Payton not stressing over Broncos' QB situation

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Since releasing quarterback Russell Wilson earlier this month, the Denver Broncos haven’t signed a replacement nor improved their draft position to give them a better chance to select their next franchise player at the position. That inactivity might have created a level of concern for the fan base, but speaking Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting, coach Sean Payton made clear that the acquisition period is far from complete.

“I would rather the angst be now than in September and October,” Payton said.

Six NFL teams have signed free agent quarterbacks who could serve as 2024 starters, but the Broncos have stood pat with 2023 backup Jarrett Stidham. Payton said “we weren’t just going to sign a quarterback to sign one” and clarified that the franchise has reached no conclusions on Stidham’s potential as a future starter. He said it’s “realistic” to think the Broncos could trade up from their spot at No. 12 in next month’s draft and revealed they conducted a private workout with Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy the day after his pro day.

“The draft is one element, and we’re kind of in that phase now,” Payton said. “And yet there’s still a few possibilities relative to guys that are currently in this league or have played in this league. I think that we’ve got a pretty good plan in place. We understand what we’re doing, and we’re going to be smart about it.”

The Broncos signed Stidham last year to serve as Wilson’s backup and then started him in their final two games of the regular season. Payton said those two games didn’t fundamentally adjust the team’s evaluation of him but said he is “definitely competing” to be the 2024 starter.

“I just don’t think we’re there,” Payton said of knowing Stidham’s future. “And so generally speaking, I do think that’s something that the fans, the media and the coaches probably arrived there within a week or two of each other, but in fairness to him, I am anxious to see where that spot is that we say, ‘All right, that’s it.’ I don’t think we’ve seen it yet.”

The Broncos’ decision to arrange a private workout with McCarthy, however, demonstrates they are serious about finding their next quarterback in the draft. According to Payton, team officials spent “four or five hours” with McCarthy and went through their own throwing plan.

“It’s all part of the process and it can help lead to at least a more efficient and effective decision,” Payton said.

McCarthy could go as high as third or fourth overall. While the New England Patriots might not be willing to trade out of their spot at No. 3, the Arizona Cardinals at No. 4 could be a better option, and of Cardinals general manager Monti Ossenfort, Payton said: “It’s good to be Monti in Arizona today.”

Of moving up that high in the draft, Payton added: “It’s hard to predict what that cost is, and yet I certainly wouldn’t say it’s unrealistic and we’ll pay close attention to it.”

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