Ahead of the 1999 season, the Broncos dealt with the retirement of franchise quarterback John Elway by promoting Brian Griese, whom they had selected in the third round of the 1998 draft. The 2016 Broncos, with Elway running personnel, will not have that same opportunity this time around. Brock Osweiler has reached an agreement in principle with the Texans, reportedly for four years and up to $72 million, leaving Denver without either of the quarterbacks that carried the team to Super Bowl 50, with Osweiler’s departure and Peyton Manning’s retirement on Monday.
Osweiler, a second-round pick out of Arizona State in 2012, was the quarterback in charge down the stretch when the Broncos engineered major comebacks against the Patriots and Bengals—crucial wins that allowed Denver to get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Now, after building Osweiler up and making a last-ditch effort to retain him, the Broncos are in a position where they have no real quarterback on the roster as they prepare to defend that Super Bowl title. Rumors have swirled around that Colin Kaepernick could be the answer, and Robert Griffin III has been mentioned as well. Ryan Fitzpatrick would be a more efficient option, but the Kaepernick rumors seem to have more legs, given that the Broncos nearly drafted him out of Nevada in 2011 and he has asked for a trade from the dysfunctional 49ers organization.
Why did Osweiler move along? Many believe that he was unhappy that he was benched in favor of Manning as the playoffs began, and reports indicate that he was distant with the Broncos in negotiations.
All is not lost for Denver, however. The Broncos won that Super Bowl on the back of a defense that went to an entirely new level in the postseason, and they did it despite a rushing attack that was pretty average. They also did it despite the fact that Manning was league-average at best, and awful at worst, in 2015.
“We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here," Elway said in a statement on the team's website. "That’s been a successful approach for us. While we did offer a very competitive and fair long-term contract to Brock, we ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships."
As for Osweiler, it’s clear that he wanted a fresh start, and the Texans are definitely a blank canvas at the quarterback position. In 2015, Houston posted a 9–7 record with coach Bill O’Brien, though the combined efforts of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden were far below average. In the Texans’ 30–0 playoff loss to the Chiefs, Hoyer threw four interceptions, which put a bow on the franchise’s luck with quarterbacks in the last few years. They had Fitzpatrick in 2014, decided that he was replaceable, and then watched as Fitzpatrick threw 31 touchdowns and 15 picks for the Jets instead. Now, and most certainly for the first time since the Matt Schaub era, the Texans ostensibly have a franchise guy as opposed to a bunch of cast-offs and ex-Tom Brady backups.
How will Osweiler do in Houston? Well, it helps that the Texans are also bringing in former Dolphins running back Lamar Miller—a deal that gives Osweiler the every-down back he’s going to need. Houston has a pretty good offensive line, an amazing No. 1 receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, and a coach in O’Brien who has a great reputation for getting the most out of his quarterbacks. Now, it’s up to him to take the next step from decent backup to total franchise guy.
One thing Osweiler has in his favor is four years of lessons from one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks, and everyone in Denver believed that he would be ready to step into a starting role because of how much time he spent under development.
“Since I came into the league, every single week, I prepared as though I was the starter,” Osweiler said the week of the Super Bowl. “I knew the game plans inside and out, I studied the defenses, so nothing that happened over those seven weeks took me by surprise. But certainly, finally being out in the fire and being in the huddle with the guys, it definitely gives you some confidence.”
Now, he’ll take that confidence to Houston, and a brand-new opportunity.