ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As four teams played for the Super Bowl last weekend, it became painfully clear to everyone else that getting it right at quarterback can put you at the head of the NFL class.
Four teams, four homegrown franchise quarterbacks. One drafted with the third pick overall, in Matt Ryan. One taken a third of the way through the first round, in Ben Roethlisberger. And one taken late in the first round, in Aaron Rodgers. All to go with sixth-round pick Tom Brady.
It was a stark reminder to the Denver Broncos what trying to fix your quarterback problem in free agency really does.
The Broncos have two quarterbacks -- Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch -- under the age of 26. The team has said the pair will battle for the starting job in 2017. Denver has structured its offensive coaching staff with two former playcallers -- offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, a former head coach, and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave -- to train and develop its two young prospects.
“Right now, we’re going forward [with Siemian and Lynch]," Broncos vice president/GM John Elway said. “But we always look at everything. As I said earlier, we’re excited about the two young guys that we’ve got and their ability to get better. We have to get better around them, there’s no question.
“I’m excited about the quarterbacks that we have. I think we’re in a much better position now than we were, maybe not at the end of last year, when Brock [Osweiler] left and went to Houston. I’m excited about that position. Last year it was the biggest concern. This year it is not."
But among the Broncos fan base and those who stir the pot on sports radio, there is a picture worth several thousand words. It is the one with Elway and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo smiling together at a recent GOP function.
The picture, for some, has made one plus one equal $54 million -- the total of the base salaries left on Romo’s contract. The logic goes that because the Broncos scored the biggest free-agency coup in league history, signing Peyton Manning and winning four division titles and a Super Bowl, Romo is now the answer to try for a repeat.
Never mind that Romo has played in five games over the past two years and, among personnel evaluators around the league, his balky back is a significant question mark. Manning was almost as big a question mark when the Broncos signed him in 2014, but his status in the game, built on his performance level on the field, was well beyond Romo's. And Manning's missed 2011 season were the only games he missed during his 14-year career to that point.
Elway’s desire to keep the Broncos competitive over the long haul will not be fulfilled by diving into free agency every time the team needs a quarterback. There has been one, and only one, legendary quarterback to hit the free-agent market.
Manning is the exception, not the rule.
This is the time for the Broncos to get to the serious, and needed, work on developing their homegrown franchise guy. Before Elway took Lynch in the draft last April, the last quarterback the team had taken in the first round was Jay Cutler, and Josh McDaniels traded him away. From there, the Broncos' bridges to the Manning era were Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow, and neither is throwing passes in the league right now.
It would take a drastic change of heart for the Broncos to pursue Romo, even if the Cowboys were to release him to take his enormous contract -- cap figures of $24.7 million, $25.2 million and $23.7 million in the next three seasons -- off the table.
Never say never with Elway and the Broncos, though. Manning is proof of that. But sustained winning is not found in buying a quarterback, it’s found when you draft, and develop, the guy who has what you need.