When it comes to the blueprint for how the Denver Broncos and their franchise icon/team president John Elway are supposed to react in the months after Brock Osweiler decided to take his talents here to Houston in free agency, we don't really have anything recent off of which to work, do we?
I mean, even merely average quarterbacks (a group in which Brock Osweiler may very well end up residing) don't leave their incumbent teams in free agency (see: Bradford, Sam). Teams will overpay for the known, even if it's only slightly known and that which is known is "just okay," as opposed to spectacular.
In short, starting quarterbacks above the level of "decent" don't ever change teams in today's NFL.
And yet Osweiler, who was at the very least "decent" for the Broncos last year, left Denver for Houston, and if you're wondering exactly how "decent" he was in his seven starts for the Super Bowl champions, don't ask me — ask Elway.
Courtesy of the Broncos team website from back in late February, BEFORE free agency began, when Osweiler was thought to be a lock to replace the retiring Peyton Manning, here is Elway:
"We wouldn't have been world champs without Brock," Elway said. "We needed both quarterbacks to play like they played. It allowed us to be world champions."
“I think that with the sample size that we got from Brock, we were excited about what we saw," Elway said. "I think when you look at the seven games that he started and the way that he played, he made some good strides.
"You never know what a quarterback can do until he gets in there, gets underneath the gun. I think he proved a lot to us," Elway said. "He's a guy that is a tough guy. He's a guy that will stand in there. He can make all the throws.
"Obviously you always like to have a little bit more consistency, but that's what young guys continue to get better and better [at] and usually it's their consistency that gets better."
I'd categorize that as praise, right?
But then, the unthinkable happened — a free agent starting quarterback of good skill decided to change teams, with Osweiler opting to become the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans. The Broncos had no recourse to lock him in with the franchise tag as they were busy utilizing that tool to keep Super Bowl MVP Von Miller in the fold.
Shocked and possibly a little butthurt, Elway began lobbing the "well, we only want guys who want to be here" bombs at the Osweiler camp:
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
If that wasn't enough shade for you, Elway fired off this baby on Twitter right after the team came to terms with the painfully pedestrian Mark Sanchez as its new QB:
Acquired QB Mark Sanchez for a conditional '17 pick. He brings veteran leadership & will compete. This is the 1st step in our process.— John Elway (@johnelway) March 11, 2016
Now, again, to be fair, none of us know how a team is supposed to react when a quarterback in whom it has invested four years in his development takes off for another city for a couple of million more per season. We just don't ever see it happen. So Elway's blowing off some steam, even if it was a tad petty, was acceptable.
Over the next couple of months, though, an odd narrative developed in which Elway and the Broncos "let Osweiler walk," as if they were somehow better off with Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and a rookie filling their depth chart than they were keeping Osweiler. Whenever this storyline was brought up by Bronco supporters, they would conveniently leave out that Elway actually MADE a $16 million per year offer to Osweiler.
Why get bogged down in those details, right?
So how, then, does Elway explain his answer in a May 25 interview with Bleacher Report in which he says that he thought Brock would be a Bronco for a "long, long time" when he drafted him in 2012?
"There are challenges every year," Elway told Bleacher Report during a Q&A session. "That's why this year in free agency and all that, there are challenges every year trying to keep things together. So that's always a challenge. Was it a big surprise that we were in that situation? Yeah, because I thought...we drafted Brock [Osweiler] when we got Peyton [Manning] because we didn't know exactly what Peyton was going to be. But also, if [Manning] wasn't in good shape, we were going to a guy who was going to be here for a long, long time. Now, that didn't work out, so it was a matter of, you have to fix the issue. There are going to be issues every year."
Why was Elway so snippy when asked about Osweiler's skipping the Broncos' trip to the White House in June to stay back in Houston and work out with his new teammates?
"That's Brock's choice, so all the other guys from my understanding are going to be there, which will be great," Elway said via Mike Klis of 9 News in Denver. "We get everybody back together and celebrate the great season that we had last year, so it will be fun.''
Then came Elway's preseason interview with the Denver Post this past weekend, in which he talks about Brock's being "bent out of shape" when he was benched for Peyton Manning in the playoffs (as if Osweiler should just sit back and be happy about it):
“I can understand that he didn’t want to sit down and have Peyton come back in that San Diego game, but it wasn’t the fact that Brock was playing bad,” Elway said. “We needed a change of something. So I was a little surprised just how he seemed to be a little bent out of shape about that. But he had an opportunity to make a tremendous amount of money in Houston, and for us, it just didn’t fit.”
...and then proceeded to evaluate his team as having improved itself this offseason, when most of its major changes involved players leaving in free agency, including Osweiler:
“That’s how I look at our team this offseason: Did we get better as a football team? I believe we did,” he said. “And the other thing is, when people are doubting you, it adds that incentive. We’re kind of in that situation right now. Hopefully we can continue to use that chip and keep ourselves mentally on the right track.”
So if you're keeping score at home (and clearly, I am), the blueprint that Elway has created for processing the emotions of a starting quarterback's leaving in free agency involves labeling him with some sort of warped disloyalty, doing a 180 on your pre-departure evaluations of his importance and saying that the QB might have been a bit of a crybaby.
I have to say, if Osweiler's leaving Denver is like a bad breakup, Elway is veering awfully close to the "stalker" phase.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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