Can you blame Denver Broncos general manager John Elway for refusing to pay Brock Osweiler $18 million a year?
The 25-year-old quarterback had just seven career starts under his belt and a passer rating of 86.0 before hitting free agency this week. The Broncos benched him in favor of the league’s lowest-rated qualified passer late in the 2015 season, and there are legitimate questions regarding Osweiler’s ability to become a consistent starting NFL quarterback.
The Broncos, who aren’t flush with salary cap space, have had their Super Bowl-winning roster picked over by the happy-to-overpay vultures of the free-agent market. They have a lot of work to do at a lot of positions, but the reality is they won Super Bowl 50 despite mediocre quarterback play, which might explain why it appears they weren’t willing to pay a huge premium for a flawed pivot.
The Houston Texans didn’t have the same luxury, which is why Osweiler is now en route to Houston to start collecting novelty-sized paychecks.
The Broncos proved in 2015 that they don’t need a star quarterback to win. But precedents suggest that they do need a living, breathing human being to play the position. In fact, NFL rules stipulate that somebody must take snaps from the center.
Here are Denver’s remaining options.
Robert Griffin III
35 starts (14 wins), 63.9%, 40 TD, 23 INT, 7.6 YPA, 90.6 passer rating
Griffin and the Broncos have been linked for much of the offseason. He’d surely cost a little less than big free agency winners Osweiler, Sam Bradford and Kirk Cousins, and he probably has more natural talent than all of those guys. Did he mature during a year on the bench in Washington? If so, the 2012 offensive rookie of the year could have a major opportunity to totally redeem himself in a fresh environment, especially considering all of the support he’d have in Denver.
47 starts (27 wins), 59.9%, 56 TD, 26 INT, 7.4 YPA, 88.4 rating
Kaepernick has big-game experience and a phenomenal skill set, but as his tenure wore on in San Francisco defenses began to figure him out. He lacked discipline in the pocket and struggled beyond his first read, and it got so bad that Blaine freakin’ Gabbert eventually supplanted him. Can the Broncos fix him? It’s possible, but he’s got a big contract with the 49ers, who would also require compensation. The whole thing is pretty far-fetched, though in the NFL, that means it’s probably already a done deal.
105 starts (43 wins), 60.1%, 154 TD, 116 INT, 6.7 YPA, 80.8 rating
The journeyman would be joining his fifth team in five years, which is never a good sign. That said, there’s less mystery here. The unrestricted free agent has started at least eight games in each of the last eight seasons and he threw 31 touchdown passes while nearly leading the Jets to the playoffs in 2015.
Fitzpatrick isn’t a long-term answer at the age of 33, but he was better than both Manning and Osweiler last season and could be even more effective with extra support in Denver.
Zero career pass attempts
The only quarterback still on the Denver roster was a seventh-round pick last year. Nobody expects the Northwestern product to start, but he’d likely have a chance to compete with Griffin or Kaepernick.
63 starts (25 wins), 60.1%, 78 TD, 52 INT, 6.5 YPA, 81.0 rating
Yes, the Eagles just signed Bradford to a two-year, $35 million contract, but they also signed Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million deal. Philly has spent the last week ridding itself of Chip Kelly’s leftovers, and it does feel as though the Eagles might be crazy enough to trade Bradford just after re-signing him.
Now, dealing with Bradford would likely cost Denver draft picks and he’s slated to make nearly as much as Osweiler got in Houston, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Elway favored him over any other option on the market or in the draft. The former top pick has had issus with injuries and consistency, but he’s coming off the hottest stretch of his career (68.2%, 10 touchdowns, four picks and a 97.0 passer rating during the final seven weeks of the 2015 season).
Unnamed draft prospect
Zero career pass attempts
You’d have to think Denver plans on using one of its early picks on a quarterback who can at least compete with whomever they sign. But with no picks in the top 30, they won’t likely have a shot at the draft’s top three pivots, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch. It would, however, be interesting if Elway were to target fellow Stanford product Kevin Hogan.
The most obvious scenario?
They pay $10-12 million to Griffin, who according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter might already be visiting Denver, and then draft a quarterback in the second or third round, setting up a summer competition between three talented young quarterbacks with very different roots.
Is that perfect? Of course not. But things weren’t much better under center in 2015, and the season panned out pretty well.