- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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With the NFL’s scouting combine just around the corner and free agency set to follow on March 10, today marks the start of a position-a-day look at where the Denver Broncos stand at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitments at that spot and where their needs are greatest.
Tomorrow: Running backs
When it comes to the position he played at a Hall-of-Fame level during his NFL career, Broncos football boss John Elway takes a page from Ron Wolf’s team-building book when it comes stacking a depth chart at quarterback in his role as a team executive. When Wolf was the Green Bay Packers’ general manager and had a future Hall of Famer at quarterback in Brett Favre, Wolfe used at least a second-day pick in the draft on a quarterback seven times in an eight-year span.
So, with Peyton Manning set to turn 38 on March 24 at the top of the depth chart -- coming off his fifth MVP season as well as single-season NFL records for touchdown passes (55) and passing yards (5,477) this past season -- Elway will still give at least some consideration to the position in this draft. Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick in 2012, is the backup/starter in waiting, while Zac Dysert, a seventh-round pick in 2013, is the No. 3.
The Alpha: It’s Manning, both at the position as well as on the roster. It’s not always easy to be Manning’s teammate because of the expectations that come from him as well as those from the outside for any team he is on. Manning pushes hard, is constantly grinding away and sets the tone for what goes on in the huddle. The payoff is playing with a future Hall of Famer who always has his team in the Super Bowl hunt.
His personal challenge will be, as the age/experience gap continues to grow with many of his teammates, to find a way to relate to those around him to remain an effective leader for the Broncos.
Salary Cap: Manning’s $17.5 million figure for 2014 is the highest on the team or roughly 13.8 percent of the Broncos’ salary-cap total, if the cap for 2014 comes in at $126.3 million per team as many in the league expect. However, with Osweiler ($959,094 cap figure for ’14) and Dysert ($507,050) still on their rookie deals, quarterbacks likely will take up about 15 percent of the team’s total.
Pending free agents: All three quarterbacks on the roster have multiple years remaining on their deals. Manning is under contract through 2016 with his 2014 salary guaranteed. Osweiler is under contract through 2015 and Dysert through 2016.
Staying put: All three will go through offseason workouts and into training camp. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is expected to make some tweaks in the offense, especially in the run game, that will adjust some of things the quarterbacks will learn. The only question will be whether or not they want Dysert to have a few more of the available snaps after Manning and Osweiler or if they want to add a fourth quarterback for training camp.
What they like/want: Manning will have a physical in the coming weeks to check his spinal fusion as well as the areas just above and just below the fusion. Doctors have routinely said the fusion itself is strong and sturdy and usually not a concern, but the areas immediately above the fusion have to be monitored for any degeneration.
Manning has said on several occasions he intends to return because "I still enjoy the preparation'' and he passed his exit physical with the team and immediately played golf in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am the day after that exit physical, which would seem to indicate he isn’t having any back/neck issues.
Osweiler, at 6 feet 8, is the tall, big-armed pocket passer Elway likes at the spot. Elway has praised Osweiler's progress and Broncos players say Osweiler commands the huddle when given the opportunity. And Dysert, like any No. 3, has to make progress with a limited amount of snaps.
Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): 1
Elway has said, “We will always look at the quarterbacks in every draft’’ and "scout them hard.’’
Bottom line: It is the most important position on a team’s roster, so it is illogical not to consistently expend the draft capital to continue to have depth at the postition. Many teams have been derailed because decision-makers simply decided not to do what was necessary behind the starting quarterback on the depth chart because they wanted to fill some short-term need elsewhere on the roster.
So, Osweiler is that investment with two years already in at the University of Manning and he’s still only 23 -- he won’t turn 24 until November. Dysert, too, showed enough to have a spot on the 53-man roster for a Super Bowl team.
In the end, the Broncos will look at the quarterbacks in this draft and while it isn’t at the top, or even the middle of the list, they’d still pick one if they like him enough and would lean toward keeping three on the 53-man roster in '14, just as they did this past season.