Kyle Orton began the year as the Broncos' starter, but lost his starting job to Tim Tebow in Week 7. (Ron Chenoy/US Presswire)
The Denver Broncos placed Kyle Orton on waivers Tuesday, adding a potentially surprising twist to the playoff race.
Any team can now put in a claim on Orton -- Indianapolis would have the first crack at Orton, on the basis of its NFL-worst record, but there are several teams out there who wouldn't mind landing some QB help. With a bevy of significant QB injuries lately and the trade deadline having come and gone, there didn't look to be any relief left this season for teams in need of a passer. Orton's newfound availability could change that.
The waiver-claim window runs for 24 hours, so Orton could have a new home in time for the weekend. Any team claiming Orton would have to pick up his remaining contract for the season, which works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 million.
A quick list of the possible suitors:
• Chicago Bears: It's a long shot that Orton makes it all the way through to the Bears, who at 7-3 are well down in the waiver order, but there may not be a team that would be happier to land him. Orton started 33 games for Chicago from 2005-08 (before offensive coordinator Mike Martz landed in Chicago), and the Bears find themselves suddenly in need of a quarterback with Jay Cutler out indefinitely because of a broken thumb.
• Houston Texans: A team in a near-identical spot as the Bears, except the Texans have a stranglehold grip on their division. Houston lost its starting quarterback, Matt Schaub, to an injury prior to its Week 11 bye, leaving Matt Leinart to run the offense. Orton has far more experience than Leinart, even if he'd be joining a different offensive system. The Texans are higher than the Bears in the waiver order -- meaning they'd get a shot at Orton before Chicago -- but still need a ton of teams to pass on Orton first.
• Tennessee Titans: It's hard to see the 5-5 Titans, with Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker already on the roster, taking a run at Orton. But if Hasselbeck's elbow injury is more serious than first thought and Tennessee doesn't think Locker can complete a playoff push, Orton is a viable alternative.
• Kansas City Chiefs: Anyone who watched Tyler Palko play against the Patriots Monday night knows that the Chiefs are in a tough spot at QB, with Matt Cassel sidelined. Kansas City is on the outskirts of the playoff race, two back of Oakland in the AFC West, but still has hope of getting back into things. The Chiefs' 4-6 record means that they'd get a shot at claiming Orton long before he made it to Houston or Chicago's spot.
• Seattle Seahawks: Is the Tarvaris Jackson experiment over yet? The Charlie Whitehurst one never got off the ground. Seattle, like Kansas City, is sitting on the fringe of the playoff race -- though the Seahawks have almost no mathematical chance of winning their division. Picking up Orton likely would be done only in a situation where the Seahawks could foresee trying to sign the pending free agent to a long-term deal.
Other teams with a potential QB need include: Washington, Arizona (pending Kevin Kolb's health), Jacksonville (if it wants some help for Blaine Gabbert) or even the Colts. Any team outside the playoff picture, though, would have to weigh the benefit of a six-game trial for Orton vs. just trying to land him in free agency.
It's also possible a team could put in a claim simply to block another squad from adding a QB -- another reason Tennessee or Jacksonville, for example, could go after Orton, thereby keeping him from a more-desperate Houston team in the same division.
The other scenario that could play out is that Orton could go unclaimed on waivers and become a free agent. Denver would pick up the tab on the rest of his 2011 contract, allowing another team to sign him at a reduced rate. It's an unlikely possibility, given the number of franchises with questions at quarterback, but a possibility nonetheless. Regardless of what happens, Denver's decision to send Orton packing prior to Week 12 could have major ramifications across the league.