Strike 2: What we know: Russell Wilson is out. Jarrett Stidham isn’t the answer.

Neither are the right fit, largely because neither one is Drew Brees.

What we don’t know: Start with the $85 million dollar question – who will be taking the snaps for the Denver Broncos next September? And can that guy eventually do for Sean Payton what Brees did in New Orleans?

First some context: The Broncos are currently residing in Salary Cap Hell. The imminent release of their $248 million QB Wilson will force them to eat about $85 million in “dead cap” money over the next two seasons. The wealthiest ownership group in the league can afford it, but the NFL cap doesn’t care how deep your pockets are. No lavish spending sprees are allowed regardless of the size of your bank account.

So the rebuild is underway. Prepare for two more years (at least) of mediocrity, at best.

This kind of salary cap eating is unprecedented in NFL history. Denver was well over the cap before the Wilson saga, and there’s no way they can even attempt to sign a standout veteran QB for at least the next two off seasons. Stidham is under contract for next season, but he’s far better suited to be a backup. Some speculate that the underwhelming Jimmy Garoppolo could land in Denver.

Broncos Country had better hope not. From not-great to way worse under center?

Plus, the way the whole Wilson fiasco has been handled has stained the organization and Payton to the point that it’s fair to ask, “What established high caliber veteran QB would even want to come to Denver?”

Powerful microscope. Highly frustrated and emotional fan base. Unyielding head coach who many players dislike, and many more don’t trust.

Who wants to jump into this fish bowl?

Only someone without a choice, that’s who.

So get primed for the upcoming NFL Draft Broncos Country. It’s going to produce next season’s eventual starting QB.

Now it’s just a matter of guessing who that newbie might be, and will he be everything Payton wants him to be, which is pretty much the next Brees.

Having already traded away a lot of valuable “draft capital,” Denver’s not getting Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. Probably not Jayden Daniels, either. Mediocrity has a price when it comes to draft positioning, and considering the Broncos’ other considerable needs, trying to trade up wouldn’t be all that prudent.

The Broncos will draft 12th in the first round. While there are at least six, if not eight teams ahead of them that may be looking to draft a QB that early, it’s possible that a guy like Bo Nix, JJ McCarthy or Michael Penix could slip down to 12th. All very good college quarterbacks. Are any of those guys the next Brees?

There will be a ton of scrutiny on the QB’s at the scouting combine.

Penix has been overlooked most of the year, but shined in the Sugar Bowl. Perhaps he impressed Payton? Maybe he impressed other teams that are drafting ahead of Denver? Then there’s Nix – the NCAA’s version of John Blutarsky (google it) – who has spent the better part of the last decade playing college football. He’s taken a lot more snaps than third year pro Trey Lance, for example. Maybe he’s shown Payton that he can be Brees-ish?

There’s also McCarthy, the system QB/winner at Michigan who operates behind an offensive line that provides better pass protection than the Broncos do right now. Can he translate to the pro game and do what Brees was able to do coming out of the Big Ten?

Then again, would/could Denver dare try to wait until the second round to nab a difference maker at QB?

Let’s also keep something else in mind: Historically, Denver is one of those organizations – regardless of who’s been in charge – that just can’t seem to draft and develop a big time quarterback.

Like, ever.

In the team’s six decades of existence, the list of the best QB’s the Broncos have ever drafted includes guys like Tommy Maddox, Gary Kubiak and Jay Cutler. None ever became an NFL (player) stud. Denver is pretty much 0-60+ years in drafting quarterbacks. Can Payton change that?

So if Denver drafts say McCarthy – by all accounts an excellent athlete, good “processor” and winner at the college level – are we confident he’ll turn out the way another Michigan QB did – that guy named Tom Brady? Or will he become – despite a stellar college career – more like another former Wolverine turned Broncos draft pick, Rick Leach?

Because of the way he (mis)handled the Wilson situation, all eyes, ears and focus are now on the man who is singularly in charge of the Broncos fortunes. Let’s see how Sean Payton handles all of it.