‘Heavy Expectation’ Broncos Draft QB In First Round

Operating with Rams-level disregard for first-round picks over the previous two offseasons, the Broncos traded three Round 1 selections in the Russell Wilson and Sean Payton swaps. The team does not have a second-round pick this year as a result of the latter move. As quarterback-needy teams’ draft arsenals are stacked up, the Broncos’ war chest is limited.

Denver holds the No. 12 overall pick, and while it retains its first- and second-rounders beyond this year, Minnesota and Las Vegas are in better position regarding draft capital. Both the Vikings and Raiders also identified clear bridge options for 2024, with Sam Darnold and Gardner Minshew coming off the free agency board early. This certainly leaves the Broncos with work to do, unless they truly are OK with Jarrett Stidham starting a sizable chunk of the 2024 season.

Teams are obviously monitoring the Broncos as a team interested in a QB, and the Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora indicates a heavy expectation exists the AFC West club will draft a passer at some point in Round 1.

Options to do so would range from trading up — and parting with a major asset package — to making sure either Bo Nix or Michael Penix Jr. comes to Colorado via a No. 12 investment. Option three would involve attempting to both grab one of those passers later in the round while picking up some assets by moving down. It could be a complicated night for the Broncos, who are set to eat more than $50MM of Wilson’s record-setting $85MM in dead money this year.

It cost the 49ers two future first-round picks and a third-rounder to move from No. 12 to No. 3 for Trey Lance in 2021. For the Broncos to consider a similar package to climb into the top three would shove them into Rams territory. While Los Angeles famously did not made a first-round pick from 2017-23, that team reaped rewards for the bevy of moves out of Round 1. The Wilson trade burned the Broncos, and making another big move because the 2022 swap failed would deprive the franchise of opportunities to add high-end talent at low costs. Given the dead money from the Wilson contract, the Broncos need cost-controlled assets — even though they also need a quarterback.

On this note, NFL.com’s Peter Schrager adds the team would love to move into the top four to draft a QB but, due to the cost of such a move, stops short of predicting they will do this. Denver also possesses needs at cornerback opposite Patrick Surtain and perhaps at edge rusher.

Unless the Broncos want to entertain a Surtain trade — something one GM informed La Canfora they could be willing to do, given the rumblings at the 2023 trade deadline — future draft capital would need to be used to climb up the draft board. The Broncos are eyeing a long-term Surtain extension, and they wanted at least two first-rounders for the All-Pro cornerback in the fall. A separate GM, however, said the Broncos were more likely to hang onto Surtain due to Payton not viewing this as a long-term rebuild project.

Both the Broncos and Vikings were mentioned as having done early work on QBs (with regards to moving up) back in February, but Minnesota acquiring No. 23 overall from Houston has led to far more buzz on the NFC North team moving up. Still, a recent offering from ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler reveals multiple teams believe the Broncos or Vikings could loom as destinations for J.J. McCarthy. The Michigan alum looks to have rocketed up the draft board during the pre-draft process, impressing at his pro day after winning a national championship.

A fit in Payton’s scheme points to the Denver tie, Fowler adds. McCarthy could be the target for teams outside the top four, with the Cardinals making it known they are willing to trade down. It would cost the Broncos at least one future first and perhaps two. That will be a big decision to make, as Payton’s choice to re-enter the coaching ranks would see a radically adjusted arc if the team he ended up with sacrifices more future firsts as his tenure takes shape. The Broncos did host McCarthy on a “30” visit this year.

While Payton famously said the Saints were eyeing Patrick Mahomes as a Drew Brees heir apparent in 2017, a move to secure the Broncos a potential long-term option — unless the Nix ties prove genuine — could be quite costly. This will be an interesting team to watch in the coming days and once the draft starts.

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