Griese's future in doubt after Broncos QB is bench

The Broncos go into the season finale against Arizona with plenty of uncertainty.

First, at 8-7 and having lost five of their last seven, they are uncertain of the immediate future as it pertains to the playoffs. They must beat the Cardinals, but also need Cleveland, New England and the New York Jets to lose, or need Cleveland and Miami to lose and the Jets to win.

A bigger question involves their quarterback. A dejected Brian Griese faced the media Christmas Day, and faced the music that he has an uncertain future with the team after a roller-coaster four seasons attempting to follow in John Elway's footsteps. And for the first time, coach Mike Shanahan did not stand behind Griese as his indefinite starter, benching Griese for Sunday's game in favor of Steve Beuerlein, and leaving open the possibility that the sixth-year pro may have played his last down for the Broncos.

Shanahan refused to say the benching was due to injury as he has in the past, and also said that significant money invested in any player does not guarantee their return.

"Our decisions will be based on people performing, not money," Shanahan said when asked if he was tied to Griese because of the six-year, $39 million contract he signed in 2000. "Once I base playing time on the salary cap, on draft choices, I lose this football team...."

"If you did it (based on money), every first-round draft choice would stay with your team seven years and you would look like you didn't make a mistake. That's not always the case."

That said, Shanahan refused to talk about his quarterback situation beyond Sunday's game.

"My job is to give our football team the best chance to win this weekend," said Shanahan.

Griese has been caught in a firestorm of criticism since playing poorly against Oakland -- a game he billed as the biggest of his career. Persistent rumors have swirled that the Broncos viewed that as a "make-or-break" game for him. It didn't help that Beuerlein played well, and nearly brought the Broncos back from the huge hole they dug in the first 18 minutes of an eventual 28-16 loss.

Beuerlein is not seen as the long-term solution because of his age. And third- stringer Jarious Jackson becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Griese, meanwhile, is due to earn $4.75 million in base salary next year -- up from $1.4 million he earned as part of the deal he signed in 2000.

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