Brock Osweiler appeared to be the heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Denver, but the Broncos are losing him to the Houston Texans in free agency.
Most free agents are paid for past performance, but that's not the case with Osweiler. The 2012 second-round pick has only attempted 305 passes in his career, with the vast majority of them coming when he filled in for the injured and ineffective Manning last season. The Texans are signing Osweiler primarily based on potential.
The Broncos compiled a 5-2 record with Osweiler as a starter last season, though he was pulled for Manning midway through their Week 17 win against the San Diego Chargers. Denver scored 20 points with Manning under center and wound up sticking with him throughout the playoffs.
Manning's postseason performance was far from spectacular -- he accrued a 55.4 completion percentage and posted a modest 75.4 QB rating -- but he largely stayed out of the way and allowed the Broncos' dominant defense to lead them to victory. With some members of that defense beginning to age and others possibly bolting in free agency, though, the next Broncos quarterback will probably have to do a lot more than Manning did this season.
Osweiler showed flashes of brilliance in 2015, but his numbers wound up being pedestrian. His 86.4 passer rating placed him 25th among eligible quarterbacks. Though he was probably be the most seamless replacement for Manning, he was hardly the Broncos' only option.
Other free agents
This is a relatively thin quarterback group, with Ryan Fitzpatrick topping the list besides Osweiler. The 13-year veteran put up his best numbers with the New York Jets last season, throwing for a career-high 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. But Fitzpatrick's age, 33, and proclivity to turn the ball over may cause teams to shy away from entrusting their futures to him long-term.
There's no rule that says every club with a vacancy at quarterback must find its next franchise guy in a single offseason. If the Broncos are looking for a short-term stopgap, Fitzpatrick is an intriguing option –– especially if his market is depressed. Other free agent quarterbacks, such as Matt Moore and Matt Flynn, have proven to be overmatched as starters.
Trading for Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick's future in San Francisco isn't getting any less murky as the new league year is set to begin. On Feb. 24, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said he "absolutely" expects the embattled QB to remain in the Bay Area. But then one day later, reports circulated that Kaepernick's agent has asked the 49ers to trade his client.
If Kaepernick is on the market, the Broncos could look to swing a deal for his services. Kaepernick's mobility would make him an excellent fit in Gary Kubiak's offense, which calls for read options and is reliant on a quarterback's ability to be agile in the pocket.
Kaepernick, 28, was dangerous in his first couple of seasons as a starter, combining his speed with above average arm strength. But then things began to unravel in 2014 under Jim Harbaugh and hit a nadir last season with Jim Tomsula as head coach. Kaepernick was benched in favor of the unspectacular Blaine Gabbert and was ultimately placed on injured reserve.
New 49ers coach Chip Kelly's offense seems to be tailor-made for Kaepernick, so it's possible he could receive a fresh start in San Francisco. But if not, the Broncos would probably be an attractive trade partner for the 49ers, especially because they play in the other conference.
The RGIII reclamation project
With Kirk Cousins signing his franchise tender last week, Robert Griffin III's time in Washington will come to an end once the new league year begins Wednesday. Washington head coach Jay Gruden named Cousins the starter at the end of training camp last season and never looked back.
On the whole, it was a tumultuous tenure for RGIII in the nation's capital. He led Washington to the playoffs in his rookie season, but he was never able to replicate that success. He's now more than a year removed from fielding his last meaningful snap.
Despite all of the distraction that clouded Griffin's final two years in Washington, he'll probably have a number of suitors this offseason. In three seasons as a starter, he threw for over 8,000 yards while rushing for 1,480 yards as well. With wide receivers such as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal as well as Kubiak's run-friendly system, Griffin could thrive in Denver.
Griffin might be the riskiest choice to replace Manning. But he also might be the most enticing.
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Incredible Numbers: Peyton Manning's long list of NFL records