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Broncos have their quarterback of the future, and it's not Tim Tebow

The Denver Broncos have been effusive in their praise of Kyle Orton this preseason. They backed it up by signing the sixth-year quarterback to a one-year extension that will pay him $9 million in 2011, $5.5 million of which is guaranteed. First-round pick Tim Tebow, on the other hand, injured his ribs in his first live NFL action and was unable to play in the Broncos second preseason game against the Detroit Lions this past weekend. The question that begs asking at this point is why did the Broncos draft Tebow in the first round?

Proponents of the decision to draft Tebow point out the Orton extension was a smart move by the Broncos because it gives Tebow time to develop without being rushed. They point out the years that Aaron Rodgers apprenticed under Brett Favre before bursting onto the scene and becoming one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL. The Eagles' decision to turn the keys over to Kevin Kolb after he spent most of his first three years watching Donovan McNabb is another example.

That seems plausible. But what exactly do the Broncos think Tebow is going to become? Even some of his most ardent supporters think it will take him two or three years to become a starter. Thinking he can correct his throwing motion and master the pro game enough to ever become a top 10 quarterback in the NFL is probably wishful thinking at best. Instead, the upside is more likely that he can become a winning starter in the NFL with excellent leadership skills and intangibles.

Right. So the Broncos drafted Tebow to develop him so that he could one day become just like .... Kyle Orton? In Orton, the Broncos already have a winning starter who has gone 29-19 during his career despite never really being "the guy" for either the Bears or the Broncos. That record places him in the top 10 in the NFL among active quarterbacks with a sample size of at least 40 starts. It's especially impressive when you consider that Orton was surrounded by mediocre talent at the skill positions in Chicago.

The Broncos decision to trade up in April's draft for Tebow doesn't make sense. Why would Denver trade second-, third-, and fourth-round picks to get a player who can maybe, someday, if everything works out well, be as good as what it already has now?

The first answer is they didn't really know what they had in Orton. If that is the case, shame on them. Orton set career marks last year by throwing for over 21 touchdowns and 3,802 yards while completing over 62.1 percent of his passes. All this in his first year in a new offense, mind you.

The second explanation has to be that Denver believes Tebow has special skills that could someday make him superior to Orton. That's pretty hard to believe considering Orton has been running a pro-style offense since his days at Purdue and is known for both his accuracy and his football acumen.

The advantage Tebow has is his athletic ability. But even that, in light of the first two preseason games, needs to be called into question. Tebow learned the hard way in his debut against the Bengals that he simply can't play with the same reckless abandon he used in college. His penchant for plowing over defenders sure is fun to watch but it won't be very enjoyable for Tebow if he keeps it up. The defenders are faster and can chase him down with greater ease than they did in college, and they are sure to meet him with bad intentions. His feet and raw power are valuable and intoxicating assets, but ones he should only use sparingly.

Plus, anyone who watched the Broncos second preseason game against the Lions could see Orton moving around in the pocket and keeping plays alive much better than he ever has before. On more than a couple occasions, Orton found a way to elude the rush before getting the ball downfield. Maybe the newly guaranteed money in his bank account made him a little less risk-averse? Who knows.

What we do know is the Broncos have unequivocally found their starter of the present and Orton is young enough, good enough, and improving quickly enough that they should recognize, or perhaps should have recognized, that he should be their starter of the future as well. It's just a shame for the new regime in Denver that they had to send all those draft picks to Baltimore and spend a first rounder on Tebow to figure that out.

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