Broncos GM ‘Touched Base’ With 4-Time Pro Bowl QB in Free Agency: Report

George Paton, Denver Broncos

Getty General Manager George Paton of the Denver Broncos.

The Denver Broncos are “leaning toward” starting Jarrett Stidham under center in Week 1 next season, per 9News’ Mike Klis on March 14. That doesn’t mean they went about this offseason without at least exploring their options in free agency.

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on the Broncos’ intentions to make contact with four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins’ agent, Mike McCartney, once the early negotiating period opened on March 11.

Denver brass, it turns out, did just that.

“The Broncos and GM George Paton … touched base with McCartney, letting him know that, while the team was a little hamstrung cap-wise, he and Sean Payton liked Cousins a lot, and would be interested if the market changed a bit,” Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote on March 18.

Cousins, 35, is coming off an injury-shortened 2023 campaign. He completed 69.5% of his passes for 2,331 yards, 18 touchdowns, and five interceptions in eight games.

He agreed to a four-year, $180 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons when free agency began.

Cousins will earn a base salary of $12.5 million. He carries a $25 million cap hit in the first year of his new contract. The Broncos have $20.9 million in cap space, per Spotrac. They got in compliance with some cap-clearing moves and others that locked in money for players.

Broncos Made List of Kirk Cousins’ Potential Landing Spots

Kirk Cousins, Denver Broncos

GettyKirk Cousins of the Atlanta Falcons.

Atlanta was always a favorite landing spot for Cousins in free agency, over the Broncos or any other potential destination. He has ties to the coaching staff and his wife is from the area.

Still, the Broncos were on the (relatively) short list of teams Cousins’ agent eyed.

“McCartney had an Excel spreadsheet ready, with the quarterbacking landscape for 2024 sketched out,” Breer wrote. “He had the Las Vegas Raiders, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers listed in the “strong needs” category at the position. He had Atlanta, Chicago, the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams listed as “concerning,” and the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Commanders as “teams to watch.”

Cousins’ potential fit with the Broncos, and specifically Head Coach Sean Payton, seemed ready-made.

Payton’s offense relies on rhythm and timing, as former Saints quarterback Drew Brees has pointed out as it relates to what went wrong with Russell Wilson. And Cousins has thrived in one of the league’s most prominent such offenses in his career.

Broncos ‘Balked’ at Sam Darnold’s Asking Price in Free Agency

Sam Darnold, Denver Broncos

GettySam Darnold of the Minnesota Vikings.

Denver went 0-for-2 in pursuit of Vikings quarterbacks in free agency this offseason in their attempts to replace Wilson, who will try to stave off Justin Fields as QB1 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In addition to Cousins, the Broncos also pursued current Vikings quarterback Sam Darnold.

“The Broncos did show interest free-agent quarterback Sam Darnold on Monday,” Klis wrote on March 14. “But the Broncos balked at his $10 million asking price. Sources familiar with the situation say Darnold strongly preferred the Minnesota Vikings, with all they have to offer, over the Broncos, who are clearly in transition following the release of Russell Wilson and his dead-cap consequences.”

Klis also reports on the Broncos’ plans to use the No. 12 overall pick of the draft in April on a quarterback after not signing one in free agency.

That may have influenced the Broncos’ decision to commit significant money to Darnold in free agency.