INDIANAPOLIS -- The NFL combine begins in earnest Wednesday, intensifying the Broncos' search for a starting quarterback.
They plan to cast a wide net. They will meet with the agent for Kirk Cousins, Mike McCartney. He also represents Trevor Siemian, who is a candidate to be traded or released, allowing for a meeting to take place to discuss Siemian's future.
Cousins plans to make at least one free agent visit after March 14, according to a Pro Football Talk report. This week, the Broncos will take a deep dive on their fact-finding mission on draft prospects Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, covering all bases in case the free agent market swerves and pushes them to draft a starter with the fifth overall pick.
Cousins represents the Catalina Wine Mixer of this free agent class. His suitors are expected to include Minnesota, Denver, the Jets, Cleveland and Arizona. The Broncos received $10.2 million in salary cap carryover space this week, a significant total when computing the cost of a free agent quarterback.
The Broncos have enough room to sign Cousins -- they sit at roughly $35 million in cap room before roster moves. A trade market could take shape this week for cornerback Aqib Talib ($11 million), and Siemian ($1.9 million). Both could also be released. Running back C.J. Anderson is another player on the roster bubble along with defensive end Derek Wolfe, though Wolfe is now considered fairly safe at this point.
Cousins' willingness to take visits heightens the importance of the Broncos' understanding his market, if not preferences. Several Broncos have campaigned for Cousins, including All-Pro Von Miller.
Per NFL rules, contract parameters can be discussed beginning March 12, with signings allowed to become official on March 14. It means the Broncos will have a Plan B, if not C at quarterback beyond Cousins. If his recruitment carries into the middle of March, the Broncos might need to pivot quickly to land a second tier player like Case Keenum, A.J. McCarron or Tyrod Taylor.
Cousins' remains the top target, the rare quarterback entering the open market in his prime. He started every game the past three seasons, ranking third in completion percentage (67 percent) and fifth in yards per attempt (7.8). However, he has fumbled 31 times over that span, losing 11. There is risk at the price required, but he would bring stability and an identity to the Broncos' offense.
The combine carries significant weight for the Broncos this season for multiple reasons. Their 2017 draft class barely contributed, and the Broncos own 10 picks this April, among them four in the top 100 (5, 40, 71, 99).
If the Broncos do not land a veteran quarterback, they figure to take one in the first round. They spent a week in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl familiarizing themselves with Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield. Allen showed elite arm strength, but accuracy issues on crossing routes. Mayfield demonstrated accuracy on routes and leadership in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage, but measured a shade over 6-feet.
UCLA's Rosen will arrive at the combine eager to talk with executives. He is a gifted quarterback, who is arguably the most pro ready given his ability as a pocket passer. However, he has been dogged by questions about how much football matters to him. He can change the narrative this week with strong interviews.
Darnold has decided not to throw at the combine, a bit of surprise. He has the skills needed to play well in the NFL, and has long caught the Broncos' eye. Turnovers, however, stained his final season at USC.
Other players the Broncos will be watching closely: offensive linemen. Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson arrives at the combine as the most hyped guard in two decades. And UTEP's Will Hernandez, whom the Broncos know well from the Senior Bowl and new line coach Sean Kugler, figures to impress with his enormous soft and light feet.
The Broncos own a history of recovery. They have not suffered back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72. Last season proved a humbling experience for the organization and first-year coach Vance Joseph.
The rebound begins at quarterback. The Broncos, in so many ways, are on the clock.