Is Denver’s WR trio enticing enough to lure a star QB to the Mile High City?
The Denver Broncos hit their bye week at 5-5, limping in from an embarrassing, 30-13 loss to the visiting Philadelphia Eagles at Mile High. When asked about the team’s playoff chances with seven games left to play, Broncos general manager George Paton changed the subject.
“We’ve talked about this. I just want to really leave it to talk about Tim and Courtland,” Paton explained. “We’ve talked about the team. I still believe in this team. Obviously, the last two weeks have been up and down, but you saw what we can do when we put it all together against Dallas.”
The Los Angeles Chargers await the Broncos on Sunday, but the Broncos’ biggest splash was made on Monday, following a whirlwind three days of negotiation that ended with wide receiver Tim Patrick receiving a three-year, $30 million contract extension, and fellow wideout Courtland Sutton followed shortly after, earning a four-year, $61 million extension of his own.
Though the cash layout seems extravagant on the surface — especially since the Broncos haven’t yet solved their years-long quarterback conundrum — in reality, Paton probably got slight discounts in comparison to what Patrick and Sutton could have earned on the open market.
“We just felt the advantage — once players get out in the open market, you just never know, and these are two players we really wanted to lock up,” Paton explained.
For good reason. Patrick hasn’t had a drop since Week 10 of the 2019 season — more than two years’ time — and has taken advantage of injuries to Sutton and second-year receiver Jerry Jeudy (more on him later) to establish himself as not only a quality NFL starter, but the Broncos’ best receiver over the last season-and-change; an impressive career path for the former undrafted college free agent. Sutton, on the cusp of NFL stardom following his breakout 2019 campaign, has overcome an ACL injury that kept him out of all but one game of the 2020 season. The 2018 second-rounder hasn’t quite looked himself, but he’s getting there.
“I feel like my knee is fine, but I feel like there’s always room to improve — physically, mentally. There’s always space to get yourself better,” Sutton explained on Monday. “Saying that I’m at a peak? I wouldn’t say that at all. I would say that I’m in a better space than I was when I tore my ACL. I wouldn’t say I’m at a peak. I feel like there’s always room to improve. I have space in my game that I can continue to improve on.”
His breakaway ability is one of the areas in which Sutton is likely looking to improve. His 2.4 yards-after-catch average is the lowest on the team, well behind Patrick (4.1) and Jeudy (3.7). The crispness of his route-running is another. As Sutton works his way into better and sharper cuts on the field, he’ll gain more separation than he’s been getting, which will lead to easier throws for his quarterback; Sutton’s giving Teddy Bridgewater an acceptable 85.2 quarterback rating when targeting him, but that, too, falls far behind Jeudy (100.6), and Patrick’s 118.7; the Broncos’ best among pass-catchers with more than 20 receptions.
Nevertheless, armed with two big, reliable targets and a former first-round pick whose exceptional route-running skills give him a nearly unlimited ceiling, the Broncos feel that they’ve just become an enticing landing spot for their next quarterback. The Broncos are expected to shoot for the moon for stars like Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, but signal-callers like Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Las Vegas’ Derek Carr and perhaps even 2018’s top overall pick, Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, may become fallback options.
“We have the resources to do whatever we want,” Paton crowed. “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. We do have a lot of flexibility moving forward, and we locked up two of our primary free agents.”
While “whatever we want” sounds a little grandiose — presumably, if Denver could have ever done that, they wouldn’t still be in this quasi-rebuilding situation for more than half of a decade — but they’ve cut two favorable deals with quality starting receivers; a luxury that even some of the league’s finest quarterbacks don’t have at their disposal… and that’s not even considering that Jeudy has the highest ceiling of all of them, and already looks dramatically improved in his injury-shortened second season.
The Broncos need a quarterback in the worst way, and their fans have run out of patience. In response, the $91 million in deals to Sutton and Patrick are essentially chumming the waters for Denver’s next long-term starting signal-caller. They’ll find out if anyone’s willing to bite next spring.
Shawn Drotar is the on-air host of “Sandy and Shawn,” weeknights from 9p-midnight on 104.3 The Fan.