DENVER — Forgive the good people of Broncos Country. They are emotionally scarred.

Two decades of John Elway and Peyton Manning were pure bliss, but they also serve as a helluva reminder of the 18 seasons since 1983 without a franchise quarterback— two playoff wins, total. So when the new general manager comes in and his first quarterback move is trading for a journeyman who’s been just OK, the reaction around these hills is going to trigger some pretty adverse flashbacks:

Teddy Bridgewater? Really? What, Case Keenum wasn’t available?

I'm here to say it’s way too soon for all that negativity. At least give Broncos GM George Paton until Sunday.

If Paton trading for Bridgewater on Wednesday was the answer to the Broncos’ ongoing void at quarterback, forget about competing in 2021 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, or Justin Herbert and the Chargers, or even Derek Carr and the Raiders. Just forget about it now. A 1-2 punch of Bridgewater and Drew Lock will take you places, all right. It will take you to 8-9 and right back here drafting near the top 10.

But if trading for a respected veteran quarterback means the Broncos are going into the NFL draft on Thursday thinking quarterback with the No. 9 pick, then we’re in business. You can do a lot worse than Bridgewater as the smart, trusted backup to the quarterback of the future. You guys remember Gary Kubiak.

Here’s my quarterback big board, since you asked: Trevor Lawrence (he’ll be long gone), Trey Lance (please, let this happen), Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Zach Wilson and the guy from Stanford — in that order. The Broncos need a QB, and this is a QB-rich draft. Let’s not overcomplicate things. It could also lead to a team with a quarterback drafting a quarterback, then their quarterback is available in trade.

Got all that?

So far, Paton's insured the Broncos from another catastrophe. He insured the secondary by signing two cornerbacks in free agency, not just one. He insured coach Vic Fangio will have a chance by keeping his defense intact and returning Von Miller. Trading for Bridgewater and sending only a sixth-round pick to Carolina is more insurance. Shoot, Bridgewater only costs 'em $3 million. That’s a steal. Plus he's a nice guy.

But that’s not the answer — not when Mahomes and Herbert are tossing bombs in the AFC West.

Please, tell me the Broncos aren’t going down Retread Road again. Please, say it ain’t so.

Of all the goofy aspects of the NFL Draft, one tops them all: the idea some random guy with a laptop, the Big Ten Network and an Internet connection knows better than a NFL general manager. Pretty funny when you think about it.

For transparency's sake, I don’t know better than George Paton. I catch more trout on a fly rod than George Paton. I have a better vegetable garden than George Paton. But I don’t know the draft better than George Paton. This being draft week, I wanted to be up front with you.

WITH ALL THAT SAID...

No way, no how, are we going through this quarterback carousel thing again. Nope. Not gonna do it. If the Broncos view Bridgewater as a better Case Keenum, the fall of 2021 is Colorado Avalanche season. If he’s the new Joe Flacco, 60,000 ticket-holders deserve to pull a Ja’Wuan James and opt out. If the Broncos view "LockWater" as the answer, what the heck is the question? God forbid that’s the case. Even the nickname sounds uncomfortable.

But I don’t believe that’s the case. Paton seems like a sharp young man, and 14 seasons going against Aaron Rodgers in the NFC North no doubt would show how easy it was for the Packers to reach the playoffs. Meanwhile, Paton’s Vikings made the playoffs six times with six different quarterbacks, and it’s tough to imagine a man wanting to live through another patchwork quarterback operation again.

Trust me. I have Big Ten Network.

Maybe you’re in the camp that believes Lock deserves a second go-round in the same offense. Maybe you think it’s too risky to write off a 24-year-old and watch him become a Pro Bowl quarterback elsewhere. Not here. His Chiefs games haven’t been close. Kansas City’s playing a whole different ballgame. Or maybe you think Bridgewater finally found his groove with a career-high in touchdowns last season in Carolina. But do you know what Mahomes and Herbert call 15 touchdowns? October.

Quarterback absolutely must be on the table for the Broncos in the first round on Thursday.

The best-case scenario for Denver has Trey Lance, the 20-year-old stud from North Dakota State, tumbling to No. 9. The worst-case scenario has the big five quarterbacks flying off the board, and Casa Bonita closing for good.

One man's guess: the Broncos end up trading back with the Patriots, and Broncos Country watches Mac Jones develop into a Hall of Famer with Bill Belichick. And Casa Bonita closes for good.

Hey, it’s been a Murphy’s Law five years for the Broncos. Time to heal these emotional scars.

Teddy Bridgewater can’t be the big quarterback move of the Broncos offseason. No how, no way.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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