What we learned: Elway set to work magic in QB chase

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Never underestimate John Elway's ability to pull the rabbit out of a hat.

Thirty years after he orchestrated "The Drive" to extinguish the most realistic Super Bowl hopes in Cleveland history, Elway is locking horns with the Browns' front office in a game of high-stakes quarterback poker.

As unlikely as it might have seemed when Blaine Gabbert took his job, Colin Kaepernick is suddenly the most intriguing chip in the free-agency parlor game.

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NFL Media columnist Michael Silver reported Thursday that Kaepernick is Elway's primary target to replace Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler at quarterback -- and the 49ers are amenable to a trade.

With the Browns looming as a threat to swoop in, the Broncos are hedging their bets by contacting Ryan Fitzpatrick's agent.

The Jets, meanwhile, are lurking on the periphery of this three-team quarterback parlay, prepared to test the waters on a Brian Hoyer trade if Fitzpatrick flees.

Conventional wisdom suggests Elway has painted himself into a corner, leading just the second team in NFL history (2001 Ravens) to win a Super Bowl and enter the following season without its top two quarterbacks.

Can he outbid the Browns while also satisfying the demands of the 49ers and Kaepernick?

Elway worked his way out of a much bleaker corner a half-decade ago with a stroke of pure brilliance. He not only landed the biggest free-agency fish of the 21st century (Manning) while drafting a valuable second-round insurance policy (Osweiler), but also checkmated billboard-wielding Tim Tebow acolytes at the climax of Tebowmania.

For his next magic trick, he'll have to lure Kaepernick to Denver, jumpstart his stalled career and propel him back to the Super Bowl.

Here's what else we learned on Thursday:

1. As if the quarterback conundrum wasn't puzzling enough, Elway finds himself in a bidding war for running back C.J. Anderson after the Dolphins signed the restricted free agent to a four-year, $18 million offer sheet on Thursday. It's fair to wonder if the Broncos might have avoided this backfield predicament by simply shelling out the extra $882,000 to discourage prospective suitors with a second-round price tag.

2. While Elway is forced to work out of a jam, Brock Osweiler refuted reports that his late-season benching drove his decision to leave Denver for Houston. Although Osweiler said it was "the most difficult decision of my life," he believes strongly that the Texans give him "the best opportunity to be successful" going forward.

3. In other quarterback news, Eagles coach Doug Pederson left no doubt that Sam Bradford will enter the offseason program as Philadelphia's No. 1 quarterback. "That means he goes in as the starter," Pederson told NFL Media's Albert Breer. "He's earned that position."

Although Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman both laughed off the notion that Bradford might be placed on the trade block, it's fair to question the length of his leash after the Eagles paid Chase Daniel to push for the starting job.

4. Two years ago, Raiders owner Mark Davis warned that there were no more excuses for general manager Reggie McKenzie, who had proven capable of roster "deconstruction" but not "reconstruction." Thanks to a strong 2014 draft that yielded young franchise quarterback Derek Carr and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack, McKenzie has built a foundation that is finally luring quality young talent on the open market.

After signing the top offensive lineman available (Kelechi Osemele) and a bookend edge rusher (Bruce Irvin) to pair with Mack, McKenzie signed cornerback Sean Smith away from the rival Chiefs. Will the upheaval in Denver give Oakland a chance to pry the AFC West title away as early as 2016?

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