Since becoming executive vice president of football operations for the Denver Broncos in 2011, John Elway has become the NFL's best problem solver.
He took control of a flawed roster that had Tim Tebow at quarterback, hit on back-to-back drafts and in 2012 signed Peyton Manning to be the Broncos' quarterback. By Elway's third year, Denver was in the Super Bowl. After an embarrassing Super Bowl loss to Seattle, Elway put together one of the best free-agent classes in recent decades and in two years had one of the best defenses in league history.
With Manning's retirement and the decision not to throw $18 million a year at Brock Osweiler, Elway is back at it again. He's trying to find the team's next franchise quarterback.
Elway's first move was trading a conditional draft pick for Mark Sanchez, who has started 10 games over the past two seasons. Elway didn't stop there. He identified Colin Kaepernick as his next target -- at a certain price. He placed a fourth-round value on Kaepernick and wanted the 49ers QB to accept a salary reduction that would pay him $14 million over the next two years. For now, Kaepernick won't take the pay cut.
With the draft a little more than two weeks away, the quarterback depth chart for the reigning Super Bowl champions is just two-deep: Sanchez and Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick from 2015. That's it.
The Broncos will almost certainly add a quarterback in the draft -- they own pick No. 31 in the first round -- but all options remain open. Heck, coach Gary Kubiak even reached out to talk to Johnny Manziel. Forget about that one, though; Manziel won't end up in Denver.
If the Broncos can't acquire Kaepernick from San Francisco, here are their options, from trading for a backup to drafting a developmental player:
Possible trade targets
Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is a great option in a trade, but the Buccaneers would be foolish to give up Glennon for anything less than a second-round pick. (If Glennon, who is behind former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, lands $7 million or more per year as a free agent next offseason, the Bucs could get a third- or fourth-round compensatory pick.) Elway might not be willing to give up a second-round pick, but it's an option if things don't break right for him by the second day of the draft.
AJ McCarron, Cincinnati Bengals: McCarron looked pretty good filling in for an injured Andy Dalton last season, and the Bengals likely aren't going to give him up. It's hard to say if a third-round pick would intrigue them. The Bengals value quarterbacks and McCarron has great value behind Dalton.
Josh McCown, Cleveland Browns: With the addition of Robert Griffin III and the likelihood of the Browns drafting Carson Wentz or Jared Goff with the second pick, McCown is an easy option. The Broncos could grab him for a low-round draft choice or just wait for him to get cut. A McCown-Sanchez competition might not be exciting, but it's an option.
Tom Savage, Houston Texans: Savage is a talented young quarterback, but he is behind Osweiler and Brandon Weeden on the depth chart. The former fourth-round pick could be available for a cheap draft choice.
A free-agent option
Ryan Fitzpatrick: The New York Jets are offering him between $7 million and $8 million per year, more than the Broncos would be willing to pay. Knowing this might be his last big payday, the 33-year-old probably won't take less money to go to Denver.
Potential draft picks
Paxton Lynch, Memphis Tigers: Lynch would be a perfect fit as the quarterback of the future in Denver, but Elway would likely have to trade above the Los Angeles Rams at pick No. 15 to get him. The draft-choice price might be prohibitive.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State Bulldogs: This might be Denver's most realistic option to pick up a young signal-caller. Ideally, the Broncos would love to grab him late in the second round, according to sources. Will he last that long with other teams needing quarterbacks?
A last-ditch effort
Circle back to Kaepernick: Wisely, Kaepernick isn't giving up $11.9 million guaranteed and taking a $4.9 million pay cut, even though the situation might be a little uncomfortable in San Francisco. Kaepernick is coming off three injuries and can't be guaranteed to earn back the money he'd surrender. Still, Elway would be wise to wait until after the draft. Kaepernick might agree to a trade and pay cut if the 49ers decide to use the No. 7 pick on a quarterback. As each day passes, however, odds favor Kaepernick staying in San Francisco.