ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When Sean Payton benched Russell Wilson — a football decision for the coach, an economic one for the quarterback — it represented a glimpse into the future and the Broncos’ ugly past.
As Jarrett Stidham took his first snap last Sunday vs. the Chargers, he became Denver’s 13th starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired following the Super Bowl 50 victory. Stidham delivered modest numbers — 20 of 32 for 224 yards, almost identical to Wilson’s statistics vs. the Chargers three weeks ago — and pleased Payton with his poise, calling it “calm and collected.”
Stidham understands the importance of this week, though he is downplaying his role.
“Getting the ninth win for this team, it would be the first winning season since I don’t know how many seasons (2016). It’s a big deal,” Stidham said. “We want to end the season the right way. Look, I am not looking at it as an audition or anything like that. I have a certain job to do, a certain thing to do on each and every play. And ultimately, we have to go out there and win.”
Payton wants a quarterback, it appears, who makes quick reads at the line of scrimmage, climbs the pocket and throws on the schedule. Stidham boasts those traits, but is he the answer moving forward? Or did Wilson’s demotion trigger another slippery slide into quarterback purgatory?
Forgive Broncos Country if the past frightens them. Of the 13 starters since Manning, only three have a winning record. Even Brock Osweiler’s terrific temp duty in 2015 (5-2) was muted by his 0-4 return in 2017. Those on this list represented hope, but only Siemian and Wilson held the job for two seasons:
QB or not QB, That is the Question
- Trevor Siemian, 13-11: Missed playoffs by one game in 2016
- Paxton Lynch, 1-3: Never found comfort outside of the shotgun formation
- Brock Osweiler, 0-4: Had lost confidence when he returned to Broncos
- Case Keenum, 6-10: Looked like the backup he had always been
- Joe Flacco, 2-6: Neck injury and the conservative offense were not a fit
- Brandon Allen, 1-2: Received a cameo but melted down in Buffalo
- Drew Lock, 8-13: Terrific potential but turnovers hurt him in the eyes of staff
- Jeff Driskel, 0-1: One game audition went off the rails with sacks
- Brett Rypien, 2-1: A trusted backup with a high IQ but not a starter
- Phillip Lindsay, 0-1: Started COVID-19 game vs. Saints in Wildcat formation
- Teddy Bridgewater, 7-7: Showed flashes but concussions took a toll
- Russell Wilson, 11-19: Rebounded after the 2022 disaster but not enough for Payton
- Jarrett Stidham, 1-0: Has good feet and profiles best for timing passing attack
Stidham receives another opportunity on Sunday, with coach Sean Payton driven to post a winning season. Can Stidham force his way into the mix for next year? Or will the Broncos chase a veteran in free agency or a quarterback in the first round?
The free agent class is not brimming with names, but there are interesting possibilities. Would the Broncos make a run at Baker Mayfield if he does not return to Tampa Bay? Mayfield has rebounded like Dennis Rodman in Tampa Bay this season and could return. Geno Smith’s three-year, $105 million contract last offseason figures to serve as the floor in contract talks. Sources believe Mayfield would be open to playing for Payton if Tampa Bay does not keep him, but would the Broncos make the money work after paying Wilson $35.4 million in dead cap to not play for them?
Kirk Cousins, 35, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, limiting him to 18 touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games. The Vikings are expected to push hard to keep the veteran. So while he is technically an option, there is no guarantee he will leave Minnesota.
That brings into focus reclamation projects like San Francisco backup Sam Darnold and New Orleans No. 2 Jameis Winston, who played for Payton. Will the Broncos make a run at one or both to create competition? Darnold is on his third team in four years, never living up to the hype as the third overall pick in the 2018 draft.
The Broncos figure to pick in the middle of the first round regardless of Sunday’s result. It makes drafting a future starter a little tricky. It will likely require moving up, but how far? Would the Broncos shove all their chips into the center of the table – and possibly cornerback Pat Surtain II – for the chance to draft USC’s Caleb Williams? The cost would be enormous, including multiple first-rounders. North Carolina’s Drake Maye and LSU Jayden Daniels are projected to go in the top 5 as well. Could that trio become a target?
And what about the most intriguing quarterback, Washington’s Michael Penix? He suffered injuries in his first four college seasons at Indiana, including two ACL tears and an injury to his left throwing shoulder. But the 23-year-old continues to make Sunday throws for the Huskies and looks every bit a franchise quarterback if a team is comfortable with his medical info at the combine next month.
Other options include Oregon’s Bo Nix and possibly Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, whose draft projection remains scattered.
For now, Stidham gets his chance. He remains focused on his team first.