KUSA — The Denver Broncos have a meeting scheduled with Mike McCartney -- the agent who represents quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Trevor Siemian and Senior Bowl MVP Kyle Lauletta -- in Indianapolis this week, 9NEWS has learned.
According to NFL rules, McCartney and Broncos’ general manager John Elway can talk about Siemian and Lauletta all they want. Siemian is expected to be trade bait in the coming weeks. Let’s talk about this, guys.
Lauletta is the Richmond quarterback who in the college all-star game last month lit up Vance Joseph’s South secondary for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 8 of 12 passing.
But with all due respect to Siemian, an overachieving, 2015 seventh-round draft pick who became Denver’s starting quarterback the past two seasons, or Lauletta, a projected mid- to late-round draft pick in late-April, they are afterthoughts in the Broncos’ offseason plans.
If the Broncos are to jump from 5-11 AFC West doormat to 10-6-ish playoff contender in 2018 and legit Super Bowl contender in 2019, they must land Cousins.
Signing Cousins would surge bolts of enthusiasm into Broncos Country. Signing a quarterback other than Cousins would deliver diminishing jolts of excitement.
Case Keenum? Yeah, sure, fine. He’d move the needle. He is no doubt a playoff-caliber quarterback. There is some doubt as to whether he’s good enough to take a team all the way.
AJ McCarron? He’s got the potential to become a playoff-caliber starting quarterback – and not just a fill-in playoff starter as he was at the end of the 2015 season. Such a projection, though, requires a small hop of faith.
Sam Bradford or perhaps Tyrod Taylor if he is released by the Buffalo Bills? They’d be nice, short-term solutions as Paxton Lynch continues to develop.
But if there is one quarterback who can quickly transform the Broncos from a top 5-draft team to top-12, period, it is Cousins.
Tampering rules prohibit Cousins from coming up when Elway and McCartney meet as part of the NFL Combine schedule that runs Tuesday through Monday. If that sentence just caused NFL observers to chuckle or cough, one other prominent NFL agent said Combine gatherings have increasingly become more greet than meet.
Consider also the NFL’s free agency “soft opening” doesn’t open until March 12, or almost a week later than usual, and Combine meetings between teams and agents may not get much past the preliminary stage.
Soon enough, it won’t matter how or when deals get done. Only that they do.
Here’s a look at the quarterbacks who figure to be on the Broncos’ radar as they approach this week’s Combine, understanding that in some cases, they may be moving targets:
Kirk Cousins, Washington
In his three full seasons as a starter, Cousins has averaged 4,392 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions for a 97.5 passer rating.
Those numbers make him a top 6 NFL quarterback. Not top 10. Top 6.
Only guys named Brady, Brees, Wilson, Ryan and Rodgers outperformed Cousins statistically the past three seasons.
Because multiple teams are expected to be interested in the prolific passer from Michigan State and the nation’s capital, the bidding process figures to land Cousins at minimum a five-year, $140 million contract ($28 million per year).
And no one would be surprised if his contract reaches $150 million, or $30 million a year. Or that 70 percent of his contract winds up fully guaranteed at signing.
For that kind of dough, it would be understandable if Elway wonders why Cousins, for all his impressive passing stats, was only 18-18-1 in his three seasons with Sean McVay as his offensive coordinator (2014-16).
Then again, the Broncos must approach the Cousins’ bidding as if they’re underdogs. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for Elway and head coach Vance Joseph to tell McCartney the Broncos’ problems in 2017 were all about the quarterback. Has it been mentioned McCartney also represents Siemian?
What Elway can sell is that of all the potential suitors for Cousins – a group that figures to include the New York Jets, and possibly the Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins – only the Broncos’ front office team has proven that given a franchise quarterback through free agency, they can build a Super Bowl-winning roster.
See the Peyton Manning signing in 2012, followed by arguably the most impressive four-season stretch in Broncos’ history.
The pursuit of Cousins assumes Washington will not use a franchise-tag prank and allow him to make a clean break to unrestricted free agency.
Case Keenum, Vikings
The Vikings are not expected to place a $23.5 million franchise tag on Keenum, who is coming off a career-best season after five underwhelming years with the Texans and Rams.
