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Broncos hope patience in quarterback search is rewarded

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- While the Denver Broncos’ depth chart at quarterback continues to be the talk-radio gift that keeps on giving throughout the Rocky Mountain region, the team certainly has lived up to six words coach Gary Kubiak recently spoke about in the search for a starter behind center.

In the wake of Peyton Manning’s retirement and Brock Osweiler’s departure, the words that have summed it up best: "We’re going to take our time here." But as April approaches, the Broncos’ depth chart remains what it was shortly after free agency opened. Mark Sanchez, who arrived in a trade with the Eagles, and Trevor Siemian are still the Broncos’ only two quarterbacks.

At the league meetings, Kubiak was asked if he would be comfortable moving into the regular season with Sanchez, Siemian and a quarterback from this year’s draft. He didn’t hesitate.

"If that’s how our competition ends up, if that’s what is best for our football team," Kubiak said. "... We’re not through creating this competitive environment that we’re going to create. I know that."

For his part, executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has used the phrase "our pace" and the Broncos continue to operate that way. But as far as signing any quarterback, or any other player, for that matter, start with the team’s salary cap.

The Broncos, still carrying Ryan Clady’s $10.1 million salary-cap figure among their top 51, have just $1.62 million worth of salary-cap room, according to figures from the NFL Players Association. So, any move the team makes behind center will have to be preceded with the release of a player or a major adjustment of some contracts of players who remain on the roster, or both.

The Broncos discussed Robert Griffin III in-house, but he signed with the Browns. They have talked to representatives for free agent Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his asking price remains too high and he's still unsigned.

There are those in the league who say the New York Jets have tried to figure out what the magic number is to lure Fitzpatrick back. Those same people believe Fitzpatrick has been offered a deal by the Jets for slightly less than Griffin signed with the Browns. Griffin got a two-year, $15 million deal, with $6.75 million guaranteed.

Griffin was active for just one game last season, and Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdown passes for a 10-win team. The Broncos also have taken a conservative approach in any trade discussions with the 49ers about Colin Kaepernick.

The 49ers face a Friday contractual deadline with Kaepernick, when his $11.9 million base salary officially becomes guaranteed. Kaepernick also continues to recover from three surgeries (shoulder, thumb and knee). Teams cannot release an injured player who has not been cleared medically without a financial settlement.

Kaepernick’s contract also has five seasons remaining on it and would come with him in any trade. His salary-cap charge for the 2016 season is scheduled to be $15.89 million, so the Broncos are well-short of that kind of salary-cap space.

The Broncos also could not re-do Kaepernick’s deal until a trade was made, so they would need the room to take on the contract before they could negotiate a more cap-friendly deal, even if Kaepernick and his representatives were amenable to such talks.

Which is why Kubiak has called it all “a fluid situation ... a day-to-day process and something that we continue to work through ... I know through our conversations that we’ve tried to have patience here, make sure we do this the right way."

The Broncos have the 31st overall selection in the draft, and will look for a quarterback prospect. Both Elway and Kubiak have said they like some of the passers in the class.

Among the quarterbacks who would be available to the Broncos in the opening four rounds, MemphisPaxton Lynch (6-foot-6 3/8 inches, 244 pounds), Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg (6-4 3/8, 223 pounds), Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott (6-2 ¼, 226 pounds) and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett (6-3 ¾, 231 pounds) fit the profile the Broncos, Elway in particular, like in quarterbacks.

In the end, Kubiak has said he likes Sanchez’ potential in the team’s offense to go with his playoff experience (Sanchez is 4-2 as a postseason starter). And Kubiak said Siemian has a "pro arm" and is expected to make a big jump from his rookie year in 2015 to 2016.

He's also said the two will have competition by the time the team rolls through the meat of its offseason program. And that, like the current depth chart, hasn’t changed.

Or, as Kubiak put it: "I can tell you whoever lines up out there for us will be expected to play well and play well for a very good football team."