Since Peyton Manning sailed off into the sunset after winning the 2016 Super Bowl, the Broncos have featured a who's who of starting quarterbacks every other NFL team has been happy to avoid. They've come to Denver in the form of first-round picks and overpriced free agents and undrafted free agents and, most recently, fresh off the practice squad a few months removed from working in sales.
No, it hasn't been a pretty five seasons under center for the Broncos, and despite preseason optimism that they found their long-term man in Drew Lock, he has proven to be another extension of the problem rather than the solution.
So what's a team with talent at every other key position except the most important one in football to do? Based on the way things are set up now, the best bet for the man in charge, John Elway, is to revert to what's worked best so far during his tenure as Broncos general manager.
This offseason, Sam Darnold and Matt Stafford are expected to be available on the trade market and Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Fitzpatrick will be free agents. While the Broncos recently struck out overpaying for Joe Flacco to start in 2019, their best chance to quickly improve the quarterback position is through a trade or in free agency, the latter of which is the only successful method under Elway's guidance.
Manning was signed as a free agent in 2012 and led the Broncos to two Super Bowl appearances and the aforementioned win that allowed him to retire a champion. Outside of that, they've overpaid for Flacco, over-drafted Paxton Lynch, and started guys who no other team would dream of starting again (Trevor Siemian, Case Keenum, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Brandon Allen and Kendall Hinton). Lock is in his second year after being drafted by the Broncos in the second round, but with 13 interceptions and five fumbles in nine games this season, it's clear he isn't the answer.
With the Broncos and Elway in win-now mode given their recent struggles and tenuous ownership situation, and the likelihood of them landing one of the top quarterback prospects in next year's draft slim based on their current draft position (10th pick), the only option for Elway to fix their problem is to dip into the pool of veteran quarterbacks. I wrote a few weeks ago why Stafford should demand a trade to Denver and Darnold is an interesting option too. The Broncos met with him in the lead-up to the 2018 draft even though they had no shot of selecting him and the prevailing belief around the league is Darnold will improve away from the Jets.
As for the free agents, Fitzpatrick and Brissett make the most sense. Both have big arms and like throwing deep. That lines up with the strengths of the Broncos' wide receivers. They also would likely be coming in on short-term, prove-it deals. Prescott would be a dream acquisition for Denver, but the Cowboys are expected to sign him long-term or could slap the franchise tag on him a third time. There is the chance of a sign-and-trade, but that seems unlikely.
Regardless of whether Elway trades for a veteran or signs one in free agency, all signs point to that being their primary path forward to improving at the quarterback position. With the temperature of his seat getting hotter by the second and the likelihood the Broncos sell the team sooner than later, Elway might only have one more shot to do this in Denver. As with most people, he'll go with what he knows to make things right.