To the untrained eye, it might appear that Denver Broncos GM George Paton is using a process of elimination to clarify his options at quarterback.
That being said, Sam Darnold getting dealt to the Carolina Panthers on Monday does leave the cupboard increasing bare for veteran signal-callers. But, when one door closes another opens, and rumors now point towards the Broncos using the NFL draft to solve their quarterback conundrum.
Interestingly, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer reported that the Atlanta Falcons could be fielding offers for their No. 4 overall pick. ESPN's Adam Schefter corroborated on Tuesday.
Could the Broncos be among the teams phoning into Atlanta? Many rumors and much speculation purports just that, though there has been nothing solid to hang one's hat on. Pro Football Focus just projected the Broncos to trade up to pick No. 4 to draft North Dakota Stae's Trey Lance.
Scott Kennedy of AllFalcons.com summed up why the Broncos are being linked and rumored to be among the teams that have called new Atlanta GM Terry Fontenot about the No. 4 overall pick.
The Broncos appear to be a perfect trade partner for the Falcons. The draft is deep with impact players in the Top 10, and the Broncos pick ninth.
The Broncos have the ninth and the 40th pick in this draft. It would cost at least the Broncos second round pick to move from nine to four, and the precedent is closer to three second round picks across multiple drafts.
The Falcons could then bundle their pair of second rounders and trade back into the first round, or stockpile several players to fill positions of need including safety, running back and defensive line, assuming Surtain is taken with the first pick.
This isn’t to say the Falcons and Broncos are the team most likely to make a deal, but it’s one of the teams that makes the most sense.
Quarterbacks are now locked on to go 1-2-3 to open the draft with Clemson's Trevor Lawrence projected first to Jacksonville, BYU's Zach Wilson projected second to the Jets, and San Francisco having the pick of the litter of Lance, Ohio State's Justin Fields, and Alabama's Mac Jones. San Francisco will land its QB, meaning the Falcons' No. 4 pick becomes a crucial draft pivot point to facilitate any team in the market to guarantee a premium passer.
Inevitably, that will drive the price up on Paton should he opt to join the party, but the clamor to move up has to be measured against what is sure to emerge as stiff competition for the Falcons' draft spot. On that front, Breer suggested the Detroit Lions are a team to “keep an eye on” to potentially jump the Broncos in the race for a QB.
Trying to divine Paton's intentions has become a full-time job, but what has become clear is that he still values Drew Lock highly enough to not just simply replace him with a like-for-like addition. Some further proof came with how he tapped out on potential trades for Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, and now Darnold.
Sticking with Lock as the starter might even prove less risky than breaking in a rookie QB for next season, especially with Vic Fangio on the purported hot seat. While the options certainly appear to be dwindling for Paton, his stealthy approach could still see things fall in his lap should he hold firm to pick ninth.
There is life beyond drafting a QB in the top-10 for the Broncos, and while that might be considered to be out-of-the-box thinking these days among many fans, Paton's view of the position relative to the team's remaining roster needs are what will ultimately take precedence.
Follow Keith on Twitter @KeithC_NFL.
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