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Sean Payton not forcing Broncos QB addition


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There have been 23 quarterbacks come off the market the past seven days. None wound up with Broncos.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo — What does Sean Payton know that we don’t?

Does he have his eyes on two quarterbacks in this year’s draft, one in the first, another in, say, the fifth?

Is he waiting out free-agent quarterback Ryan Tannehill to lower his asking price? Does he believe Jarrett Stidham is the guy to go along with a first-round quarterback selection?

What we have come to know about Payton is he’s not afraid to be deliberate. He showed this right away last year with the slow hiring of his coaching staff.

Payton became the Broncos’ head coach on Feb. 3, 2023. He didn’t decide on Vance Joseph as his defensive coordinator until three weeks later. Rex Ryan, Matt Patricia and Sean Desai were also interviewed for the DC job.

Quarterbacks coach Davis Webb, running backs coach Loy Ayeni, senior defensive assistant Joe Vitt and pass rush specialist Jamar Cain were hired several weeks later.

And now Payton is taking his time picking out a No. 2-type quarterback with a chance to compete for No. 1. After releasing Russell Wilson, the Broncos have just two quarterbacks, Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci. Stidham has started four games through his first five NFL seasons with two coming at the end of last season. DiNucci spent all of last season on the Broncos’ practice squad.

While it would be a surprise if the Broncos didn’t parlay their No. 12 overall draft pick into a quarterback – either by trading up from 12, trading back or staying put – they figured to also add a quarterback with starting experience.

Yet, 23 quarterbacks have gone off the market in the past seven days and the Broncos have yet to bring one to Denver. There have been 20 free-agent or would-be free-agent quarterbacks who signed in the past week. All but Baker Mayfield, Brandon Allen, John Wolford, Easton Stick and Josh Johnson changed teams. Another three starting quarterbacks were traded to teams where they will no longer be a starter – Mac Jones, Justin Fields and Sam Howell.

The Broncos had interest in free-agent Sam Darnold, but didn’t get into a bidding battle with the Vikings. I’m told the Broncos could still add a veteran quarterback but the pickings are slim. 

The trade market is down to the Jets’ Zach Wilson and maybe the Cowboys’ Trey Lance, the Titans’ Malik Willis and/or the Saints’ Taysom Hill.

No doubt, eating $53 million in dead-cap money from Wilson’s contract — 21 percent of the total team payroll — was a factor in this Broncos’ offseason where more good players left than came in.

Free agency still has Tannehill, Josh Dobbs (who played well against the Broncos last season) and Trevor Siemian (who had 11 touchdown passes against just 3 interceptions in six games for Payton’s Saints in 2021.)

While Broncos Country grows anxious by the day about its quarterback situation, Payton hasn’t forced the issue. It’s Stidham and the No. 12 overall draft pick. And wait some more to see what happens.

 Backup QB market

Last year, the backup quarterback market was led by Jacoby Brissett at $8 million, Taylor Heinicke at $7 million per year, and then Stidham, Andy Dalton and Marcus Mariota at $5 million.

This year, the backups were led by Dalton at $10 million, followed by Brissett again at $8 million, then Tyrod Taylor and Mariota at $6 million.

So a bump in backup quarterback pay.

Deflated trade market

But I was stunned at how little teams were willing to give up in terms of trade compensation for starting quarterbacks.

Jones, a rookie Pro Bowler and first-round pick with 42 starts in three seasons, was only worth a sixth-round pick?

Justin Fields, a three-year starter and first-round pick who flashed excellence at times even if he’s mistake- and sack-prone, could only generate a sixth-rounder that can maybe convert to a fourth? Sam Howell, a 16-game starter for Washington last year and still on his fifth-round rookie contract for two more years, was only good for third-round compensatory pick value?

And then Chargers receiver Keenan Allen was dealt for no more than a fourth-round pick. And to think some thought the Broncos should have got more for Jerry Jeudy. Not true. Considering the Chargers only got a fourth rounder for Allen, the Broncos did well to get a fifth and a sixth-round pick from Cleveland – fourth-round value – and shed a $12.987 million salary in return for Jeudy.

Market surprises

Every year, there’s a stunner in free agency. He got how much? To me, the most stunning free-agent signings were Carolina signing two offensive guards, Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, to a combined $153 million with a combined $89.215 million in guarantees.

Hunt got the third largest contact ($100 million) in free agency, after quarterback Kirk Cousins ($180 million) and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins ($110 million). Lewis got the 9th largest deal ($53 million).



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