Broncos executive vice president John Elway opened his season-ending media briefing by declaring Tim Tebow the team's starting quarterback. But what 2011 proved is that such pronouncements are anything but permanent.
Twelve months ago, Broncos executive vice president John Elway said that Kyle Orton was the Broncos' starting quarterback. But whenever he was asked about the subject, Elway carefully added qualifiers such as "right now" and "if we had to play a game tomorrow."
The wording is different with Tebow this year; Elway said he is the "starting quarterback going into training camp." Beyond that, nothing is assured.
"I think Tim's done a great job to earn respect and definitely have that role for next year. But competition drives greatness," said wide receiver Eric Decker. "I think going into next year at each position, I don't know if anyone's guaranteed anything."
That doesn't mean Elway doesn't hope the best for Tebow. If he flourishes, he solves a problem that has dogged the Broncos since Elway walked away from his playing career as a back-to-back Super Bowl winner: the lack of a franchise cornerstone quarterback -- which they appeared to have with Jay Cutler after the 2008 season before then-coach Josh McDaniels dealt him to the Bears.
"Anytime you can get a franchise guy that can be your guy for 10 to 12 years, that's what you want as an organization," Elway said. "We're so hopeful that Tim's that guy."
In an eventful 2011, Tebow managed to affirm the beliefs of both his legions of supporters and detractors. His believers cited his 8-5 record (including playoffs) as the Broncos' starting quarterback, his league-playoff-record 15.5 yards per attempt in the Jan. 8 playoff win over Pittsburgh and the six second-half rallies he led from October through December, including three comebacks from double-digit deficits.
His skeptics were quick to note his elongated throwing motion, his late-season proclivity for giveaways -- five fumbles lost and five interceptions in the last five weeks of the regular season -- and his scattershot 46.5 completion percentage, which was the worst for a quarterback with at least 250 passes since Cincinnati's Akili Smith in 2000.
"We talked about the improvement that Timmy was able to make with mechanics at the quarterback position," Elway said. "So we're looking forward to having this offseason with him and there's no question we've got to get better in that area, and he realizes it, too."
But Tebow will be joined in the quarterback room by some new faces. Adam Weber is the only other quarterback currently under contract for 2012; the University of Minnesota product spent his rookie season on the Broncos' practice squad. Tebow's backup in 2011, former Cleveland first-round pick Brady Quinn, is set to become an unrestricted free agent and is expected to test the market, since he hasn't thrown a pass in two seasons with the Broncos.
"It's a two-sided decision and he's a guy that impressed me throughout the year," Broncos coach John Fox said. "We'll see where that goes. It's the usual dating process."
Broncos general manager Brian Xanders made the radio-station rounds during his trip to Indianapolis for Super Bowl XLVI and said in one interview "there's at least 13 good (quarterback) prospects on our board" for the upcoming draft, but added that the team will explore both the free-agent and draft markets to bolster the position. To that end, the Broncos talked to quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl last month; San Diego State's Ryan Lindley, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden all confirmed that they spoke with the Broncos in Mobile, Ala.
The type of quarterbacks the Broncos pursue could illuminate the plans they have for their 2012 offense. If Denver scours the free-agent market for backup passers like Tampa Bay's Josh Johnson or Pittsburgh's Dennis Dixon, it could signal a head-first commitment to expanding on the shotgun-centric, zone-read option-intensive game plans that defined most of Tebow's 13 starts last season. If they look to traditional drop-back reserve passers such as Atlanta's Chris Redman or Chicago's Josh McCown, then it could signal a move toward the type of traditional, power-based offense Fox had with the Carolina Panthers.
The former might be the best option for Tebow right now. The latter might be the best play for Tebow's long-term prognosis, since he will have to successfully execute a more traditional scheme at some point to consolidate his position.
"One thing about him, you can't expect him to regress any, and I know he's going to work to be better and be the best he can be," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "So, I think the guy has a good shot to be a good quarterback in this league."
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