DENVER -- The auditions begin on Christmas Eve.
It’s as if the Broncos have created their own reality show in the tradition of "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Voice."
"The Broncos Next Greatest Starting Quarterback Search," the show should be called.
On Dec. 24 outside Washington, D.C., Kirk Cousins, a potential viable candidate for the Broncos QB job in 2018, will hold a major tryout in front of God, John Elway, #BroncosCountry and the entire Denver franchise.
But, the actual first aspirant could be on display Friday.
Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen said he expects to play in, forgive me, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22 in Boise. Allen may not, though. He missed the Cowboys’ last two regular-season games because of a shoulder injury. Allen says he is "90 percent" healed. If the Cowboys hadn't lost both those games he missed, they probably would have been invited to a more prestigious bowl.
Before the season, Allen was listed by one national draft website as the No. 1 QB in the NFL draft class. But he produced a sub-par season, then was hurt. Allen still is considered a mid-to-low first-round, or high second round, choice. And he likely is on the Broncos’ radar. A decision to play in the bowl and risk his draft status is not a good idea.
Former Broncos backup quarterback, quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and head coach Gary Kubiak is in charge of studying all the contenders. After stepping down following the 2016 season, Kubiak returned to the Broncos before this season as some sort of super scout. His task was to rate the top 50 or so college players, probably concentrating much of his attention on quarterbacks; he was also tasked with looking at possible free-agent quarterbacks and other position players.
Kubiak always has on his resume that he "discovered" Terrell Davis and, to a lesser extent, Trevor Siemian. Kubiak recommended Davis to Mike Shanahan as a low-round draft choice after the running back’s career at Georgia had been interrupted by a serious knee injury, and he never really reached stardom. The Broncos drafted T.D. in the sixth round. Of course, Davis became a major reason the Broncos won two Super Bowls, adding a running dimension to Elway’s passing, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
Siemian was a virtual unknown at Northwestern, failing to become a full-time starter until his senior year, then tearing up his ACL late in the season. He wouldn't have been drafted, but Kubiak wanted to take a chance on Siemian in the final round. And he has been the Broncos’ starter off and on, and off again, for good and bad, the past two seasons.
Can Kubiak help the Broncos get a great quarterback again?
Oddly enough, the Broncos will be playing against two Futures in the final games – Cousins first, then Alex Smith in the last game at home. Both will become unrestricted free agents. Cousins will be a popular choice for several teams (including his current team) around the league, Smith not quite. Cousins will command $150 million, or more, in a long-term contract. Smith can anticipate a three- or four-year deal for about $60-$70 million. Smith will be 34 next season, Cousins a more attractive choice at 30.
Broncos loyalists will get to see Cousins on TV against their team, and 70,000, or fewer, can watch Smith up close on New Year’s Eve.
But there are other college and pro-quarterbacks that the Broncos and their followers should pay attention to upcoming.
On Dec. 26, UCLA will play Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl, and the marquee player will be Bruins’ quarterback Josh Rosen, who has been named by almost every so-called expert as the No. 1 player in the 2018 NFL draft. Kubiak probably will pop over from Texas to Arizona for the game.
The Browns, with the first overall pick, surely won’t pass on Rosen, despite some reservations league-wide about his attitude and command. But stranger things have happened, and the Broncos might trade up in the first round. They’ve done it before. Aaron Rodgers was supposed to be No. 1 one year, and Smith displaced him, with Rodgers falling to the bottom of the first round.
Mason Rudolph will be the quarterback to put eyes on in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 when Oklahoma State meets Virginia Tech. Rudolph could be one of six quarterbacks taken in the first 40 picks. And the Broncos will be selecting in the top 10 in both the first and second round.
USC plays Ohio State, in a powerful, must-see matchup of two teams who missed the playoffs on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl, and Sam Darnold of the Trojans will be The View To A Thrill. Darnold probably should return for another year of college seasoning, but has indicated he won’t. And the Broncos certainly would be interested if he lasted to their draft place, which is falling with every victory.
Next up in the Taxslayer Bowl is Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman winner, going against Mississippi State on Dec. 30. He must be a Broncos’ possibility.
And, in the Rose Bowl, which is the national playoff semifinal, Oklahoma will play Georgia. This year’s Heisman winner, Baker Mayfield, will show his talent, and maybe his rear again, on Jan. 1. He is the highest risk-highest reward QB in the draft. Johnny Manziel or Johnny Unitas? He’s got to be high on the Broncos’ draft board.
The Broncos also can continue to research and keep up with unrestricted free agents Case Keenum and Sam Bradford (both of the Vikings), Drew Brees (Saints) and Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers). However, Keenum, in all likelihood, probably will re-sign with Minnesota, Brees with New Orleans and Garoppolo, who has won three straight as a starter, with the 49ers.
It could be Cousins or Bust for the Broncos.
And there’s Paxton Lynch.
Coach Vance Joseph, most of us felt, would announce Monday that Lynch would be the starter for the last two games. Instead, Joseph postponed his, or Elway’s decision, until later in the week – presumably because they want to find out how his ankle progresses at a couple of practices. I still think Lynch will start. And they need to know if he has any chance of developing into a starting quarterback here.
Let the auditions begin.