ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – John Elway is scrambling again.
The general manager of the Super Bowl champions has a huge hole to fill with Brock Osweiler bolting to the Houston Texans 48 hours after Peyton Manning’s retirement.
That leaves Trevor Siemian as the only quarterback on the Denver Broncos’ roster. The second-year pro from Northwestern has taken just one NFL snap, a kneel-down at that.
If Elway’s sweating it, he’s certainly not showing it.
“We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here. That’s been a successful approach for us,” Elway said. “While we did offer a very competitive and fair long-term contract to Brock, we ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships.”
So, now the man who famously declared there was no Plan B when he lured Manning to Denver four years ago must find a passer who will defend Denver’s title in 2016.
“We’ve now turned our attention to other options at quarterback and we are confident that we’ll find the right player and person for our team,” Elway said. “Our organization thanks Brock for his contributions and wishes him all the best.”
Elway could turn to free agents such as Robert Griffin III or Ryan Fitzpatrick — whose agent, Jimmy Sexton, also represents Osweiler. Or he could pursue a trade — Colin Kaepernick, anyone? He’ll almost certainly select a quarterback in the early rounds of next month’s draft, too.
Osweiler made $660,000 last year and Denver offered him about $16 million a year. ESPN reported Osweiler’s four-year deal with the Texans is worth $18 million annually with $37 million guaranteed.
“Shocked,” tweeted Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “I thought Brock wanted to play with us lol”
Instead, he’ll play against them — the Texans are among the teams that’ll visit Denver next season when the Broncos become the sixth team to open defense of its Super Bowl championship with a new QB under center.
They’re the first to lose their top two quarterbacks and face this level of uncertainty.
The Broncos also will have to replace defensive end Malik Jackson, who went to Jacksonville for six years and $90 million, and linebacker Danny Trevathan, the leading tackler on the league’s No. 1 defense, who rejoined John Fox in Chicago on a four-year deal worth $28 million.
They have in-house candidates for those vacancies.
In the midst of the big Broncos breakup Wednesday, Denver did agree to a three-year deal with versatile tackle Donald Stephenson, who spent his first four seasons with the Chiefs, to bolster its offensive line.
The Broncos knew they’d lose several key members of their team after beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, although Osweiler’s price tag took may by surprise.
Elway’s main offseason priority was keeping Von Miller, so he placed the exclusive franchise tag on his star linebacker. That bought him more time to work out a long-term deal with the Super Bowl MVP — and paved the way for Osweiler’s big payday.
Osweiler’s value skyrocketed when Kirk Cousins and Sam Bradford re-signed with their respective teams in recent days, leaving Osweiler as the top QB available, and then the Texans decided he was their man.
Osweiler served as Manning’s apprentice for 3 1/2 years, then went 5-2 when Manning was sidelined with a torn ligament in his left foot last season.
Manning worked his way back into shape with the help of an orthotics guru who set up shop in his garage and stealthy workouts with practice squad receiver Jordan Taylor and sidelined tight end Jeff Heuerman. Finally, Manning was summoned from the bench in the third quarter of the season finale against San Diego when Denver’s offense sputtered under Osweiler. Manning led a comeback that secured the AFC’s top playoff seed and coach Gary Kubiak named him the starter for the playoffs.
Although he was disappointed at being demoted, Osweiler pledged his full support for Manning and Kubiak. At the Super Bowl, Osweiler provided encouragement on the sideline as Manning struggled, completing just 13 passes for 141 yards.
Thanks to Denver’s dominant defense, it was enough.
And in the aftermath of Denver’s win, Elway said he wanted Osweiler back, proclaiming: “We wouldn’t have been world champs without Brock.”
Denver’s recent offer sat for several days without a reply, however, and another ominous sign came Monday when Osweiler was a no-show at Manning’s farewell news conference.
Osweiler was the only quarterback ever drafted with the explicit intent of one day succeeding the icon the late Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams dubbed “the Great Peyton Manning.”
Instead, he’s replacing Brian Hoyer.