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Raiders-Broncos: What is Denver going to do at quarterback?

Five questions with Mile High Report ahead of the season finale

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos
Russell Wilson, Jarrett Stidham
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With both teams eliminated from the playoffs, the Las Vegas Raiders and Denver Broncos will be battling it out for pride during this Sunday’s Week 18 matchup. So, this week’s game preview will focus more on the offseason, and Mile High Report’s Ian St. Clair was kind enough to answer a few questions about the future of the Broncos for Raider Nation, sponsored by DraftKings Sportsbook.

Question: After giving up a haul to trade for him just two offseasons ago, it kind of seems like the Broncos are making a hasty decision to move on from Russell Wilson. Also, he has decent numbers. So, is this a situation where Wilson is being made the scapegoat to a certain extent, and/or Sean Payton just wants to bring in “his guy”?

Answer: This is an instance where numbers don’t tell the whole story. There’s no question that Wilson has been better this season. And his statistics compare with Patrick Mahomes. That’s pretty good. The problem is Wilson has been far from consistent.

There have been so many missed plays because of Wilson’s lack of confidence that cost Denver in key moments and games. Far too often this season Wilson disappeared when the Broncos needed him to play like a quarterback deserving of close to $250 million. Wilson failed to do that.

This season came down to four games for Denver, and in all of them, the Wilson-led offense made a late rally. But had Wilson played consistently and not disappeared in large stretches of those games, the Broncos would have won two of them and would still be alive for the playoffs. If not the AFC West.

All you have to do is look at Week 17 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Jarrett Stidham put up numbers similar to Wilson’s. The difference is Stidham makes $5 million a year.

Q: Building on that, who are the early favorites to be the starting quarterback in Denver next season? And is former Raider Jarrett Stidham auditioning for the job or just a placeholder for the time being?

A: My gut tells me Stidham is a placeholder who could return next season as a backup. As for the next Broncos starting quarterback, I would put the early favorite on a rookie. Who that rookie is remains to be seen. Perhaps Michael Penix Jr. Perhaps Bo Nix. Whether those guys are still available … I have no idea.

Could Payton and Denver move up even higher in the NFL Draft for one of the bigger-name QBs? I wouldn’t rule it out, especially if Payton has a QB he really likes.

The next option is a veteran like Baker Mayfield, whom Payton reportedly had a heavy interest in heading into the 2018 Draft. Mayfield is on a one-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so that is an option for Denver as well. Though, as I said, I’d put a rookie as the favorite to be the next starter in 2024.

Q: Beyond quarterback, is there an offseason move that you think the Broncos would or should make that might surprise people?

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
Davante Adams, Pat Surtain II
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

A: Denver should look to trade receiver Jerry Jeudy. Even if it’s for a seventh-round pick. If they can’t get that, they should release him. That might surprise some outside of Broncos Country, but he’s a bust. I’d say Jeudy is a jag, but that’s an insult to jags.

I just threw out the idea of the Broncos moving up in the Draft to select a bigger-name quarterback. One way they could do that is by including cornerback Pat Surtain II in a deal. There’s no question that a move like that would surprise people.

Q: What do you think the Broncos’ biggest needs are going to be in the spring? Will they be in reload mode where they go after big-name free agents or rebuild mode and look to build up through the draft?

A: Let’s start with the defense first. Edge rushers must be a top priority. Along with depth along the defensive line. I’d also like new middle linebackers, but I’m not sure how Payton ranks that position on a level of importance.

On offense, playmakers at receiver and tight end. Whomever the Broncos bring in to play QB, Denver needs to have playmakers for them to throw to. Denver will need to make a decision on center and right guard as well.

The Broncos should be in reload mode. In Payton’s first year, they have the potential to improve by four wins with basically the same roster that got Nathaniel Hackett fired. Let Payton put his stamp on this team with the players he wants and fit his system, and this is a playoff team … depending on who Denver pegs at quarterback, of course.

Q: This game will decide who gets second place in the AFC West, so some pride is on the line. But, do you think the Broncos care about that, or would you take the Raiders as 2.5-point favorites on DraftKings Sportsbook?

A: This franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 2016. That’s the season after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50. Some players on the roster have never experienced finishing a season above .500. So I think Denver wants to win this game. I know Payton wants to win this game. The Broncos also want to end their losing streak to the Raiders. They ended the streak against the Chiefs earlier this season, so why not do so against Las Vegas?

The key to this game is Maxx Crosby. The offense has no shot if Denver can’t or doesn’t block him. But my gut tells me the Broncos get the win.