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Brock Osweiler trade from Texans to Browns affects the entire NFL

And it starts with the question: Is Tony Romo coming to Houston?

NFL: AFC Divisional-Houston Texans at New England Patriots
Who’s got two index fingers and is getting shipped to Cleveland?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The first official day of NFL free agency left no void of headlines. None was bigger than the deal that ended the Brock Osweiler era in Houston for the low, low cost of two draft picks.

The Texans shipped their starting passer to the NFL’s most famous quarterback graveyard, shedding his $16 million salary and earning the chance to hit reset on a seemingly eternal quest for a franchise cornerstone. In return for renting out their cap space, the Browns will receive second- and sixth-round picks while sending their fourth-rounder down to the Lone Star State.

It’s a salary dump more familiar to the NBA’s trade deadline than the opening day of NFL free agency, but it makes sense for both teams. And while the primary actors have the most to gain from Thursday’s shocking news, the tendrils of this deal will reach out across the league’s landscape this spring.

Do the Texans get Tony Romo now?

The deal leaves Tom Savage and Brandon Weeden as the team’s quarterback options, a situation the franchise’s front office is unlikely to settle with. Drafting a young quarterback doesn’t fit the team’s win-now construction. It’s unlikely anyway — Houston doesn’t make its first-round choice until the 25th pick, and without a second-rounder to use as trade bait, has few avenues for moving up.

The most likely candidate to absorb the team’s newfound extra $10 million in cap space and void behind center is Tony Romo. The four-time Pro Bowler was the focus of trade talks Thursday, one day after reports emerged he would be released by the only franchise he’s ever known. While the transaction front remained quiet on Thursday afternoon, reports rolled in the Texans weren’t interested in adding Romo and his expensive contract as is.

That leaves an opportunity for a desperate and quarterback-hungry team like the Broncos or Jets to swoop in and snag the veteran. If that happens, the best available passer left is Jay Cutler — and selling your fans on what amounts to a swap of a second-round pick for a passer who is 17-29 in his last four seasons as a starter would be unpleasant.

What happens to the free agent market for quarterbacks?

Any official moves on the Tony Romo front will slow to a crawl now that Thursday’s trade has cleared a runway for the veteran to land in Houston. With his status up in the air and Mike Glennon snapped up by the Bears, that leaves Jay Cutler as the league’s top free agent passer.

This is great news for Dallas and Romo, whose list of suitors grew without any real competition emerging on the market. The odds of a Romo trade, which would keep him as the league’s highest-paid quarterback for 2017, have gone up now.

It also leaves a few interesting scenarios to play out on the open market. If the Browns cut their newly acquired quarterback, Osweiler and Cutler would be the two top consolation prizes from a Romo deal.

But Denver is likely uninterested in Cutler given his history with the club. Either team signing Romo would set a few different moving pieces in motion, and the deals would likely domino all the way down to the least desirable free agent destination this spring -- the New York Jets.

Right now, the quarterback market all depends on what happens with the Cowboys’ 36-year-old soon-to-be ex-QB.

What happens to Brock Osweiler?

The Browns are toying with the idea of releasing him or trying to trade him, but at $16 million guaranteed for 2017 and an eternally expanding black hole where most team’s quarterback depth charts should be, there’s little risk in keeping Osweiler.

Cleveland appears destined to add a young, developmental passer this offseason, whether that’s a plug-and-play guy like Jimmy Garoppolo or a player they’d find in the draft is still up in the air. Keeping Osweiler would give them an insurance policy — albeit an expensive one — should the team cycle through injured quarterbacks like a broken Rolodex this fall.

If Osweiler gets released, he’ll still have his suitors, though no one will come close to matching the four-year, $72 million deal he got from the Texans. He could assume a backup role with several different teams or push to regain his starting status with a QB-needy team like the Jets, Jaguars, or 49ers.

Osweiler proved he isn’t the answer as a franchise quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a place in the league.

What happens to Robert Griffin III?

Last year, the Browns cycled through five quarterbacks in less than one-third of a season, but seem unlikely to keep more than three on their roster for 2017. Cody Kessler is a cheap, relatively productive piece who could emerge as a key piece of the team’s future plans. Osweiler, with his guaranteed money, carries little risk as part of the roster. Adding a young passer like Garoppolo or, say, Deshaun Watson, seems like a necessity as well.

That makes three quarterbacks, leaving RGIII (and Kevin Hogan, who may head back to the practice squad) as the odd man out. The veteran quarterback came to Cleveland to rebuild his value as a starter, but proved the concerns about him being injury-prone true after breaking his shoulder three quarters into his first game with the club. Though he returned late in the season to lead the Browns to their only win of the year, he failed to distinguish himself as an essential piece of the team’s puzzle.

Cutting Griffin would net Cleveland $7 million in cap space, bringing the cost of the Osweiler transaction down to a more reasonable $9 million for 2017. If the team decides to keep the former Texan, RGIII’s time with the Browns will be all but over.

What do the Browns do now?

The Browns don’t know who their starting quarterback will be in 2017. They just know he’ll be well protected. Cleveland spent big to upgrade its offensive line, adding J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler while extending the contract of guard Joel Bitonio. The team currently has four quarterbacks on the roster, none of whom are established winners.

Trading Osweiler is an option, just not a very reasonable one. Adam Schefter reported teams began inquiring about the QB’s availability not long after the trade was swung, but it’s tough to imagine many other teams willing to accept Osweiler’s albatross of a contract while sending the Browns an asset in return. No matter what, they’ll have to clear out a logjam of aerial mediocrity before rebuilding the position from the ground up.

The good news is, they’re in great shape for a rebuild. The Browns have been amassing draft picks like Sam Hinkie’s 76ers and currently hold 12 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, including the No. 1 and No. 12 overall selections. They can use that capital to address the needs they can’t fix in free agency while shipping other draft assets away for either future picks or players who can (like, once again, Garoppolo).

A franchise that’s offered few reasons for optimism in the past has a foundation to build from and the opportunity to get things right after a handful of shrewd moves over the past season.

Maybe this was the boost the Browns finally needed to escape the gravity of their own black hole.