

Murray and Jones would simply be too expensive for the Broncos. Fields, however, would represent a very talented quarterback that Payton could help continue to develop. The biggest question with Fields is would he fit what Payton is looking for in a quarterback?

Competing to start

  • Geno Smith, Seahawks
  • Sam Howell, Commanders
  • Jimmy Garoppolo, Raiders
  • Kenny Pickett, Steelers
  • Mac Jones, Patriots
  • Andy Dalton, Panthers

If George Paton made a move for one of these players, they would have a chance to be the Week 1 starter in what likely would be another training camp quarterback competition.

Developmental quarterback

  • Zach Wilson, Jets
  • Trey Lance, Cowboys
  • Taylor Heinicke, Falcons
  • Desmond Ridder, Falcons
  • Mike White, Jets
  • Kyle Trask, Buccaneers
  • Malik Willis, Titans
  • Nick Mullins, Vikings
  • Tyson Bagent, Bears
  • Bailey Zappe, Patriots

Any of these players would be a project for Payton to attempt to develop into the team’s starting quarterback moving forward.

Veteran backup

  • Case Keenum, Texans
  • Mitchell Trubisky, Steelers

Keenum and Trubisky would simply be a replacement for Stidham as the team’s backup quarterback.

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