The Denver Broncos are an interesting case study of a team whose future, as in the first game of the NFL's next regular season, is almost certain to be dramatically different from its present.
You would think that would have a strong bearing on how they approach their final three games of this season, but so far it hasn't.
Eric Studesville is filling the head-coaching job on an interim basis and probably won't keep it beyond the Jan. 2 season-finale against San Diego. Brian Xanders has the general manager title, but he doesn't figure to be long for that job, either.
That leaves the one spot the Broncos can -- and must -- address with an eye toward next year: Quarterback.
The Broncos' current and future regimes pretty much know what they have in Orton. They have seen him at his best, such as when he threw for a career-high four touchdowns in a blowout victory against Kansas City in Week 10. They have seen him at his worst, such as when he was intercepted three times in a blowout loss against Arizona last week.
At 3-10, there is nothing for the Broncos to even try to salvage. There is only the opportunity to accumulate more information about exactly what they have in Tebow, who in six games has thrown (and completed) one pass for a three-yard touchdown and run 12 times for 28 yards and three scores.
Some saw the major risk Josh McDaniels took in making Tebow a first-round draft pick as an example of the poor judgment he too often displayed after becoming the Broncos' coach last year, and that perception ultimately got him fired after Week 13. Most talent-evaluators thought that was too high a spot to select a quarterback who is a dynamic runner but whose passing skills were seen as needing plenty of development before they could be deemed ready for the NFL.
Door open for Tebow?
Nevertheless, the investment has been made, and although owner interference is rarely a good thing, it would make sense for Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to intervene in this case to see to it that Tebow gets additional NFL exposure for the new folks who will be running Bowlen's team. One three-yard throw, on top of what Tebow did during the preseason, simply isn't enough for them to determine whether the Broncos actually have a future with him or should try and trade him.
There has been plenty of speculation that, given Orton's reported injury and the possibility that he is hurting in other places that haven't been reported and he has refused to discuss publicly, Tebow could see extended playing time and perhaps even start against the Raiders. He has taken the bulk of snaps in practice, with third-stringer Brady Quinn also getting some work.
Interestingly, in avoiding any specifics about how/if Tebow will be utilized going forward, Studesville felt the need to point out to reporters earlier this week that the former Florida star "was drafted to play quarterback so he's going to be ready to play in a game."
If Tebow does start Sunday, it shouldn't be by default. It should be by choice.
Here's a look at four other quarterbacking situations that also address the future, in one form or another:
Injuries continue to dictate the Vikings' quarterbacking decisions as their disappointing 5-8 season inches closer to being put out if its misery. With Brett Favre still nursing a bad shoulder and Tarvaris Jackson landing on the injured-reserve list with an injured toe, interim coach Leslie Frazier is expected to turn to rookie Joe Webb to start against Chicago on Monday night.
Favre told reporters Thursday that he still felt numbness and discomfort in his shoulder, and did not expect to play against the Bears. Even if Jackson were healthy, the move to Webb would make sense because Jackson has looked bad in extended action after Favre was injured against Buffalo in Week 13 and in last Monday night's start against the Giants.
The Vikings made the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Webb a sixth-round draft pick from the University of Alabama-Birmingham. They liked him mostly because of his running ability (some scouts thought he would play receiver in the NFL), but now they have a chance to see what potential he has to become a more complete quarterback in the NFL. Although Favre likely played the final game of his career against the Bills and seemingly has no stake in the Vikings' future, he said the following about Webb: "You've got to find out what he can do at some point."
Actually, those words could apply to multiple teams.
The Browns made what seemed like a natural decision in naming rookie Colt McCoy the starter for the rest of the season. Jake Delhomme has been a disaster. He literally gave the Browns no chance to win a winnable game against Buffalo in Week 14. For all intents and purposes, Delhomme's NFL career is over.
Before suffering a sprained left ankle that forced him to miss the last three games, McCoy had shown considerable promise. He led the Browns to impressive back-to-back victories against New Orleans and New England, and nearly guided them to an overtime win against the New York Jets. Before and during his first NFL start, Week 6 at Pittsburgh, McCoy promptly won over his teammates and coaches with his considerable poise and leadership abilities that belied his boyish looks.
The Browns are 5-8, and Eric Mangini's future as their coach is uncertain. Regardless of who guides the team after this season, McCoy needs as much development as he can get so that he'll have a running start heading into the next campaign.
Making rookie John Skelton the starter for Sunday's game against Carolina wasn't too difficult a choice for Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. At 4-9, his team actually remains in the hunt to win the pathetic NFC West. However, with Derek Anderson, the Cardinals' chances for any sort of success were somewhere between slim and none.
Anderson is recovering from a concussion, but his health had less to do with the decision to switch to Skelton than his poor play. Skelton, a fifth-round pick from Fordham, at least gives the Cards a glimmer of hope at a position that hasn't been the same since Kurt Warner retired after last season. The rookie did mostly OK in his first NFL start, Arizona's Week 14 thrashing of Denver. He completed 15 of 37 passes for 146 yards, wasn't intercepted and wasn't sacked.
Although he made some typical rookie mistakes while working with a limited game plan, Skelton impressed Whisenhunt with "his demeanor and how he handled himself" in the face of heavy pressure.
Nothing about the Panthers' 1-12 season is positive, and it appears that it won't even offer the consolation prize of hope for the future at the quarterback position. That is, unless you define hope as the chance to select another QB with the top overall pick of the draft, which the Panthers will likely have.
Rookie Jimmy Clausen, a second-round draft pick from Notre Dame, has mostly struggled in 10 appearances -- including seven starts -- but is expected to finish the year in the No. 1 spot. He has completed 51.3 percent of his passes and thrown only one touchdown with seven interceptions.
Despite lacking strong support from his receivers and offensive line, Clausen has failed to convince most close observers of the Panthers that he will ever succeed in the NFL. He consistently makes poor decisions, he frequently has passes batted down, and his long windup (a flaw cited by many scouts before the draft) gives defenders too much time to anticipate where and when he is throwing. Clausen also hasn't made much of a mark as a leader, another shortcoming he had in college.