ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Carolina no longer appears to be a formidable foe to the Denver Broncos in the quarterback market.
The Panthers could even become a friend.
By acquiring starting quarterback Sam Darnold from the New York Jets, Carolina sent the message it either doesn’t like quarterback prospects Mac Jones, Trey Lance or Justin Fields enough to trade up from their No. 8 overall draft position to take one of those three, or it didn’t think any of those QBs would be available if it stayed at No. 8.
There are five top QBs who have been identified in this draft. The top two are spoken for – Trevor Lawrence is going No. 1 to Jacksonville and Zach Wilson is going No. 2 to the New York Jets. The San Francisco 49ers will use their No. 3 overall pick on a QB, whether it be Jones, Lance or Fields.
The Broncos have the No. 9 overall pick. With Carolina seemingly out of the way, only Atlanta with the No. 4 pick seems to be between the 49ers and Broncos for the fourth-best QB available.
The other teams between Atlanta and the Broncos – Cincinnati at No. 5, Miami at No. 6, Detroit at No. 7 and now Carolina at No. 8 – are not expected to be in the QB market as they each have young, top 5 draft picks at that position. Broncos general manager George Paton will need to be on alert, though, as multiple teams behind him in the draft – most notably No. 15 New England, No. 19 Washington and No. 20 Chicago – could also make trade-up plays for a QB.
With Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson apparently off the trade market as he takes on a new lawsuit for alleged misconduct seemingly every day, the Broncos seem to have four options to upgrade their QB position for 2021:
1. Acquire either Gardner Minshew, Teddy Bridgewater or Nick Foles in a trade.
Minshew will lose his starting job when Jacksonville selects Lawrence, Bridgewater is available after Carolina acquired Darnold and Foles can be had after Chicago signed Andy Dalton. Acquiring one of these veterans would be for the purpose of competing with Broncos’ incumbent starter Drew Lock for the No. 1 job in 2021. The Broncos would not be expected to include Lock in a trade package involving any of those three QBs.
However, acquiring one of these three veteran QBs would not preclude the Broncos from also drafting a QB with their No. 9 pick.
2. Draft Justin Fields or Mac Jones
Trevor Lance is a raw project who make more sense at No. 3 for the 49ers – who are keeping veteran incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo – than the Broncos, who need QB improvement in 2021. Lance is a tremendous talent with enormous upside but who also needs to practice for most of this season before he plays.
Fields is considerably more physically gifted than Jones. But Fields would probably need a read-option, college-type offense to suit his skill set while Jones might be a better fit for Pat Shurmur’s system in Denver.
The Broncos may have trade up from No. 9 to get Fields or Jones. If the Broncos somehow wind up with either Fields or Jones, they could then either keep him with the idea he would be the starting quarterback to open the season. Or they could trade him with the idea Fields or Jones would be ready to start game 1.
3. Sign Alex Smith
This is the only available veteran still available on the free agent market who could serve as Lock’s backup and mentor.
4. Acquire either Minshew, Bridgewater, Foles or Smith AND draft Fields or Jones
Wouldn’t that be something.