Quarterback Kyle Orton played the best football of his career the last two seasons in Denver but probably isn't in the team's future because of Tim Tebow. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)
Kyle Orton had a lot in common with Rodney Dangerfield during his four-year tenure in Chicago, not getting any respect despite a 21-12 record as a starter, and the same story seems to be playing out in Denver.
Originally a fourth-round pick of the Bears in the 2005 NFL Draft out of Purdue, Orton was a part of the blockbuster trade that sent Pro Bowler Jay Cutler from the Mile High City to the Windy City. Assumed to be nothing more than a game-manager quarterback while with the Bears, the 6-4, 226-pounder was finally given the opportunity to throw the football liberally his first season with the Broncos (2009) and put up career numbers across the board: 62.1 completion percentage, 3,802 yards passing, 7.0 yards per attempt, 21 touchdowns and an 86.8 passer rating. However, after beginning the season 6-0 and looking like a playoff team, Denver endured a pair of four-game losing streaks and crumbled down the stretch to finish 8-8 -- and out of the postseason.
The following April, then-coach Josh McDaniels selected quarterback Tim Tebow in Round 1 and essentially ended Orton's long-term prospects with the Broncos, as was the case with the Bears once the Cutler discussions commenced.
Tebow started the last three games of the 2010 campaign and showed promise, which means he's likely to get the call under center for new coach John Fox. Yes, Fox gave veteran Jake Delhomme ample rope with which to hang himself over and over again in Carolina, but with more Tebow jerseys being sold this past season than those of even Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, it is time to see what the Heisman Trophy winner can do. Orton, signed to a one-year, $8.8 million contract extension for 2011 just this past August, is now either an expensive backup or potential trade bait.
Here are three teams that could take a shot at Orton, with the Broncos asking for maybe a second rounder in return but probably willing to settle for a third rounder:
Four quarterbacks got playing time in 2010 for the 5-11 Cardinals, and they combined to complete 50.8 percent of their passes, assemble a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 10-to-19 and put together a passer rating of 60.5 -- only the 2-14 Panthers (57.0) had a worse team passer rating. Anybody that still refers to Derek Anderson as a "former Pro Bowler" is really reaching at this point, as the one-time Brown has a TD-to-INT ratio of 19-to-28 and a sub-.500 record each year since that fluke 2007 campaign, and there is no reason to assume any of the three rookie signal callers -- John Skelton, Max Hall or Richard Bartel -- is the answer going forward. Skelton was a fifth-round choice last April, while both Hall and Bartel were undrafted free agents.
"Based on the Cardinals' quarterback play in 2010," said Brad Wilbricht, the publisher of AZRedReport.com, "they will be interested in almost anyone available, including Orton. The main name circling in Arizona has been Kevin Kolb, but Orton likely comes with a far less hefty price tag -- in terms of compensation, I mean -- and would allow the Cardinals to use those leftover resources elsewhere. Orton appears to be an adequate fit in coach Ken Whisenhunt's offensive scheme, with accuracy and decision-making two of the most important attributes of a prospective signal caller."
Arizona owns the No. 5 pick in the draft and could be in position to draft a quarterback like Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, although the team is still smarting from the Matt Leinart decision at No. 10 overall five years ago.
Having sold their soul to the devil known as Brett Favre prior to 2009, the Vikings almost got to the Super Bowl behind No. 4 and his incredible performance at 40 years of age, that is before he threw yet another back-breaking interception in the waning moments of a playoff game. But everything that went right in 2009 went wrong in 2010, as Favre's passer rating dipped nearly 40 points from 107.2 to 69.9 and his interceptions almost tripled from seven to 19 -- his legendary streak of consecutive starts also came to an end at 297. Projected to be a title contender before the season started, Minnesota fell all the way to 6-10, and while sixth-round pick Joe Webb showed some ability in two starts, he was drafted to play receiver and is as raw as they come.
"While the Vikings admit they need to solve their quarterback problem," said Tim Yotter, the publisher of VikingUpdate.com, "they are looking more long term toward the draft. The speculation on Orton faded when McDaniels accepted the offensive coordinator position with the Rams instead of the Vikings, but Orton could still be a possibility. While Orton has shown he knows how to win, there are a few things standing in the way of the Vikings making a trade for him: Leslie Frazier seems to prefer a mobile quarterback, Orton has almost $7.4 million in base salary coming to him in 2011 and the Vikings want to acquire draft picks, not lose them. All that said, he could be a decent placeholder option while a younger quarterback is developed. The biggest stumbling block could be draft-pick compensation."
Minnesota has the No. 12 pick in the draft and may start all over with a QB of the future, especially since the NFC North currently features young first-round passers in Chicago (Cutler), Detroit (Matthew Stafford) and Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers).
San Francisco 49ers
It has now been six years since San Francisco made Alex Smith the No. 1-overall pick in the draft, and not once did he so much as post a winning record in any of the five seasons he played -- the 6-4, 212-pounder missed all of 2008 with a shoulder injury. In 54 career contests, 50 of them starts, Smith has completed just 57.1 percent of his throws, racked up more INTs (53) than TDs (51) and posted a J.T. O'Sullivan-like 72.1 passer rating. While Smith restructured the final two years of his contract back in 2009 because he wanted to stay with the 49ers, leaving better than $16 million on the table in the process, he must now be considered one of the biggest busts in draft history at the game's most important position.
"One reason the 49ers may still be considering Smith, who will be an unrestricted free agent when the league year ends March 3," said Michael Martinez, the publisher of NinersDigest.com, "is that the labor impasses could leave a small window for teams to make deals or sign free agents. Because he's been talking with Smith at the team's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters, new coach Jim Harbaugh has a familiarity with the quarterback and believes he can help him improve. Any kind of prolonged work stoppage would make it hard for the Niners to add a new player."
A new player like, say, Orton.
San Francisco possesses the No. 7 pick in the draft, and even if Gabbert is considered the best QB on the board, keep in mind that, like Smith, he played in a spread-option attack in college and won't be easy to evaluate.
|John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|