Broncos' QB options beyond Tebow
If Elway's not sold on status quo, his best bet might be free-agency/trade market
After a six-game winning streak, Denver Broncos QB Tim Tebow has hit a slump. He has completed only 40.5 percent of his passes during a three-game losing streak in which he has thrown for 439 yards and had seven turnovers.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, he was 6-for-22 for only 60 yards in a 7-3 loss.
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Tebow's 7-4 record as a starter and guaranteed base salary assure he will be back next season, and he most likely will enter camp as the starter. Elway isn't going to give up his search for a new quarterback; the question is how he's going to get one.
Because they made the playoffs, the Broncos will draft 21st, which means they won't have any chance to get Andrew Luck of Stanford or Robert Griffin III of Baylor. If Elway doesn't warm up to the idea of using his first-round pick on Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M or Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State, he will have to look to free agency or trades.
Matt Flynn of the Green Bay Packers is an attractive option, but his price tag went up after a 480-yard performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 17. Even though he has had only two starts with the Packers, Flynn's arm strength and ability to command a huddle could vault him into the $12 million-a-year price range if teams think he can be the long-term answer. We've seen the Houston Texans trade for Matt Schaub and give him $8 million a year after only two starts with the Atlanta Falcons. Kevin Kolb landed $12 million a year after the Arizona Cardinals traded for him. He had only seven starts with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Elway might be willing to spend the money if he feels the right player fits the long-term needs of the Broncos. If Flynn isn't the answer and the first round of the draft doesn't work, there are 36 potential free agents to study, most of them short-term answers.
Kyle Orton's not going back to Denver. Drew Brees eventually will re-sign with the New Orleans Saints, so count him out. I'm wondering whether Elway would look to Vince Young or Jason Campbell as veterans who could at least challenge for the job.
Chad Henne might also be an option at a reasonable price.
Tebow won plenty of fans in Denver, but Elway still has to be the watchdog for the Broncos' quarterbacking fortunes, only in a different role than he had as a player.
From the inbox
Q: The Broncos managed to back into the playoffs which, to be entirely honest, I never expected to happen heading into the season. Unfortunately, the rest of the league seems to have figured out Tim Tebow and John Elway has to be wondering again if another QB may be the answer after all. Even with the playoff berth, are the Broncos going to be among the teams trying to talk the Colts into trading the No. 1 pick, or do they maybe even try to deal with the Rams or Vikings to move up and grab RG3 at the draft?
Brian in Orlando, Fla.
A: No chance. They don't have enough ammunition to trade up to the top three picks. They either have to settle for a lower-rated quarterback such as Tannehill or Weeden or sign a veteran. Tebow earned the chance to enter camp as the starting quarterback next year, but unless he improves his throwing accuracy, he will always be a quarterback looking to be replaced. Tebow might have won over Elway for this year but not for the long term. Elway knows his mission is to find the long-term answer at quarterback. He won't rest until he finds that answer.
David in Atlanta wonders whether Falcons management will address the problems on defense with a new scheme or new coordinator. I don't see a lot of change, but I would suggest going to more man coverage. The Falcons got carved up the times they used too much zone. Tony in Lafayette, La., wants my favorite to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although it's too early to predict accurately, I think Mike Sherman, the former Green Bay coach, is the leading candidate. Ryan in Kingston, Mass., asks whether Giants coach Tom Coughlin saved his job by beating Dallas in Week 17. I'd say yes. Now, Coughlin, whose contract runs out after 2012, will seize a one-year contract extension at more than $5 million a year. A follower of my elite quarterback list, Andy in Columbus, Ga., shortened his elite quarterbacks to Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton. He dropped Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Michael Vick. Manning is an incomplete because of his health, but I'm still willing to keep Vick and Rivers elite because, despite having off seasons, they are still big-time producers. We'll do our end-of-the-season elite review soon. Ryan in Tempe, Ariz., is pushing Jim Schwartz for consideration for NFL Coach of the Year honors. Jim Harbaugh improved the 49ers by seven games. No one else did better than five. My vote stays with Harbaugh, but that doesn't minimize the great job done by Schwartz, who improved the Lions by four games. Alex in Merrick, N.Y., can't understand why the Jets don't run the ball more because of their problems with pass protection. He hit on the reason the Jets are likely to go to a different offensive coordinator. The blame goes more to the play calling than to Mark Sanchez, I agree. Conell in New York can't figure out why the Bills struggled after a 5-2 start. The reason is simple. They didn't have the depth to handle the loss of players to injuries. The Bills made great progress this year, but their margin of error dropped when they suffered injuries. Rob in Providence, R.I., makes a bold statement: "How long and how hard have the Chargers been kicking themselves for letting go of Drew Brees because if they haven't been, they should be.'' Believe it or not, the Chargers haven't looked back. They still like Rivers more than Brees even though Brees has one Super Bowl ring and a chance at another.
