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Broncos analysis: With list of free-agent quarterbacks shrinking, what’s next for Denver?

Two days into free agency, most of the quarterbacks on the market have found a home.

While Denver was not in the running for top-tier candidates like Baker Mayfield or Kirk Cousins, potential veteran options such as Sam Darnold, Jameis Winston, Gardner Minshew and Jacoby Brissett have reportedly agreed to deals with other teams around the league.

With the list of free-agent quarterbacks shrinking, could this be a signal the Broncos will be aggressive in taking a quarterback during the NFL draft in April?

Unless the plan is to stick with Jarrett Stidham, who started the last two games of the 2023 season after the Broncos benched veteran Russell Wilson, that appears to be a possibility.

Mock drafts have the Broncos linked with Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. However, his stock has risen since the NFL scouting combine, and there’s a chance he gets drafted ahead of Denver’s first-round slot at 12th overall.

While the Falcons found their answer at quarterback with the addition of Cousins on a long-term deal, the Giants and Vikings, who recently agreed to a deal with Darnold, are among several teams ahead of Denver in the draft that could use a young quarterback. If the Broncos value McCarthy, that could force them to trade up and get him.

If Denver wants to stand pat, Oregon’s Bo Nix could be available at No. 12 or later in the first round if they opt to trade back. Nix, who threw for 4,508 yards, 45 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2023, has the skill set to run head coach Sean Payton’s offense without Denver having to hinder its draft capital to get him.

Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., who was impressive at the combine, and South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler — a potential late-round option — are also options.

If the Broncos still want a bridge quarterback who can compete with Stidham during training camp, the Raiders’ Jimmy Garoppolo could make sense. After Las Vegas signed Gardner Minshew to a two-year deal, the team is expected to release Garoppolo, according to the Athletic.

Garoppolo comes with multiple red flags, however. The veteran struggled during his time in Vegas, throwing for 1,205 yards, seven touchdowns and nine picks before getting benched for rookie Aidan O’Connell in Week 9. He also hasn’t played a full season since 2019 and will be suspended for the first two games in 2024 after violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

At the same time, the 32-year-old could allow the Broncos to remain competitive amid a rebuild. An argument could also be made that he’s better than current free-agent options Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz, Mason Rudolph and Tyler Huntley.

The trade market remains an avenue to address the position as well.

Washington’s Sam Howell is an intriguing option. With the Commanders reportedly agreeing to terms with Marcus Mariota and expected to draft a quarterback with the second overall pick, Howell is a prime candidate for a new home.

Howell had his moments in 2023, throwing for 300-plus yards in five games and engineered an 18-point comeback over Denver in Week 2. However, he also threw 21 interceptions — the most in the league. Perhaps, Payton could help Howell correct the turnover issue. If so, that could change the trajectory of the 23-year-old’s career while giving Denver a quality quarterback for cheap.

A fifth-round pick in 2022, Howell has a base salary of $985,000 in 2024 and $1.1 million in 2025, according to Over The Cap.

For a team that still has $85 million in dead cap space attached to Wilson over the next two seasons, that just might be enough to prove appealing.

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