How good is Brock Osweiler? Reporters who have watched him in practice this summer will tell you he has much higher velocity and accuracy. The lengthy quarterback probably hasn’t shrunk from 6’7, either. But the honest answer to this question is very simple – nobody knows. There is nothing like an in-game performance in pro sports, especially in the NFL. Some guys have all the measurables and talent, but lack the intangibles to perform. Until Osweiler gets thrown to the wolves in the regular season, every report on his talent and ability to produce is pure speculation. The Broncos’ brass invested a second round pick on this guy and so far have no results to show for it. Silently, they are coming closer and closer to making a franchise altering call which the media is giving little attention to amidst the hype for the upcoming season.
Let’s take a look at Osweiler as a prospect and his journey so far. He declared for the draft as a 21-year-old junior from Arizona State after his head coach was fired and his offensive coordinator left the program. Doug Mazzone was his offensive coordinator in college, the same coach who groomed Phillip Rivers at NC State a few years back. After posting a 140.5 rating his junior year, Osweiler was very discouraged about the changes in the coaching staff (ASU went 6-7). Some expected him to transfer, while others thought he would stay put and play his senior year at ASU. While he didn’t stake his claim as the starting quarterback until midway through his sophomore campaign, he put up promising statistics. His junior year he played in 13 games, throwing for 4036 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions with a 63.2% completion percentage. Most scouts looked at him as a raw player with significant upside, though most expected him to stay in school and get more playing time before joining the NFL ranks. But the hulking, 6’7 and 240 lb. quarterback took a rare route for someone at his stage of development and decided to enter the NFL draft. If he waited another year and produced similar to slightly improved numbers, there was speculation he could have been picked ahead of EJ Manuel and that entire below-average quarterback class.
Instead, Osweiler threw his name into the 2012 draft class, which already features several household names at the quarterback position. Taken ahead of him were Luck, Griffin III, and Tannehill. Putting even more pressure on Osweiler, fairly or unfairly, are the quarterbacks taken behind him. Wilson, Foles, and Cousins have all had opportunities to showcase their talents. The Broncos knew what they were getting with Osweiler and the match seemed perfect. Still two to three years away from starting in the NFL, he would be able to sit and learn from Manning. Despite the perceived fit, this draft selection received mixed reviews and overall was not a popular one locally. Peyton Manning only has so many years left and a second round pick is spent on a guy who everyone hopes won’t play for four years? Hindsight is 20/20, but the Broncos could have realistically opted instead for one of Lavonte David, Casey Hayward, Rueben Randle, or T.Y. Hilton. But, the pick was made and Osweiler received Elway’s stamp of approval for what that’s worth. He has laid low since, but could force the Broncos’ hand soon enough.
The last thing Broncos fans want to think about is life after Peyton Manning. Seamlessly transitioning into his new home of Denver, Manning brought instant success with him. He signed a 5 year, $96 million deal in 2012 to keep him a Bronco until 2016. The first year’s salary was guaranteed. The second and third years’ salaries were guaranteed after he passed a physical in 2013. The fourth and fifth year, however, are not. Knowing Manning’s age and inevitable decline, Denver gave itself some flexibility with the last two years of this contract. Essentially, this gives Elway the ability to cut the storied quarterback with little repercussions to the salary cap and turn the team over to the backup. This might sound like a ridiculous idea to fans right now, but here’s what the situation will look like down the road.
Osweiler’s contract was signed in 2012 as well, but only has him under contract until 2015, which is where things get interesting. Manning has one more year on his contract than his backup and has shown no signs of slowing down. Quite the opposite in fact, as he recently completed a record-breaking campaign in Denver. The drop-off for one of the game’s best is inevitable, but may not be drastic or predictable. When it comes to someone who prepares as well as Manning does, sometimes a career is not ended based on performance, but by preference. He could choose to stop playing after 2014, 2015, or 2016 regardless of his on-field performance. If Manning retires after this year or next, Osweiler will either be given the reigns under his current contract or under a new one. That’s simple enough. But if Manning wants to play into 2016 or beyond, a decision will be made.
If Elway and co. want to squeeze out another year or two of Manning, Osweiler will have little reason to stick around. At that point, after four years in the league with no playing time, he will most definitely desire greener pastures and a place to spread his wings. Do you think there will be a long waiting line for a physically gifted, 25-year-old quarterback who’s simmered under Peyton Manning? Well there already is. Having already been contacted by multiple teams at the draft about their backup quarterback, the Broncos clearly know how valuable a youngster with potential can be. Since Osweiler will be a restricted free agent at the end of 2015, the Broncos could tender him a specific amount and receive a draft pick in return. But, Elway obviously sees something in the former Sun Devil and wants to see him succeed in the Mile High City. Osweiler leaving via free agency would be a monumental loss because of the crucial development he’s received, the large value which his draft position represents, and the ensuing lack of confidence in the Broncos’ future past 2017 or so.
Manning has already turned in two fantastic seasons for the Broncos. Multiple scenarios could play out over the next few years regarding health and performance, but it is evident that Elway has a looming decision at the end of 2015 if Manning decides to continue playing past 39. Cling to a hall of famer’s last gasps of greatness or place the franchise in the hands of an encouraging and untested youngster? If you were wondering how large Peyton Manning’s window is in Denver, the answer is likely no more than two years if Elway has any faith in Osweiler. I’d bet he does.