For the first time in more than two decades, Peyton Manning is expected to dress as a backup. Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak announced Wednesday Brock Osweiler will start at quarterback over Manning when they take on the San Diego Chargers this week, even if Manning is cleared to play.
"Brock's our quarterback, and nothing has changed from that standpoint," Kubiak said, via Broncos.com. "... The team knows that Brock is our quarterback."
The Broncos have won four games in Manning's absence over the last six weeks, including Monday night's 20-17 overtime affair over the Cincinnati Bengals that puts them in position to secure a first-round bye. If the Broncos win Sunday and the New England Patriots lose, they'll be the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Ever since Manning went down with plantar fascia Nov. 15, the Broncos have largely remained mum on whether he would retake the starting quarterback job from Osweiler when he returned. But it seems as if Osweiler's impressive performance Monday night, in which he posted a 100.3 QB rating and led Denver back from a 14-point halftime deficit, sealed his spot at the top of the depth chart.
Two weeks ago, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Manning wouldn't want to serve as a backup quarterback when he returns. That story was rebuffed by Broncos general manager John Elway, who said Manning never expressed those feelings to him.
On Wednesday, Manning expressed his support for Osweiler:
#Manning. "I will do what I can to help Brock and the team."— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 30, 2015
Regardless of Manning's desire to be a backup in the final days of his career, Denver appears to be making the right move here. Despite only playing in nine games this season, the 38-year-old Manning still leads the NFL with 17 interceptions and owns a league-worst 67.6 QB rating. Osweiler, conversely, has completed more than 61 percent of his passes and only thrown four picks in six contests.
On top of that, there's an added future benefit to the Broncos keeping Osweiler under center. The 2012 second-round pick is a free agent at the end of the season and his mobility in the pocket makes him a natural fit for Kubiak's offense. By starting Osweiler in the most important games of the year, Denver will probably acquire a better grasp as to whether he's worth investing in.
Since the end of last season, it's been clear that Manning is now in the twilight of his career. Questions over his future only intensified last weekend, when Al Jazeera released a documentary that purports Manning received human growth hormone in his wife's name from an anti-aging clinic in 2011.
For the vast majority of his Hall of Fame career, Manning owned the headlines due to his stellar play on the field. But for the rest of this season, he seems destined to be embroiled in controversy.