The Broncos may be playing possum with their starting quarterback situation - or they could just be playing it safe.
Executive vice president of football operations John Elway publicly announced that if the season began today, it would be veteran Kyle Orton that would be the starting quarterback - not fan favorite Tim Tebow.
The comment on the surface makes perfect sense.
Elway, new coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders have been steadfast in their support of Tebow - the person, the worker - but more lukewarm when it comes to the second-year player's preparedness to come in and start effectively in Year 2 in the NFL.
"Tim is a very good football player," Elway said at the Super Bowl. "He's not a very good quarterback yet. Hopefully we can make him a great quarterback. He's a young guy."
Orton gives Fox a game manager for which he can build a conservative attack, buttressed by a stronger running game.
Fox saw up close and personal the disastrous results in Carolina of playing a young quarterback before his time - see Jimmy Clausen. And while Tebow demonstrated moxie in three late-season appearances, Orton has the seen-it-all quality that could make for a smoother transition out of a 4-12 season.
Prior to suffering a rib injury in the San Francisco game in London, then aggravating the problem in December, Orton demonstrated a solid rapport with receivers Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd but eventually fell short of his second straight 4,000-yard passing season. It's clear Orton would relish a one-on-one competition with Tebow, but it's probably fair to say that given Orton's popularity with the fan base he'd be put in a no-win situation, regardless. Every interception, every overthrow - and yes, every loss -- by Orton would be scrutinized from outside the organization differently than one tossed by Tebow, who would be viewed as part of a rebuilding project. Orton wouldn't get that benefit of the doubt, certainly.
From another angle, it would behoove the Broncos to keep talking about Orton as a roster mainstay to keep up any potential trade value to teams needing a steadying force behind center. Arizona has been one team linked often to Orton, should he be made available. The March 4 CBA deadline will factor into whether that's even possible in the short term.
"I can only speculate, but with the kind of season Orton had, there's not going to be any issue with him switching to another team, at all, not with the way so many quarterbacks are putting their teams in compromising situations with the ball," Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd said . "Orton does not do that. He's experienced. It's going to be tough for me if he's dealt, but there comes a point in a player's career where you make a move for money or for wins. It's hard to turn back (now) ... but I feel Orton's proven and deserves a long-term contract, and as his teammate, he needs to get it whether it's with the Broncos or someone else."
Orton is due about $8.4 million in the final year of his Denver contract. In December, while Tebow took his place, he was adamant where he believed he stood in terms of his role moving forward with the team.
"If I'm going to be here, I'm expecting to be the starter," he said. "I don't think my play has warranted anything other than that. It's just kind of the way I'm looking into it. I understand as an organization you've got a lot invested in first-round picks and you want to see them play. That's how it goes."
Elway has said publicly it's Fox's call but that's a bit too narrow. The fervor that's accompanied Tebow's inclusion with the first team will be an item that certainly merits discussion among all of the team's higher-ups, including owner Pat Bowlen and COO Joe Ellis. The Broncos are seeking a reinvestment emotionally from their fans. Now that Tebow has given some of that back, it will be that much more difficult to yank away.
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