What are the Denver Broncos' quarterback options this offseason?

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the Denver Broncos' sixth consecutive postseason miss now officially in the books, the question that has launched several (thousand) habanero-level hot takes among anyone who has even a fleeting interest in the team still hangs over the franchise.

That question starts with "who" and ends in "quarterback."

As general manager George Paton nears the end of his first calendar year on the job, it's publicly unclear how he officially leans when it comes to the Broncos' quarterback of the present and future. But the two most important things he has said about the issue this season came roughly three months apart.

On Aug. 12, just outside the building he used to work in as the Minnesota Vikings' assistant general manager, Paton described the pursuit of a quarterback like this:

"I've said before the quarterback position is the most important position in sports."

And on Nov. 2, just after he shipped the franchise's all-time sacks leader, Von Miller, to the Los Angeles Rams for two draft picks, Paton said of the Broncos' impending offseason plan:

"We have the resources to do whatever we want. Moving forward we're going to have a lot of cap room and we're going to have cash. We have 11 draft picks, so we have a lot of flexibility and I always talk about flexibility, but we do."

Paton will certainly be asked about it again in the coming days when he reveals the fate of the team's coaching staff and discusses the work ahead. But combine "most important" with "whatever we want" and it opens up a lot of possibilities in the pursuit of the 11th different starting quarterback since the 2016 season.

So, get the quarterback bingo cards ready, because it's a good time just to outline his main options.

Blockbuster trade

The nuts and bolts: Take any survey among the ticket buyers and a blockbuster trade is easily the most popular choice. The two names at the top of any wish list have been, and will be, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Multiple first-round picks from Denver would almost certainly be required just to get the whole thing going. The Broncos will likely draft somewhere between Nos. 10 and 14 of the first round in 2022 and that's the most important one in any deal.

Future first-round picks would have diminished value because Rodgers, if he doesn't retire -- he didn't rule that out earlier this month -- is going to make his new team better, as in much better. The Broncos might even have to move up the draft board in 2022 simply make an initial offering good enough to get the conversation started.

The issue is similar for Wilson, though Wilson also has a no-trade clause in his contract and could waive any trade. A team's future outlook, draft capital and ability to improve the roster are going to matter to him. Wilson has two more years remaining on his Seattle deal with salary-cap figures of $37 million for 2022 and $40 million for 2023.

Biggest hurdle: Prime draft capital. The Rams sent their starting quarterback -- Jared Goff -- in addition to two first-round picks as well as a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions to acquire Matthew Stafford.

Rodgers and Wilson are in an even more elevated category than Stafford. Paton has always spoken publicly of acquiring more picks not fewer, so it's unknown how he would approach a deal that could cost the team two or three first-round selections, at minimum.

Draft and develop

The nuts and bolts: Since Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012, the team has selected six quarterbacks in the draft, three of those among the top 60 picks -- Brock Osweiler (57th overall), Paxton Lynch (26th overall) and Drew Lock (42nd overall).

If any of them had been the long-term answer, Paton -- and John Elway before him -- wouldn't have to answer the quarterback question.

This option would require patience, and many of the Broncos faithful are fresh out of that virtue.

Biggest hurdle: Paton has already made the rounds to see many of the 2022 draft's best quarterback prospects in person and will do so again in the coming weeks. But the early returns from many personnel executives in the league are that this quarterback class is not as good as the 2021 class, and those players have nearly all struggled as rookies -- save for Mac Jones of the Patriots much of the time and, at least of late, Davis Mills of the Texans.

The chances of the Broncos getting immediate quarterback help in this draft, as in a player who powers a playoff push as a rookie, are not awesome. A draft pick, especially one used in the first two rounds, would likely have to be paired with a free-agent signing and a long-game approach.

Which brings us to ...

Make do -- again -- in free agency

The nuts and bolts: Teddy Bridgewater, who signed with the Broncos last offseason, did fix one of the Broncos' biggest problems from 2020, at least before a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals that has kept him out of the past two games. He largely eliminated the Broncos' constant turnover problems of last season, when they were last in the league in giveaways.

But the Broncos' offensive mess, especially down the stretch when the defense was tied for the league lead in fewest points allowed up until Sunday's loss in Los Angeles, doesn't exclude Bridgewater or Drew Lock.

That said, Bridgewater is still one of the better options on a list of prospective free agents at quarterback. It's why, if Rodgers and/or Wilson actually make it to the trade market, the price to acquire either's services might even nudge up a bit more from the already massive level that would be expected. Jameis Winston and Mitchell Trubisky are really the only notable free agents at the position who are under 29 years old.

The Broncos could dive into the over-30 crowd and combine that player with a premium draft pick. But that takes picking the right veteran who would actually help a young quarterback develop along the way.

Perhaps it's just something to file away, but Paton was asked last April if he thought Bridgewater was the kind of veteran quarterback who could do that, and Paton replied that Bridgewater was exactly that kind of veteran quarterback.

Biggest hurdle: It is just not the immediate, no-questions-asked help many want to see, especially the growing crowd who somehow convinced themselves Rodgers could trade himself to the Broncos last April. But if the Broncos make significant changes in the offensive staff, or coaching staff overall, the new staff might be starting the find-a-quarterback clock for themselves, much like the Broncos have done each time they've made a change at head coach or offensive coordinator since Manning retired.