As the Broncos head into their bye week sitting at 3-6, their preseason goal of making the playoffs seems like a pipe dream. While still mathematically possible, Denver faces long odds when it comes to putting together an extended winning streak that would result in a trip to the postseason.
That being the case, the remainder of the season has to turn into an evaluation period. The Broncos have to use the last seven games of 2019 to get some answers for 2020 and beyond.
There are a number of questions that need to be resolved. Does it make sense to offer Chris Harris Jr. and/or Derek Wolfe a new deal when they hit free agency? Is Justin Simmons worth a big contract? Should the franchise pick up the team option on Von Miller’s mega-contract? Is there a spot for Garett Bolles on Denver’s offensive line? Etc.
But the No. 1 question, as it seemingly has been since the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50, remains the same: Who will be the starting quarterback?
At least three players figure to get an audition this season. Joe Flacco started the first eight games of the season, Brandon Allen made his debut last Sunday and Drew Lock is expected to get a shot in December. So they have a leg up in the competition.
But that trio is far from the only candidates for the job. From free agency to trades to the draft, there are many quarterbacks who could land in Denver.
Here are the top-15 options to be the Broncos starting QB in Week 1 of 2020:
15. Jameis Winston – The first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft seems to be nearing the end in Tampa Bay. Despite having a QB-friendly head coach in Bruce Arians, Winston is currently enduring the worst season of his five-year career, including a league-leading 12 interceptions. He’s immensely talented, so a change of scenery seems in order. In Denver, his mobility would be a nice fit.
14. Jacob Eason – At 6-foot-6, 227 pounds, Eason is the prototypical NFL quarterback. Since leaving Georgia after losing his job to Jacob Fromm due to injury, he’s shined at Washington. This year, Eason has thrown 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions, while amassing nearly 2,300 yards. Eason has a big-time arm, with the ability to make every NFL throw, which will make him an intriguing prospect.
13. Andy Dalton – The Bengals are moving on from the veteran quarterback, turning the page this year to rookie Ryan Findlay and positioning themselves near the top of the 2020 NFL Draft to make any of the rookie prospects an option for the future. Dalton will be entering his 10th season next year, so he still young enough for another chapter of his career. With a 68-58-2 career record, as well as 197-112 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he’s a proven QB.
12. Tom Brady – Arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time, there are rumblings that Brady won’t be back with the Patriots next season. If that’s the case, Broncos fans are hoping he’ll follow in the footsteps of Peyton Manning for his second act. Brady will turn 43 in August, but doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit. It’d be a short-term fix, but two to three years of Brady would solve a lot of issues in Denver.
11. Eli Manning – He’s been benched in New York, as the Giants have moved on to Daniel Jones. Now, the question becomes whether or not Manning will want to keep playing in 2020. He’ll be a free agent, giving him a lot of options. His brother found success in Denver, so perhaps the ties to the Mile High City will lure another Manning to Denver.
10. Tua Tagovailoa – If he was on the board when the Broncos were on the clock, it’d be hard for John Elway to pass on the Alabama quarterback. That said, it’s unlikely that’ll happen, as Tagovailoa will most likely go No. 1 overall in the draft and the Broncos look unlikely to finish with the worst record in the NFL. Would Elway trade away other assets to move up for the ultra-talented QB who is a proven winner? Perhaps.
9. Cam Newton – Since leading the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, Newton has been plagued by one injury after another. This year, a foot ailment limited him to appearances in just two games. And there’s a good chance that it’ll ultimately end his time in Carolina, as the team most likely won’t want to pay him the $18.6 million he’s owed in 2020. If healthy again, Newton would be an intriguing option for any team, including the one that beat him in the Super Bowl.
8. Justin Herbert – Another prototypical quarterback at 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds, Herbert will be a high pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Elway has seen him play in person, making many assume there’s an interest in the Oregon signal caller. His big-play ability is intriguing, as Herbert has the arm strength to make any throw. But there are some worries about his inconsistency, which is most likely the result of playing for multiple head coaches during his time in Eugene.
7. Brandon Allen – While the numbers weren’t spectacular, Allen’s NFL debut was certainly reason for optimism. He looked perfectly suited to run Rich Scangarello’s offense, demonstrating an ability to make throws on the run, as well as escape pressure. If he shines in the coming weeks, especially during road games at Minnesota and Buffalo, Allen will jump up this list with each passing game.
6. Joe Burrow – The LSU quarterback can throw from the pocket, as well as on the run, while also bringing an ability to make plays with his feet that will be attractive to NFL teams. Of all the college quarterbacks atop this year’s draft, Burrow looks the most like where the league is going at its most-important position. He’s a multi-faceted talent, in the vein of Russell Wilson. In Scangarello’s offense, those skills would be a perfect fit.
5. Joe Flacco – The current Broncos quarterback is still under contract for next season, so there’s still a good chance that he’ll be back next year. If Denver misses or passes in free agency, and doesn’t like any of the options available when it’s their turn to make a pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, they could very well decide that sticking with the veteran signal caller gives them the best chance for success next season.
4. Jake Fromm – At only 6-foot-2, Fromm wouldn’t have been a top prospect in years past. But given the way the NFL is going, with shorter quarterbacks achieving success, the Georgia star is shooting up draft boards. Why? Because he has the moxie that teams love. In big games, Fromm answers the bell, showing the type of leadership skills that will make him a solid NFL quarterback.
3. Teddy Bridgewater – After starting just one game since his Pro Bowl campaign of 2015, Bridgewater found new life this season in New Orleans, filling in for Drew Brees when the future Hall of Fame quarterback went down with injury. In five starts with the Saints, Bridgewater has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’ll be a hot commodity on the free-agent market, with Denver certainly an interested party.
2. Nick Mullens – In 2018, Mullens was thrust into the starting lineup for the 49ers due to injuries to those above him on the depth chart. The young quarterback played pretty well, posting a 3-5 record, throwing for 2,277 yards and 13 touchdowns, while only tossing 10 picks. Who helped Mullens play so well despite his inexperience? Current Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello was San Francisco’s quarterbacks coach at the time, creating a link.
1. Drew Lock – Nobody has seen him play in a game yet, but Lock has a few things going for him. For one, he’s already in Denver, so he’ll be familiar with the system. Second, he has a ton of talent, which led many to believe he’d be a first-round pick in 2019. And finally, he’s not Joe Flacco. At this point, turning the reins over to anyone who isn’t a statue in the pocket will be seen as an upgrade in Broncos Country.
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