Of course, the Broncos are going to have to pay him first.
Before that happens, though, Manning is going to have to retire. That or the Broncos are going to have to push him out as delicately as possible. After all, misguided loyalty can be a drag on franchise success—just ask the Los Angeles Lakers.
Manning was finished last season, barely capable of holding his offense together in the playoffs and putting up the weakest offensive performance in the history of Super Bowl victors. The 39-year-old was finally felled by Father Time, making him look like a struggling rookie far more than a future Hall of Famer.
Osweiler didn't exactly light the NFL on fire when he took over for his injured mentor, if we can call Manning that. Manning reportedly avoided Osweiler altogether after his injury, per NFL Media's Dan Hanzus. Though that was soon dispelled by the newly minted starter, relayed by ESPN's Jeff Legwold:
Peyton’s been great to me; he was in meetings [on Wednesday]. He’s been talking me through his past experiences going against the [New England] Patriots and whatnot. He was out here at practice helping me out, asking me questions. Peyton’s been a great teammate and obviously I love having him around. It’s a great brain to pick.
Answering questions at practice hardly sounds like mentoring, but that is neither here nor there. At any rate, Osweiler was much better than his predecessor overall last season, at least statistically.
Beyond raw statistics, though, the fifth-year quarterback simply had something Manning didn't: youth. Well, that and health. Those factors were the difference between 17 interceptions for Manning and just six for his replacement.
Manning's balky foot ultimately gave his successor the opportunity to prove himself, and Osweiler did so by keeping the offense good enough to take the AFC West. He also graded far higher than Manning over at Pro Football Focus.
Which brings us to value—what is Osweiler worth? Franchise quarterbacks have a premium after all. The question is whether he is truly the franchise or merely a caretaker. Is he Aaron Rodgers or Alex Smith? He certainly looked closer to the latter.
The Broncos are saying all the right things, of course. Head coach Gary Kubiak seems to be all in on re-signing the man he benched in Week 17.
Gary Kubiak on Brock Osweiler: 'He has a bright future. Obviously we think the world of him. We want him to be a part of our football team.'— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) February 24, 2016
Those statistics from earlier are nice, but they aren't exactly All-Pro-caliber figures. Osweiler rated higher than Manning over at Pro Football Focus, but he was only good for 20th in the league. He ranked 17th in the league in accuracy percentage and passer rating while under pressure.
He also took seven more sacks than Manning in two fewer games.
Middling as all that might make him seem, though, those were the first seven starts of his career. That makes the decision all the more difficult.
And it brings back to the little matter of payment—is Osweiler worth $15 million annually? That's what he may command, according to Denver radio personality and Broncos insider Cecil Lammey:
In this quarterback-desperate league, Osweiler could get a deal that commands at least $12 million annually. Some are suggesting Osweiler is going to get around $15-17 million a year on the open market, but that’s a price the Broncos may be uncomfortable paying.
Something in that range would indeed be a big commitment, especially considering the fact the Broncos have so many big contracts on the books already with Von Miller and possibly Malik Jackson to retain.
But $15 million a year would rank 19th in the league among quarterbacks, which would fall in line with his value.
Considering Manning averages $17 million on a five-year-old contract that was modified last offseason—he is due to make $19 million in 2016—and the salary cap has exploded since then, those rumored numbers for Osweiler are a relative bargain.
Contract structure is everything too—an eye-popping salary may not matter if the Broncos can eject without much damage two years down the road. The San Francisco 49ers were roundly mocked for giving quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a $114 million deal two years ago, but they can cut him with only $2.4 million in dead cap space this offseason thanks to rolling guarantees.
If you think it sounds like I am not taking a position, you are right—there are major pros and cons to consider, and this article has flip-flopped more than a politician in election season. The fact remains this is a quarterback-driven league, though, and Denver doesn't want to end up in quarterback purgatory.
Osweiler may not be Aaron Rodgers, but the Broncos proved in 2015 they didn't need MVP-caliber play at the position with their elite defense. Keeping a defense playing at that level is difficult but not as much as starting over at quarterback.
A viable quarterback in the hand is worth two in the draft.