3 QBs Denver Broncos should pivot to with QB position in crisis mode

With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signing quarterback Baker Mayfield to a three-year contract extension, quarterback options for the Denver Broncos are dwindling.

Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears
Denver Broncos v Chicago Bears / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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After the Denver Broncos won Super Bowl 50, a mass exodus of talent and leadership sent the team's winning culture into a tailspin. As their locker room deteriorated, so did their on-field performance. Denver finished the 2022 NFL season with a 5-12 record. It was their sixth consecutive season with a losing record and their third season with five or fewer wins since 2017. The Broncos entered that offseason knowing they needed change.

Head coach Sean Payton made his expectations clear when he arrived at Mile High Stadium.

"I'm going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team," Payton told Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY Sports.

In Payton's first year as head coach, the Broncos finished with an 8-9 record — their best season in seven years. Still, they were not a playoff team, and Payton — true to his word — is pissed off.

In the past week, the Broncos front office tore apart the team's roster. Denver released aging quarterback Russell Wilson, whose acquisition and contract extension will be remembered as one of the worst in league history. Then, the team spent the next four days clearing $47 million in salary cap space. The Broncos released safety Justin Simmons and tight end Chris Manhertz, restructured deals with right tackle Mike McGlinchey and wide receiver Tim Patrick, and traded wide receiver Jerry Jeudy to the Cleveland Browns.

Despite the $85 million in dead money from Wilson's release, the Broncos will enter the free agency market with roughly $30.5 million in salary cap space.

On top of their shopping list? A quarterback who can operate Payton's complex offense.

The quarterback options in free agency are limited, and they're getting scarcer by the day. Kirk Cousins, the most coveted free agent quarterback, is likely to return to the Minnesota Vikings or head to the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was the next best option, but he signed a three-year, $100 million contract extension with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Here's a look at the best remaining options for Payton and the Broncos.

3. Jameis Winston makes sense as a stopgap for Broncos

Previous team: New Orleans Saints
Age: 30
Stats: 80 career starts, 22,104 passing yards, 141 touchdowns, 99 interceptions

Could Sean Payton reunite with former New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston or has he seen enough of Famous Jameis? Payton coached Winston for two years in New Orleans.

“He’s a tremendous teammate and worker," Payton said of Winston in 2022. "The two years we were together were fantastic."

In 2021, Winston threw for 1,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in seven starts before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 8. During their time together in 2021, Payton was impressed with Winston’s ability to break out of a sack and find an off-schedule throw — a trait that Wilson lacked during his time in Denver.

“He’s strong in the pocket," Payton said. "He’ll climb out of something, he’ll come out of a sack and find a throw off-schedule, maybe. Occasionally he would keep it and he’d have these long steps where he would gain 14 yards. There would be, in every game, two or three of these extended plays.”

While Payton found success with Winston, the quarterback has been prone to making bad decisions under pressure, and he surely doesn't provide a long-term solution for Denver. At this point in Winston's career, there isn't much upside for growth — he is what he is. Winston also hasn't started more than 10 games since the 2019 NFL season, his final year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whether it was due to injury or performance.

Probability: ■■■■■■□□□□ 60%
Grade: ■■■□□□□□□□ 30%