Here’s what we know: Tim Tebow is the Broncos’ starting quarterback going into training camp this summer, but with only two quarterbacks under contract — Tebow and second-year undrafted free agent Adam Weber — the Broncos are planning to add at least two more to the roster between now and then.
Here’s what we don’t know: What kind of quarterbacks do the Broncos want to add? Do they want someone like pending free agent Jason Campbell of the Raiders, a career-long starter who would want a genuine opportunity to compete for the starting job? Or do they want an older veteran, someone like 37-year-old Jake Delhomme, who has a long history with head coach John Fox and would likely be willing to accept a role as Tebow’s backup and confidant?
If Broncos’ brass knows the answer, it’s not saying.
“We’re in the process right now of going through that, going through the free agency,” John Elway said Monday on the Dave Logan Show.
“We got done with our free agent meetings today, going through the process of ranking every position, not only the quarterback position but obviously every position. So I think as we go over and discuss each position we’ll come to a conclusion of what we’re looking for at each position, whether that be the quarterback or the defensive line position. I think the bottom line is you’re always looking at a chance to try to get better and bring in somebody that is going to come in and compete and make the people they’re competing with better.”
Coach John Fox was no more forthcoming, telling the Denver Post: “Who, what, where, when, what market — it’s still way too early (to say) how we get those quarterbacks.”
Actually, it may be a little early, but not much. The NFL free agent market opens March 13 — three weeks from today. A long and varied list of quarterbacks will become free agents that day if their current teams don’t sign them to new contracts in the interim.
It begins with an impressive name that won’t actually be available. Although they’ve been talking about it for 18 months, the Saints and Drew Brees still haven’t reached agreement on a new deal. Nevertheless, Brees will be back in New Orleans next season, even if the Saints have to slap a franchise tag on him.
Alex Smith of the 49ers is in approximately the same situation. If his success under coach Jim Harbaugh last season didn’t make his return to San Francisco obvious, his decision to carry Harbaugh’s bag at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am did.
There’s also Matt Flynn, the 26-year-old Packers backup with two career NFL starts. Thanks mostly to one really good start at the end of the season, he’s about to hit the free agent jackpot, probably in Miami, where Green Bay’s former offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, is now head coach.
Then there’s Peyton Manning, who could be waived prior to March 8, when the Colts owe him a $28 million bonus. Manning will be 36 next month and missed all of last season with a neck injury. His health and arm strength remain question marks after four surgical procedures. Some team that believes it’s one quarterback away from a Super Bowl — say, the Jets — might take a shot if Manning and the Colts can’t rework their deal, but it won’t be the Broncos.
After that, the list of available quarterbacks goes downhill pretty fast. Campbell, 30, is probably the best of the lot. Like Tebow, he was the 25th pick of the draft, in his case the 2005 edition. Campbell has never been a backup, starting 70 of the 71 games in which he’s appeared, so it’s unlikely he’s signing anywhere he doesn’t have at least an even chance to win the starting job.
Also on the free agent list: Delhomme, Kyle Orton (uh, no), Brady Quinn (not if he can help it), David Garrard, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Vince Young, Kyle Boller, Dennis Dixon, Shaun Hill, Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, Charlie Whitehurst, Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson and . . . well . . . you get the idea. The usual suspects.
Tebowmania is another variable likely to cull the list. On some teams, the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town. Not on this one.
The other addition to the quarterback depth chart is likely to come from the class of 2012. The top prospects, Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, will be long gone by the time the Broncos exercise their first draft pick (No. 25). Most of the rest should be available, either there, later in the draft or in the aftermarket of undrafted free agents.
Among them: Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, Nick Foles of Arizona, Brock Osweiler of Arizona State, B.J. Coleman of UT-Chattanooga and Kirk Cousins of Michigan State.
The Broncos have to answer an interesting question here, too: Do they want a traditional pocket passer in the mold Elway prefers? Or do they want somebody on the roster other than Tebow who can run the read option? That, in turn, depends on whether they believe Tebow will progress enough as a pocket passer this offseason to render the read option a one-year experiment rather than a staple of their offense.
If they want another mobile quarterback who could run last year’s offense in a pinch, they might take a look at former Rockies prospect Russell Wilson of Wisconsin or Darron Thomas of Oregon.
In short, given the available alternatives, it’s not clear that Tebow will have any serious competition for the starting job.
With Fox entering his second year as coach, the Broncos’ emphasis remains on the defensive side of the ball, where they need help along the interior of the line, in the backfield and potentially at middle linebacker, depending on their current view of Nate Irving, the third-round draft pick last year who was unable to supplant Joe Mays as a rookie.
The many and varied Tebow-oriented debates aside, he went 8-5 as a starter last season, putting him pretty far down the Broncos’ list of immediate issues. So while the club will be adding bodies at his position, it’s looking all but certain Tebow will get a chance to build on his successes in 2011 as the Broncos’ starter in 2012.