In a surprising move that threw a wrench into Tebow's designs on taking away Orton's job anytime soon, the Broncos announced Thursday night that they had signed Orton to a contract extension.
ESPN reported it was for one year, through 2011, and worth $9 million with $5.5 million guaranteed.
It's not exactly the long-term deal that Orton coveted this offseason but certainly a sign of faith in the sixth-year pro from Purdue who is 29-19 as a starter in Chicago and Denver and also an indication of how far ahead of Tebow and Quinn that he is in both grasp and execution of the Broncos' intricate offense.
Coach Josh McDaniels said in a statement Thursday night that Orton's "leadership and knowledge of the offense have enabled him to have a solid offseason and training camp and we are collectively looking forward to the 2010 season."
Orton joined the Broncos last year from Chicago in the Jay Cutler trade and had his best statistical season, setting career highs in nearly every passing category, including throwing for 3,802 yards, despite playing on two bum ankles, or, as he called them, "basically two flat tires."
But after a 6-0 start, the Broncos slumped to 8-8 and missed the playoffs again.
Orton wanted a long-term extension like the one NFL sacks king Elvis Dumervil signed this summer before getting hurt — six years and $61.5 million — but instead the Broncos brought in Quinn from Cleveland and drafted Tebow, the former Florida star, to compete with him at training camp.
Orton, who signed a one-year, $2.62 million tender as a restricted free agent this spring, quickly ended any notion of losing his starting job with his superior play at both offseason workouts and training camp.
In a statement released by the club, Orton said: "Considering the labor environment, I'm aware of how difficult it was to get this deal done and am extremely appreciative of all of the hard work and support from (general manager) Brian Xanders and Coach McDaniels during this process," Orton added. "I'm eager to get this season started and will do whatever I can to help this team be successful."
Some teams have been reluctant to extend contracts beyond this season because the league's collective bargaining agreement expires after next year's draft.
Orton has thrown for 9,121 yards and 51 touchdowns with 39 interceptions in his career. His 19-5 home record as a starter and 39-3 touchdown-to-interception mark in the red zone are among the best in the NFL among active quarterbacks.
And yet, with the arrivals of Tebow and Quinn, he was largely ignored by Broncos fans at the team's training camp that ended Thursday morning.
He didn't rate a single display jersey at the Broncos team store that operated from a trailer in the parking lot at the club headquarters, where dozens of Tebow jerseys — already the top seller in the NFL — went fast.
In an interview with The Associated Press recently, Orton laughed at the notion he wasn't getting any love.
"I don't need love," Orton insisted. "I just need wins."
Orton hasn't seemed the least bit fazed by the hoopla surrounding Tebow or the lack of devotion he was getting from the fans or — until Thursday — the front office.
Orton's comfort level and accuracy of his throws were way ahead of Tebow and Quinn. His teammates look at him as their unquestioned leader, with co-captain Champ Bailey declaring, "He's my guy."
Ever since bringing in Quinn and Tebow, McDaniels has insisted Orton is still the starter — but that he'd have to fend off his rivals in training camp.
While Tebow generally blew away the competition in post-practice wind sprints, Orton did the same at quarterback.
It's not just been a mental leap but a physical one: Orton is more mobile in the pocket and is stepping into throws with the good mechanics and proper footwork that eluded him almost all last season when he was hampered by two sprained ankles.
"I'm feeling better than I ever have and I'm throwing the ball better than I ever have," he said.
His passes and his reads have been precise and he's only strengthened his hold on the job while Quinn and Tebow, who's dealing with bruised ribs this week, are left to battle it out for backup duty.
In an interview with the AP on Thursday morning, McDaniels said the Broncos have a lot of time to tweak Quinn's game because he's under contract beyond this season. He also agreed the best thing for Tebow might very well be for him to sit a year or more and watch and learn from Orton.
"Well, I certainly think he's learning a lot," McDaniels said. "I think the best thing for any player is to play when they're ready and learn when they're not. That's really the thing. If they're not ready, I hope that they're learning new things every day and getting better. And if they are ready, then you play them.
"If you're going about your team and your job in that way, I think you're always doing the right thing by each player, and I think you're treating your team fairly."