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Jarrett Stidham has opportunity, but Broncos plan to add another veteran quarterback, GM George Paton says

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Broncos don’t know who all will be riding in their quarterback car in 2024, so Sean Payton’s not handing out seat assignments just yet.

Jarrett Stidham’s entering his second year with the club. If the Broncos played tomorrow, he’d be the starter.

A quick check of the calendar, though, shows 166 days until Sunday of Week 1. And Denver’s quarterback room is going to look different one way or another by then.

“(Stidham) is definitely competing to be the starter,” Payton said Monday. “I don’t think we have a term ‘driver’s seat,’ really. But he is going to compete for that position. I know he’s anxious and excited to do that.

“And I’m sure there will be other candidates that he’ll be competing with.”

In fact, the Broncos still expect to add a quarterback via free agency or by trade in the coming days or weeks, general manager George Paton said.

Denver did its homework on many of the free-agent quarterbacks, but hasn’t signed one so far. Nor did the club trade for Sam Howell (Washington to Seattle), Justin Fields (Chicago to Pittsburgh) or Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh to Philadelphia).

“We didn’t just want to add one to add one. Then you multiply your problem,” Paton said. “There were some quarterbacks we liked, it just didn’t work out. That’s a part of free agency. We’ve looked at the trade market.”

The free agent list has dwindled to the likes of veterans Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz and Trevor Siemien. The potential trade market at various price points could include Cincinnati’s Jake Browning, the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson or lesser-known backups like Green Bay’s Sean Clifford.

“We’re still in the quarterback market,” Paton said. “We like ‘Stiddy’ but we’re going to add. We’re not panicked. We won’t play games for a while.

“We feel like we’ll add a veteran and we’ll see about the draft.”

The free agents who came off the board did so at strong numbers despite mostly going to expressly backup jobs. The pair that have better chances to start — Sam Darnold in Minnesota and Gardner Minshew in Las Vegas — got $10 million for one year and $15 million guaranteed over two years (up to $25 million), respectively.

Two potential reasons for the robust numbers: The salary cap jumped up more than $30 million over 2023 and the extent to which back-ups were relied upon during the 2023 season.

“I think it’s probably a little bit of both,” Paton said. “It was probably more about the cap going up, I would assume. It’s all relative. The cap goes up, everyone is happy, but you’re spending more for players. The backup quarterback market was elevated. That’s just part of free agency.”

The Broncos, then, head for the draft with nobody in the driver’s seat at the game’s most important position.

It would come as a surprise if next month’s draft ended and the Broncos hadn’t drafted a quarterback and also signed a veteran.

Denver’s brass, though, made it clear that they don’t want to add somebody just to do it. And they don’t believe Stidham, who carries a $7 million cap number in the second and final season of his contract, has reached his peak yet.

“I just don’t think we’re there,” Payton said. “Generally speaking, I do think that’s something that the fans and the media and the coaches probably arrive there within a week or two of each other. But in fairness to him, I’m anxious to see where (is) that spot where we say, ‘OK, that’s it.’

“I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

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