DENVER -- Earlier this week after visiting Super Bowl 52's Radio Row, Kirk Cousins stood in line for Shake Shack. Approximately 915 miles away, Denver Broncos fans devoured rumors about the quarterback landing in the Mile High city.
The prospect of Cousins signing with the Broncos picked up velocity over a fascinating 48 hours. Washington acquired Kansas City's Alex Smith, eliminating any chance of Cousins returning. It leaves Cousins untethered as a free agent -- no transition or franchise tag to complicate the process for a salivating suitor.
Broncos players wasted no time with their full-court recruiting press. All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, who has spoken with Cousins, made his opinion clear. "He can take us over the edge," Miller told The Dan Patrick Show. Running back C.J. Anderson suggested general manager John Elway sign Cousins with his "car (dealership) money." Thursday, I asked linebacker Brandon Marshall if, like his teammates, he wanted Cousins: "Absolutely."
This much remains clear. The Broncos need a new starting quarterback. Without improvement at the position, the Broncos will bounce back about as well as a bowling ball dropped on the sidewalk. Cousins represents a significant upgrade, averaging 4,300 yards and 27 touchdowns over the past three seasons as a starter. During this stretch, he has not missed a game. He is durable, absorbing countless sacks, while playing behind a makeshift offensive line and, last year specifically, a depleted receiving corps.
Cousins has delivered eight fourth-quarter comebacks over the past two seasons. He embraces carrying a team, and features an edgy, Type-A personality desperately needed since Peyton Manning's retirement. Whether Cousins represents a good investment -- he is expected to pass Matthew Stafford as the NFL's highest-paid player, leaving him in line for roughly a five-year, $135-million deal with $93 million guaranteed -- is a fair question.
Can the Broncos sign Cousins and have enough money left over in the couch cushions to address needs along the offensive line, linebacker, cornerback and receiver? I believe if Cousins chooses Denver he will work with the Broncos, especially on his first-year cap hit, to allow for flexibility.
Yet, there remains no guarantee Denver becomes his next destination even if the odds are improving. Let's handicap the likely suitors, knowing there could always be a mystery team that emerges:
6. Buffalo Bills: The Bills own a playoff-caliber defense and a strong running game. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor took care of the ball, but never convinced the front office he could take care of business in the postseason. However, the Bills hired new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who is not from the West Coast philosophical tree. It would create an adjustment for Cousins. It's more likely the Bills draft a quarterback.
5. Cleveland Browns: The Browns possess $103 million in cap space. They need a new face of the franchise, a fresh start after posting a 1-31 record over the past two seasons. Cousins has not dismissed the idea. He has roots in the Midwest. The Browns could shower him with money. Left tackle Joe Thomas admitted if Cousins turned them into a contender they would build a statue of him outside the stadium. The reality is Cousins has played in two playoff games in six seasons. He is 0-1 as a starter. It is difficult to see him wanting to rebuild.
4. Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have three quarterbacks and might have none. Their trio -- Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater -- is not under contract. If Cousins wants to be in Minnesota, he would have to take less money. NFL folks believe Keenum sticks in Minnesota on a new contract.
3. Arizona Cardinals: Few teams have a greater need at quarterback than Arizona. Carson Palmer retired, and Arizona does not own a top draft pick. The Cardinals missed out on Alex Smith. The number of athletes who love living in the desert's warm weather remains well known. Arizona has a defense capable of winning in the tough NFC West. I can't rule them out, but they are not a favorite.
2. New York Jets: Beam Him Up, Captain Kirk, the backpage headline blared. The Jets have been looking for their Super Bowl champion quarterback since Joe Namath left. Rarely do signal-callers in their prime become available. At 29, Cousins represents a prize. And he knows new Jets offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who has ties to the Mike Shanahan offense in which Cousins excelled. The Jets can offer a decent young core of players with a strong defense and $70 million in cap space. Is that enough? The Jets figure to be squarely in the mix.
1. Denver Broncos: Elway does not do patient. He missed on his drafted quarterbacks in Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch. He wants back under the velvet rope of the playoffs. The quickest path is a veteran quarterback. Elway changed the history of the organization when he landed Manning as a free agent. Can he pull it off again? The Broncos offer a strong defense, a legacy of winning and a locker room that wants Cousins. After the last few seasons of Washington's half-pregnant commitment, Cousins should enjoy being coveted and respected. Signing Cousins would free Denver to draft an offensive lineman in the first round as well.
To make it work, Cousins has to show slight elasticity, allowing for money left over to improve other weak spots. But there's a reason the Broncos are considered the favorite.
The speculation of Cousins landing in Denver will only increase over the next several weeks as free agency opens with its soft launch on March 12 with signings permitted to become official March 14 at 2 p.m. Elway never shies away from bold moves or comeback victories. This (offseason) drive could change the entire complexion of 2018 season and beyond.