ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have hired a new coaching staff, they have a rather large and lingering question at quarterback, and the team is up for sale. It may not be possible for a team to face more change from one season to the next.
Nathaniel Hackett was hired as the team's 18th head coach in January and hopes to end what is now a six-year streak of playoff misses. Hackett sold general manager George Paton on his experience and enthusiasm. The Broncos are poised to do some major work with plenty of salary-cap space (around $39 million) and 11 draft picks already in hand.
Paton, with the team on the open market, has the football decision-making power and is in the second offseason of a six-year deal he signed just more than a year ago. The quarterback question is the biggest roster unknown and it remains to be seen if any of the franchise-level quarterbacks will be available via trade.
With five picks in the first three rounds -- including No. 9 overall -- using a premium pick on a quarterback remains a possibility until Paton says, or shows, that it's not. The quarterback decision is the biggest -- and the first -- roster domino that has to fall before Paton gets to work on the rest of what's to come.
Projected salary-cap space: $39 million
Top free agents: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Melvin Gordon III, CB Bryce Callahan, S Kareem Jackson, CB Kyle Fuller, LB Alexander Johnson, LB Josey Jewell, T Bobby Massie, T Cameron Fleming, LB Kenny Young
Potential cut candidates: Anytime a new coaching staff arrives there's player turnover, even for players who fit before. With big changes coming defensively, two players in particular may have to fight for their spots: defensive tackles Mike Purcell, who battled some injuries over the past two seasons, and McTelvin Agim, a draft pick from the year before Paton was hired.
The big question: What is the plan at quarterback? The Broncos can try to make a trade for a veteran, but that isn't a long-term solution if that veteran quarterback is in his late 30s and the Broncos are looking at this situation again a couple years from now. That also requires the quarterbacks who could make a difference in the team's fortunes -- Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson or the like -- to appear in the trade market. Also, neither Hackett nor Paton has said if quarterback Drew Lock impacts all of this, but the Broncos will need several options on the drawing board because who is actually available will dictate what they can actually do.
Best-case offseason scenario: They end up with a solution at quarterback that goes beyond the next two years and they didn't have to surrender all of their prime draft capital to do it. Alas, franchise quarterbacks in their prime rarely become available and the price to pay for them is almost always steep. If the Broncos come away with a solution behind center they like for next few years and they haven't cratered their ability to acquire players in the future to do it, that is indeed the best-case scenario.
Worst-case offseason scenario: Most everyone involved, from team CEO Joe Ellis to Paton to Hackett, has said the sale process will not impact the football team. It shouldn't. They have plenty of salary cap space and plenty of draft picks. But it is incumbent on the decision-makers to move through free agency and the draft as if they know who the boss will be moving forward. Of the past four NFL franchises sold -- Carolina, Buffalo, Cleveland and Jacksonville -- only Buffalo has emerged from the process as a consistent, well-built playoff contender.
Early look at the NFL draft, from ESPN analyst Jordan Reid: Quarterback will be the position circled on the board. Playing a game of musical chairs between Lock and Bridgewater a season ago, Paton could look to find the team's answer under center. With Johnson, Jewell, and Young all set to become free agents, linebacker is another position that lacks depth going into the offseason.
Top needs: QB, EDGE, OT
Top pick: No. 9