MOBILE, Ala. -- At one point during Wednesday's Senior Bowl practice, Broncos general manager John Elway stood alongside Dan Marino and Gary Kubiak, eyeing the quarterbacks.
If only he could find somebody like them. The Broncos need a permanent solution at the position after consecutive playoff-free seasons defined by an underwhelming offense with no identity.
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Wyoming's Josh Allen remain the star attractions. Elway has seen plenty of Allen -- he plays nearby in Laramie -- and traveled to his bowl game. This week offered the first look at Mayfield on the field and behind the scenes as the Broncos weigh their options. Denver, after all, requested Mayfield on their North Team roster.
"He’s a guy that competes. He comes out here and throws the ball very well. He’s got a strong arm. He throws with good anticipation. He’s had a good couple of days," Elway said after practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. "We wanted to have an opportunity to get to meet him. Obviously we’ve seen what everyone else has, the type of player that he is. To be able to be around him and get to know him a little bit was important."
Mayfield remains the most accurate quarterback, and shows good feet. Wednesday, Allen made a throw to Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup -- a 35-yard dime on a touchdown down the right sideline -- that drew gasps. He also struggled with accuracy on crossing routes.
It's January, but if push came to shove, who does Elway prefer? Baker or Josh? The 6-foot kid with an edge and personality for days? Or the prototype in the 6-foot-4 Allen with a cannon?
“I think we’re still in the process. At the end, hopefully by April 25, we have everything figured out and know which direction we’re going to go. But now we’re in the middle of the process. We’re three weeks out from the end of last season. This is all part of the process of trying to learn as much as we can about everybody. As time goes on, we’ll continue to work on them and study each one of them. By the time we get to the draft, we’ll have them ranked and go from there."
The reality exists that the Broncos will simply file away this information, storing it on an unused zip drive. Why? Find a quarterback in free agency -- Elway did not mention names, but the list includes Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor, Teddy Bridgewater, etc. -- and it could directly impact who the Broncos take with the fifth pick overall.
“That’s the first step. There is no question. I think seeing where all of that falls -- first thing's first," Elway said. "Even though we go to the combine, once we get back to the office after the Super Bowl is over, we’ll dig into the free agency side of it. That will be the focus until we get to the Combine.”
Regardless, the Broncos need a productive draft to help execute a rebound from their last-place finish in the AFC West. Having Broncos boss Vance Joseph and his retooled staff guide the North team should only help.
"To be able to get into meeting rooms with them, to get to know them as people, have the coaches be around them and see how they are in the meeting rooms—they learn a little bit about them as well as their football knowledge. It’s important. It’s definitely a plus to be around them for a week," Elway said. "It’s been good to get to know (the new coaches) a little bit and see them on the field and see how they coach. I’m excited about the new coaches that we have. The energy that they brought, it’s a good upgrade to the staff. I’m excited about what I’ve seen and I’m sure Vance is too.”
The Broncos face difficult decisions. To pay Cousins, the salary cap will need to be massaged. I asked Elway specifically if the team might have to move on from either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. He did not rule it out.
"I think as we get closer and as we get into free agency once we get back to the office, start looking at availability and what’s out there, [we] rank the free agents that are available," Elway said. "Then we will also look at ourselves, look where we are and look where we are budget-wise and cap-wise. As we gather information once we get back, we’ll start putting the plan together with all of those considerations going into the decision.”