Monday marked the end of an era in Denver Broncos—and NFL—history when quarterback Peyton Manning decided to retire. No player has ever been a five-time MVP like Manning, and we may never see another quarterback like him.
No player in league history has earned more Pro Bowl appearances (14) than Manning, a 14-time team captain who finishes his career as the NFL’s all-time record holder in career touchdown passes (539) and passing yards (71,940).
The Broncos obviously have a huge hole to fill at the quarterback position.
Arguably the best option for the Broncos is to re-sign Brock Osweiler. After waiting years for his chance to showcase his abilities, Osweiler got to start in seven games for the Broncos as Manning was banged up during the 2015 season.
Broncos general manager John Elway expressed confidence in Osweiler as their starter.
“I think that with the sample size that we got from Brock, we were excited about what we saw," Elway said. "I think when you look at the seven games that he started and the way that he played, he made some good strides.”
As of right now, the Broncos have not been able to secure Osweiler’s services. They need to be ready in case he’s lured away by more money on the open market.
Where do the Broncos turn after Manning’s retirement? Let’s take a look.
Brock Osweiler, But At What Cost?
The first option will be to re-sign free agent Brock Osweiler. With the new league year starting on Wednesday, Osweiler is at least going to see what other teams offer him.
Mike Klis, from 9News.com, reports the Broncos have already offered Osweiler a three-year deal worth around $45 million. That’s a significant offer for a quarterback who has only seven starts in a four-year career. The Broncos spent a second-round pick on Osweiler in the 2012 NFL draft, and they have put a lot of time and development into the young passer.
Troy E. Renck, from the Denver Post, indicates the Houston Texans are likely to make a big push for Osweiler’s services. The Texans have a strong defense, and they may be able to construct a strong rushing attack to go with that. Money talks, and the Texans could send more money Osweiler’s way in an effort to snare him away from Denver.
No to Osweiler, What’s Next?
If Osweiler gets out of the team's price range, then the Broncos will have to turn to other options. With guys like Sam Bradford already wrapped up, the free-agent market is short on quarterback talent.
Robert Griffin III is a popular name to bandy about when considering this scenario. He has the necessary athleticism, but Griffin has a long injury history that was only part of the reason he fell out of favor with Washington. As a rookie, Griffin helped Washington win the NFC East title. In the two seasons that followed, Griffin’s win percentage of .250 was the worst among any quarterback with at least 20 games played.
Ryan Fitzpatrick could be on the team’s radar if they have to move on without Osweiler. He’s a smart quarterback who isn’t afraid to challenge the edges of a defense. In 2015, Fitzpatrick became the first New York Jets quarterback to throw for at least 30 touchdowns in a single season. He has thrived under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, and luring him away from the Jets could prove to be difficult.
There’s also the chance the Broncos could explore a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for Colin Kaepernick. Reports have indicated that Kaepernick may want to get out of San Francisco after they hired Chip Kelly as their new head coach. Without Osweiler, Kaepernick may be the most likely option for the Broncos.
Drafting a QB Makes Sense
Regardless of what happens with Osweiler, the Broncos would be wise to add a quarterback via the 2016 NFL draft.
If the Broncos want a quarterback at the end of the first round, then Paxton Lynch from Memphis is a player to target. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who could be a great fit in the Gary Kubiak system. Lynch has a good arm, and he consistently extends plays with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. It’s not ideal, but the Broncos could give him the reins of the offense as a rookie if need be.
A player that could be available at the end of the second or third round is Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. He was impressive during the week of practice at the 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl. His trademark athleticism was on full display, but Prescott showed well as a passer going through drills.
The Broncos even have some late-round options in guys like Oregon’s Vernon Adams or Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld. I watched both players during the week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game earlier this year. Adams has the athleticism to execute bootlegs and throw on the run. Sudfeld has a size-strength combination that makes him an intriguing developmental prospect.
The language of the NFL is money, and the Broncos have clearly shown what Osweiler means to them. If the Texans up the offer for Osweiler, we’ll have to see if the Broncos want to add even more money to keep him.
There are options if he chooses to go elsewhere, but none of them are as exciting as Osweiler. Even options in the draft aren’t as interesting as Osweiler could be this season.
Not since the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 have we seen a Super Bowl champion change their quarterback in their title-defense year. After winning Super Bowl XXXV, the Ravens chose to move on from Trent Dilfer and added Elvis Grbac as their starter. The Ravens failed to repeat as champions as they went 10-6 in the regular season and were bounced after one playoff game.
Grbac was cut after his lone season as the Ravens starter. The Broncos don’t want to make the same mistake as their world-class defense keeps them in a Super Bowl window in 2016.
Elway knows how important Osweiler was to their championship season.
“I was really excited with the way Brock played," he said. "We wouldn’t have been world champs without Brock. I was excited about where Brock is and his process.”
With a substantial deal already offered to Osweiler, Elway knows how important the young quarterback could be to the future of the team.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.