Broncos, Sean Payton must pull off unprecedented QB move in 2024

Will the Broncos draft a QB in 2024?

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Candice Ward/GettyImages
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Finding a franchise quarterback in the NFL is difficult. For the Denver Broncos, it's been an impossible task over the last eight years.

The Broncos have never successfully drafted and developed their own quarterback in franchise history, although you could technically make an argument for John Elway. Elway was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, but he's no more a Colt than Eli Manning is a Charger. But even if you give that one to the Broncos, when has this franchise ever had great success in the NFL Draft at the quarterback position?

In modern NFL history, there are really no examples of it. In 2006, the Broncos drafted Jay Cutler, and Cutler made a Pro Bowl by the end of his third season...only to be traded to the Chicago Bears when Josh McDaniels gutted the roster.

In 2010, the Broncos used a first-round pick on Tim Tebow, and he's the only "drafted" quarterback in franchise history to win a playoff game.

The 2016 NFL Draft brought Paxton Lynch to Denver in the first round, but he was a last resort option after the team tried and failed to complete a trade to acquire Colin Kaepernick that same offseason.

There have been other drafted quarterbacks in semi-recent years, including Brock Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft and Drew Lock in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, but every quarterback I just listed is every QB the Broncos have selected in the top two rounds of the NFL Draft in the 21st century.

And for head coach Sean Payton, selecting a quarterback in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft would be a first. When he was with the Saints as the team's head coach, Payton never used a pick in the top two rounds on the quarterback position. Ever.

Broncos general manager George Paton took a couple of swings with the Minnesota Vikings when he was the right-hand man for GM Rick Spielman, using first-round picks on Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater, but that was it.

What do the Denver Broncos (as a franchise), Sean Payton, and George Paton all have in common?

The retread quarterback has been the most fruitful option.

The best quarterbacks the Denver Broncos have had post-John Elway are free agent acquisitions Jake Plummer and Peyton Manning.

The primary QB for Sean Payton when he was head coach of the New Orleans Saints was free agent acquisition Drew Brees.

The best quarterback move George Paton made with the Vikings was signing free agent Kirk Cousins.

The path to success for all three -- individually -- has been the veteran retread. But in order for the Broncos to get back to prominence starting in 2024, I think there's almost zero question about the fact that they have to draft a quarterback, and do it in the first round.

I'm typically not on board with this type of thinking, because you really have to love a quarterback to take him in the first round. And I still believe that to be the case, but is it possible that both Sean Payton and George Paton have been a little too gun-shy when it comes to drafting QBs early on?

George Paton had the chance to take either Justin Fields or Mac Jones in his first year on the job in Denver, and he opted for Pat Surtain II instead. Not a bad decision in the long run, but a lot of people hated that process by Paton because of the potential, at least in the case of Justin Fields.

Sean Payton was rumored on numerous occasions to have fallen in love with prospects late in Drew Brees's career, but never made the move to go up and get them. He reportedly really liked Patrick Mahomes, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Mac Jones in the pre-draft process.

But the reality is, if the Broncos are able to successfully draft and develop a quarterback, it will be a first in modern franchise history. It will be a first in Sean Payton's history as a head coach. It will be a first for general manager George Paton.

Why is it so important that the Broncos draft a guy? Well, look at the final eight teams alive in the 2024 NFL playoffs:

  • Chiefs: Used 1st-round pick on Patrick Mahomes
  • Bills: Used 1st-round pick on Josh Allen
  • Ravens: Used 1st-round pick on Lamar Jackson
  • Texans: Used 1st-round pick on CJ Stroud
  • Packers: Used 1st-round pick on Jordan Love
  • 49ers: Used 7th-round pick on Brock Purdy
  • Lions: Have former #1 overall pick Jared Goff
  • Buccaneers: Have former #1 overall pick Baker Mayfield

Out of the final eight teams in the 2024 NFL playoffs, five used their own first-round picks to acquire their starting quarterback. Seven of the eight have former first-round picks at the helm, and the only two teams that didn't draft their own QB have recent former #1 picks in that seat.

The 49ers' situation and circumstance is extremely rare bordering on unprecedented, but you get the point here.

The Broncos simply haven't used proper draft capital at the QB position, nor have they properly identified the right players coming up from the collegiate level. Drew Lock is the last QB the Broncos drafted. Yes, they took a big swing on Russell Wilson in the 2022 offseason, but Denver's lack of draft assets utilized at the game's most important position over the last 3-4 years is really outrageous.

George Paton hasn't used a single one of his picks on the QB position.

Knowing what we know, it's not all that easy on the part of Broncos Country to trust the brain trust with making this decision. All of the Broncos, Payton, and Paton have done a good job of finding a QB at one point or another and building around them, which does give everyone hope that the future could be bright, but the path to sustained success in today's NFL seems obvious. There's no cookie cutter formula for finding the right guy, other than utilizing the NFL Draft.

Sometimes you may strike gold with the Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Matthew Stafford-like moves. But as we've seen in the case of Russell Wilson, the quick fix is not always going to work out the way you hope or expect.

The 2024 NFL Draft has a number of intriguing potential first-round prospects, including players like Jayden Daniels, JJ McCarthy, Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr. who could realistically be available to the Broncos with the team's first-round pick. It will be hard for Broncos fans to stomach the team passing on all of those guys and seeing any one of them have success elsewhere in the league.

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The evaluation from Payton and Paton this offseason has to be on point. They cannot miss when it comes to the QB position. That's a lot to ask, but George Paton himself said that finding franchise corners is harder to do than finding franchise QBs these days. Since he found a franchise corner with the first pick he ever made, finding a QB shouldn't be so hard, should it?

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