A funny thing happened during TebowMania.
Kyle Orton responded beautifully. And he was rewarded for it.
In a surprise move, the Denver Broncos announced Thursday night that Orton was given a one-year contract extension through the 2011 season. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting it is a $9 million extension and $5.5 million of it will be guaranteed. That’s solid money. Orton was a restricted free agent this year and he was set to be a free agent after the 2010 season.
It means Orton will be the starter for two more years and Tim Tebow’s starting career will likely be delayed until the 2012 season. It was assumed that Tebow would take over for Orton when he left. Now, Orton is leaving Denver a year later, at the earliest.
Orton is no longer a lame-duck quarterback this season. All the credit goes to Orton, a career-long afterthought who was a throw-in when the Broncos traded Jay Cutler to Chicago last year. He played very well and was an early-season NFL MVP candidate before suffering an ankle injury, which essentially derailed Denver’s season after it started 6-0.
Still, this offseason, Denver traded for Brady Quinn and drafted Tebow. It was clear the Broncos didn’t think Orton was the future. However, instead of pouting or going in the tank, Orton responded professionally. He signed his tender early and was a star of the offseason. He had a terrific training camp and he threw two touchdown passes in a limited role in the preseason opener at Cincinnati last week.
If Denver has a chance to surpass expectations this season, it will be because of Orton.
It’s nice to see Denver reward him. He did everything he was supposed to do. This extension gives both the player and the team some insurance. Orton now knows he’s not a one-and-done player and Denver knows it has a veteran presence to start 2011 if need be.
Right now, I’d say the odds are high are that Orton will be the starter in Denver in 2011. He wasn’t given $9 million to be a backup. Denver can always cut him if he struggles in 2010, but that won’t happen because of the big guaranteed money. So, Orton has two more years as Denver's starter.
That, of course, will likely delay the start of Tebow’s starting career.
Does this mean Tebow has been a disappointment so far? No, it just allows him to grow at his own pace. There is no fast timetable or pressure on anyone -- Tebow or the organization. It has been clear to the team that Orton is much further along than Tebow, so the team gave itself some insurance.
Tebow still has a long way to go to show he can be an effective starter. His throwing motion clearly still needs refining and he has to work on his footwork. But this Orton extension is not a statement by the Broncos that it thinks drafting Tebow was a mistake. It that was the case, Orton, 27, would have been given a much longer extension.
That, of course, could happen down the road if Tebow shows he’s not ready to take over. For now, Tebow will be given the chance to grow at a fair pace and he will be used in red zone and special formations as a rookie. If Quinn continues to falter and Tebow makes strides, Tebow will likely be Orton’s backup fairly soon.