The estimated market for Keenum is between $18 million and $20 million a year. While that’s a more affordable rate than Cousins, Keenum also doesn’t have the physical tools normally aligned with top 10 quarterbacks. Even if Keenum was the league’s 7th-ranked passer in 2017.
Adding Keenum would give the Broncos more budget room to address other positions of need. It may also be a factor that Elway front-office lieutenant Gary Kubiak was the former Houston coach who gave Keenum his first NFL job.
AJ McCarron, Bengals
His market figures to come in between $16 million and $18 million a year. McCarron was only a fifth-round draft pick after an incredible, successful run at Alabama and he looked good when he has played in the NFL.
He just hasn’t played much -- four starts total, one in the postseason, in four NFL seasons. At 27, McCarron is two years younger than Cousins and 2 ½ years younger than Keenum.
But how much better is McCarron than the Broncos’ 2017 QB crop of Siemian, Lynch and Brock Osweiler?
Sam Bradford, Vikings/Tyrod Taylor, Bills/Josh McCown, Jets
One of these quarterbacks would be the fallback plan if the Broncos can’t land Cousins, Keenum or McCarron.
Each would come in between $10 million and $15 million a year, which has its advantages. Each would also make sense if the Broncos really believe Lynch can become their starting quarterback later in the 2018 season, or 2019.
Bradford, Taylor nor McCown should dissuade the Broncos from choosing their quarterback of the future with their No. 5 draft pick.
Bradford’s career has been marked with huge contracts and disappointing production mostly caused by knee injuries. But he still can flick it.
Taylor has one year and $16 million left on his contract with the Bills. It’s unlikely the Broncos would want to trade for a quarterback and surrender a draft pick when there will be so many available that don’t require compensation. So the Bills would likely have to release Taylor before the Broncos consider pursuing him.
Taylor would be the best match with Lynch if Broncos’ offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wants to go heavy with a run-pass option system in 2018. Taylor and Lynch run the ball better than most quarterbacks.
McCown, who turns 39 on the Fourth of July, would be another bridge-starter option to Lynch or the No. 5 overall draft pick. McCown's agent, by the way, is Mike McCartney. Good, bad or indifferent, McCartney and Elway figure to get know each other better this offseason.
Nick Foles, Eagles
The backup QB/Super Bowl MVP has one year and $7 million left on his contract. He may become available for trade, but unless the Eagles would take, say, a third-round draft pick in return, the Broncos shouldn’t consider him.
And according to former GM Bill Polian, the Eagles shouldn’t hold trade discussions with Foles unless there were two, first-round and two, second-round draft picks in the proposal.
Which is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous than believing a team can get a Super Bowl MVP for a third-round draft pick.
Baker Mayfield/Josh Allen, No. 5 draft pick
Ideally, the Broncos sign Cousins or Keenum and trade back from No. 5 to land potentially a later first-round pick and another in the second round. Something like that.
A franchise quarterback and two starting players. Boom. The Broncos are fixed. Download your paperless playoff tickets.
But let’s say Cousins signs with the Jets, Keenum re-signs with the Vikings and McCarron likes the idea of having nowhere-to-go-but-up with the Browns.
The No. 5 overall draft pick is not a bad fallback plan. No. 5 might be a little rich for the 6-foot Mayfield, but the Broncos can easily fall in love with his fiery leadership and ability to throw intermediate routes accurately and make plays with his legs.
And any team who passes on Allen will wince. His physical ability is by far No. 1 among the quarterback prospects. He is big, agile, strong-armed and personable.
He has the skills to become an all-time great. Accuracy and decision-making, though, are concerns. Allen would need a year or two of polish and the Broncos need to get better yesterday.
The Broncos also like Sam Darnold, who seems to be the consensus No. 1 quarterback because of measurables, arm strength, athleticism and experience of playing under pressure. Turnovers are a concern.
Elway, his top wingman Matt Russell, Joseph and Kubiak have likely already settled on a plan for upgrading their quarterback position and team overall. They can reinforce, or tweak, their plan during NFL Combine week.
Executing the plan, though, is still two weeks away.