Q: I was wondering if you are ready to put Jay Cutler back into the elite category of quarterbacks. I think the Bears' extreme dip in production after he got injured showed just how good he's been.
Larry in Chicago
A: I'm not ready to do it yet, but I could if the right circumstances are present. Remember, I had him as an elite quarterback in his final season in Denver. He threw for more than 4,000 yards that year (2008). What hasn't happened in Chicago is the Bears' offense putting up enough points to get him back into the elite category. So much of the scoring success of the Bears is sparked by defensive and special-teams scores. Cutler continues to move closer to getting back. He helped get the Bears to an NFC title game. He was 7-3 this season before he broke his thumb. But, no, I'm not ready to return him to the elite category yet.
Q: Why did Matthew Stafford get snubbed by having Eli Manning being chosen ahead of him in Pro Bowl voting? He wasn't even a first or second alternate? He had 10 more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Manning, almost as many yards and he has more victories than him, too.
Brian in Detroit
A: Fascinating question. Stafford is still gaining respect despite his 5,038-yard season. He finished as the third alternate behind Manning, Cam Newton and apparently Tony Romo. In the fan voting, Manning was fifth behind Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Newton and Stafford. Players and coaches voted Manning over Newton and Stafford, but remember, Manning had an MVP-type season. Stafford will get his support eventually.
Q: Joe Flacco has taken a noticeable step back in his development and his inconsistency is alarming. The Ravens have done nearly everything to help him. How can they fix this offense? Is a new coordinator needed or a new QB?
Jon in Frederick, Md.
A: Sure, the stats have regressed. Things have regressed from the look of the passing offense on tape. But accept the fact that the Baltimore Ravens have moved forward. For the first time under Flacco, they won the AFC North. That's a step forward. Second, they have a great chance of going to the AFC title game as the No. 2 seed. What if they beat the New England Patriots and end up in the Super Bowl? How much change would you want if they get that far? Think about it for a second.
Q: With Andrew Luck going No. 1, Matt Barkley not coming out and uncertainty about the status of Landry Jones and Robert Griffin III, would it be better for the Redskins to try to trade for Mark Sanchez or Sam Bradford, or focus on upgrading the talent around Rex Grossman?
John in Silver Springs, Md.
A: The best move is to work a trade to get Griffin. The Rams' No. 2 pick would be their best target. There is a good relationship among the teams, so they probably could work out a deal. Bradford isn't going to be traded. Clearly, they can't go back to Grossman. They need to get a franchise quarterback to build around.
Q: Have we seen what Reggie Bush will be in the future? He finally got a chance to be the feature back and he ran for 1,000 yards. After ripping him for everything, you've barely mentioned his best season.
Michael in Norwalk, Conn.
A: Don't look to me as a Bush critic. Last week, I did an Inside the Huddle note on how Bush was the winner in the New Orleans shuffle in which the Saints traded Bush and landed Darren Sproles. Both teams won, but Bush was the winner because he finally proved he could be a 1,000-yard back. When he wasn't getting the yards and carries in New Orleans, I always noted his value as an explosive threat who had to be defended. Right or wrong, I've been a Bush defender. This year with the Miami Dolphins, he showed a lot of good things.
Q: With Anquan Boldin out with a knee injury that was serious enough to require surgery, wouldn't it make sense for Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens to sign Derrick Mason back? I know D-Mase can be a bit of a diva, but if you need 5 yards on third down I think Mason would do better than any of our other receivers. Plus, he knows Cam Cameron's system.
Derrick in Hanover, Pa.
A: They also know Boldin too well. He came back quickly from a bad facial injury last year. He was back on the field practicing less than two weeks after knee surgery. Boldin was almost ready to play in Week 17 after missing one game. They knew they could get by without him for a week or two. Now they'll have him for the playoffs.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN