Broncos Bet with House Money

Based on the events of last weekend, the Denver Broncos made a $2.6 million bet Tuesday with house money.

In releasing Kyle Orton – their starting quarterback until he was Tebowed out of the way a few weeks ago – the Broncos decided to part with a player whose contract was extended for 2011 one year ago. While the team does not know for sure whether Tim Tebow is their future at quarterback, it knows that Orton is not.

The Process

Were Orton released prior to the trading deadline in October, as a vested veteran he would have been free to sign with any team. Now released following the trading deadline, all players – vested or otherwise – are subject to the 24-hour waiver wire. Thus, teams have until 4 pm eastern time today to make a claim for Orton.

The waiver priority order is based on won-loss record, as is the Draft order. Should two or more teams have the same record, the team with the easier schedule to this point of the season will have priority.

ICONOrton received a $1.5 million bonus in July after the Broncos were unable to agree on a trade with the Dolphins.

The Finances

On August 19, 2010, the Broncos extended Orton’s contract for an additional year. Much like the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb ten days after that, the Broncos did not want their starting quarterback to be in his free agent year but at the same time did not want to commit to a long-term deal.

Orton received a $1.5 million roster bonus on July 29 after the Broncos were unable to come to terms with the Dolphins on a potential trade that would have transferred that obligation to Miami.

The Broncos also paid the first 11 weeks of Orton’s $7.38 million salary, or $4.76 million. As to the remaining $2.6 million, the team that claims him assumes that amount. In the event he is unclaimed, that obligation stays with the Broncos in the form of termination pay due to a released vested veteran.

The Broncos saw injuries Sunday to Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub and, most importantly, Jay Cutler. These events -- along with a nudge from Orton’s agent David Dunn -- gave them confidence they could save $2.6 million for a player that was not going to play for them again this season.

The Compensatory Pick

By not allowing Orton to finish out his contract and leave as an unrestricted free agent, the Broncos forego the possibility of a 2013 compensatory draft pick based on Orton’s new deal in March.

With so many teams in need of a veteran quarterback, Orton may secure a decent contract in March. That could have led to a low or mid-round 2013 compensatory pick to the Broncos.

Now, if Orton is claimed and leaves as a free agent in March, the claiming team will get the benefit of that pick.

The New Team

I became a Kyle Orton fan on December 22, 2007 at Soldier Field while with the Packers. Except for the NFC Championship game at Lambeau Field a month later, that was the coldest I had ever been at a game. There were 40 mph gusts off Lake Michigan and subzero wind chill. The conditions were brutal.

Orton knifed the ball through that wind in beating the Packers that day and impressed us all. If he could play in that weather, he can play in any weather.

Will he return to the Bears? That depends on the Chiefs, Texans, and who knows whom else. There are discussions going on among several teams about the financial commitment and whether it is worth it for a stopgap player for six weeks. Another team to consider: in the ultra-competitive world of the NFL, would the Lions spend $2.6 million to block their rival from getting the player it wants? I doubt it, but there is probably that discussion in Detroit.

My sense is the Bears claim him -- if the Chiefs do not -- and the Broncos will be off the hook for $2.6 million.

Unless…the Bears do not put in a claim, secure that teams will pass on him. The Bears would likely then negotiate a new contract with Orton and leave the Broncos holding the bag for $2.6 million while Orton double dips.

As with everything in life, we’ll see.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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