BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Kirk Cousins was walking briskly through the packed hallways at the Mall of America when his marketing handlers and mall security escorted him through a forbidden, back-room tunnel that led to a VIP-only lounge and service elevator.

Cousins stopped quickly to chat with Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota, then announced to his people they had two minutes to get to his next appointment. (He had been doing appointment-only radio and TV appearances to promote Bose, but otherwise Cousins, or at least his handlers, were not permitting interviews to those not on his marketing team's schedule.)

Dropping the name of his agent Mike McCartney gave the 9NEWS reporter, who had been trailing the Cousins entourage, a brief opening.

You’re big in Denver, Cousins was told.

“I’m going to keep my eyes and ears open to anything and open,’’ Cousins said in a friendly manner after pushing the elevator button and waiting for the enormous bank to arrive. “I’m in the information-gathering stage at this point.’’

The elevator arrived, Cousins, wearing a Tar Heel-blue sweater over a dress shirt, moved quickly to the rear. His handlers gathered around him.

Hope Denver shows interest?

“I would hope any team is interested and would love it if Denver is interested,’’ he said.

There you go, Broncos fans. Three days after it became apparent Cousins would become the most coveted quarterback in free-agency, the Broncos are somewhere on his shopping list.

Had the elevator been like all those other elevators and took forever to arrive, there could have been another Bronco-related question or two.

As it is, it was February 2 and free agency doesn’t begin until March 14.

Cousins’ status as a free agent became a foregone conclusion when his team, Washington, acquired veteran quarterback Alex Smith in a trade on Tuesday. Washington surrendered a second-round draft pick, and one of the league’s best young cornerbacks, Kendall Fuller, in exchange for Smith.

A steep price. Cousins is also expected to command perhaps the richest contract in NFL history, a multiyear deal that may well exceed the $26.5 million a year average quarterback Matthew Stafford receives from Detroit.

Besides the Broncos, the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills are also expected to show interest in Cousins, who has averaged 27 touchdown passes against just 12 interceptions in his past three full seasons as a starter.

Cleveland, Miami, Jacksonville, Minnesota and the New York Giants are other teams with uncertain quarterback situations.