ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to the whole quarterback thing, John Elway has been there, done that. When Elway says the position is the most important to build a roster around, he means it.
A Hall of Fame passer who now calls the football shots in the front office for the Denver Broncos, Elway knows what he wants, and likes, at the position.
After Brock Osweiler's representatives informed the Broncos the 25-year-old intended to sign a four-year deal with the Houston Texans Wednesday, Trevor Siemian -- a seventh-round draft pick in 2015 who spent most of last season as a game-day inactive -- is the lone quarterback on the depth chart.
The Broncos tried hard to re-sign Osweiler, but they were simply not going to go to the $18 million-a-year plateau he reached with the Texans.
The Broncos started in the $12 million to $13 million per year range and were willing to go to $15 million to $16 million in the closing hours of negotiations. But they were not, as had been Elway’s way in free agency, coming too far off the line they had drawn.
Osweiler gets the fresh start he appears to have wanted outside of the guy-who-follows-Peyton-Manning shadow that will be cast in the Broncos’ offense. And the Broncos must now move on to Plan B and beyond.
And that could mean a variety of things. They could sign a veteran player in the short term, like former New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick or former Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, and start on the course of finding another potential long-term prospect at the position by using their first- or second-round pick in this year’s draft.
That’s the strategy that had the most traction with the Broncos as they worked through the what-if scenarios in recent weeks. Around the league, however, the current free-agent market is considered thin at the position, which is why Osweiler garnered the big contract.
The 33-year-old Fitzpatrick is near the top of most personnel executives' rankings, at least for the short term, of that group of free-agent passers. And it can't be ignored that Fitzpatrick and Osweiler have the same agent -- Jimmy Sexton.
Many in the league think Griffin, who had a stormy tenure with the Washington Redskins before his release but would fit the Broncos' scheme, would need some time as a backup to re-calibrate himself as a player before he could be a starter again. Griffin didn't exactly have the best of times in Mike Shanahan's offense following a knee injury, which is a lot like the offense Gary Kubiak wants to run with the Broncos.
The Broncos could try to trade for San Francisco 49ers starter Colin Kaepernick as the 49ers retool their offense for coach Chip Kelly. San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke and Elway are friends, but since the Broncos would have to take Kaepernick’s contract in any trade, that would require some serious, almost prohibitive, salary-cap gymnastics from the Broncos.
Kaepernick's salary-cap figure is $15.27 million for the upcoming season and $19.87 million in 2017. The Broncos, by league rules, would have to make the trade and add Kaepernick’s current contract to their salary cap before they could rework the deal, which runs through 2020 and has “dead-money" impact if a team later released Kaepernick after 2018.
It should be noted the Broncos do like Siemian as a prospect -- Kubiak has repeatedly said Siemian has a “pro arm, no doubt about it’’ -- but Siemian is fairly early in his developmental curve. And it's a big jump from emergency No. 2 quarterback when Manning was injured this past season to starter for defending the Super Bowl champions.
Elway has always said he's “about making sure we have contingencies ... because my job is to look two, three years down the road, not just at what we’re doing now.’’ But with Osweiler’s departure, the Broncos have questions at a foundation position both now and down the road.