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Sean Payton on Broncos' QB competition between Bo Nix, Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson: 'They're all orphaned dogs' 

There's a three-arm race for the starting quarterback spot in Denver.

There is a pair of first-round picks, including a rookie. There are a combined 37 starts in a combined seven seasons for the two "veterans." There's a second chance and a first impression.

There are myriad storylines, plenty of possibilities and a spring and summer ahead for Bo Nix, Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson to find a home as the leader of Sean Payton's Broncos offense.

"It's kind of the orphan group," Payton said Friday. "They're all orphaned dogs. They've come from somewhere, but they're doing good. It's a good room."

It's a room rife with questions going into 2024 as the Broncos keep on keeping on in their seemingly never-ending search for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Peyton Manning following the 2015 season – which also stands as the franchise's last playoff trip, having concluded with a Super Bowl triumph. Though "orphaned dogs" is hardly a common phrase, it would seem somewhat fitting as none of Payton's three QB1 contenders would be frontrunners for a starting job on most other clubs in 2024. Nonetheless, it's who the Broncos have been able to assemble and a competition is underway.

"They come from different systems," Payton said of his QBs each having varying levels of experience and how their progress will differ. "One is coming from college. One is coming from two or three NFL systems, and the other is coming from one system. They're all in a race to learn this system. I would say -- you guys watched the practice -- they're doing well."

Stidham is the oldest of Payton's band of ragamuffins, but still just 27 years old. A 2019 NFL Draft fourth-round choice of the New England Patriots out of Auburn, Stidham was in Boston for a couple of years before he was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. He started the first two games of his NFL career in 2022 when longtime starter Derek Carr was benched. Despite moving on to Denver last season, Stidham eerily found himself in a close to identical situation when he replaced Russell Wilson, starting (again) the final two games of his team's season.

Now there's another Wilson in the Broncos' mix, Zach. The 2021 NFL Draft's No. 2 overall pick was traded this offseason after falling far short of great expectations in Gotham with the New York Jets. Blessed with a cannon for an arm and underrated mobility, Wilson is on to his second team after his struggles played out in the New York headlines for three seasons.

Then there's Nix, this year's No. 12 overall pick, his selection having ended a record run on QBs in the first round. Nix lit it up at Oregon after transferring there from Auburn.

Regardless of the journey that's brought them to Denver, each of them has the same goal of winning the Broncos' starting job for Week 1.

Payton is doing his best to given them an even practice field to compete.

"We had it in New Orleans after Drew [Brees] left with Teddy [Bridgewater] and Taysom [Hill]," Payton said. "Look, we go by what we see. We try to get them as many reps as possible. We rotate. We're rotating all of them right now. So, Tuesday, 'Stiddy' ran with the ones, and then Zach, and then Bo. We'll keep doing that right now."

Payton misremembered his last QB competition a bit as Bridgewater was actually in Denver back in 2021 when Jameis Winston was winning the New Orleans Saints' starting job against Hill. It was a two-QB battle to replace a future Hall of Famer.

That's not the case for the Broncos in 2024. Nix is hopefully the franchise signal-caller of the future, but he, Stidham and Wilson are each vying for the signal-caller job of the immediate future.

Payton doesn't have any particular stance on sitting or playing a rookie quarterback because he believes it all depends on the situation. There is no incumbent starter nor a true veteran.

"I think some of it is a byproduct of what you have in the building," he said. "If you have a starter in the building, then that's the path you go. Then sometimes you don't have that luxury, and then that's the path you go. A lot of it is dependent on the quarterback, his mental makeup. So, I think it just varies. When you look at [Packers QB Jordan] Love that went to Green Bay behind [Jets QB Aaron Rodgers], and then Rodgers who went to Green Bay behind [former QB Brett Favre]. There's a little bit of a luxury there, but it's really dependent on the roster."

It's too early to tell who's the leader in the Broncos' three-stray competition.

Payton liked what he saw in Wilson.

"I like his experience," Payton said. "You can tell he's played, and I feel like he has very live arm strength. He's picking up the offense pretty quickly."

Payton also liked what he saw in Nix, and similarly his aptitude for the offense.

"He's farther along than most," the head coach said. "We're talking about a player who has played 61 games. He's extremely smart. He's picked it up very quickly."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Payton wasn't asked directly about Stidham and how he's fared.

Nix and Wilson, both 24, are the younger options, the more ballyhooed and appealing to the news cycle.

Payton was quick to point out that there would come a time in which practice reps -- who's getting how many and with the ones or twos -- would be important. Now, he underscored, is not that time. It's May. A long QB1 battle lies ahead. But it has most certainly commenced in Denver, with Payton's orphans contesting for the top spot.

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