Broncos should franchise tag Osweiler if deal with Miller is reached

Gordon McGuinness weighs the options available to Denver with concerns to free-agent QB Brock Osweiler.

| 9 months ago
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)

Broncos should franchise tag Osweiler if deal with Miller is reached


The Denver Broncos have a problem, and it’s one that few Super Bowl champion teams ever have. With Peyton Manning expected to retire and Brock Osweiler heading for free agency, they need to decide what to do at the quarterback position. At this stage, the best option seems to be to place the franchise tag on Osweiler, and give themselves another year to figure out if he is their QB of the future. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, seeing as they have two other key contributors set to hit free agency as well: Von Miller and Malik Jackson.

Selected in the second round of the 2012 draft, Osweiler has played just 642 regular season snaps in his career, making an evaluation of his long-term viability all the more difficult. To his credit, he actually flashed some potential this past season, with his best performances coming against the Patriots and Bengals. He was even grading positively in the Week 17 game against the Chargers before he was benched in favor of Manning, seeing three of his eight incompletions in the game come as a result of dropped passes.

There could have easily been a quarterback controversy heading into the playoffs, but head coach Gary Kubiak was quick to quell that, and the rest is history. Still, the trouble now is deciding if he is the quarterback of the future—and just how much he is worth. So, based on his play, what does he deserve to be paid—and by whom?

Osweiler was our 20th-ranked quarterback in terms of overall grade, and if you look at the basic average yearly salary of quarterbacks on OverTheCap.com, 20th is Nick Foles at $12.25 million per year. Over course, that is taking salaries at their most basic level, and ignores things like guaranteed money, but it does give an indication of what his play is worth, in terms of a new contract. What makes things tougher for Denver is that Osweiler is just 25 years old, and doesn’t turn 26 until late November, so he has added value considering that he’s yet to hit his prime—especially when he hasn’t even played 1,000 regular season snaps yet.

Osweiler ranked 20th in overall grade among QBs, 17th in accuracy percentage, and 17th in accuracy percentage under pressure. Those rankings paint the picture of a very average quarterback, and not one that a team should be jumping right in and signing to an expensive long-term contract. Simply put, while they don’t know that he isn’t the future of their franchise at the position, they also don’t have enough proof that he is.

The next part of the problem for the Broncos is that there aren’t a lot of quarterbacks out there, and they don’t have a high enough draft pick to have a shot at Carson Wentz or Jared Goff. Could they draft a player like Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, or Brandon Allen in the late first or second round? Sure, but there are certainly no guarantees with drafting a QB, and for a team that wants to be in position to defend the Lombardi trophy in early 2017, it’s worth considering just how difficult that would be with a rookie signal-caller.

Few teams find success in grabbing a quarterback in free agency, and it’s unlikely that Kirk Cousins or Sam Bradford reach the open market; even if they did, the Broncos would face the same dilemma with Cousins in terms of how viable he is as a long-term option. With all that in mind, it seems like the best player to start at quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2016 is, in fact, Brock Osweiler.

The good news for Denver is that the franchise tag is a serious option, and one that would allow them to have another year to evaluate how good he really is. They will save $19 million in cap room if and when Manning’s retirement is confirmed, while the franchise tag for a quarterback this year comes in at $19.9 million. Would the ideal scenario be signing Osweiler to a long-term deal that didn’t cost almost $20 million a year? Of course, but until they can find out whether or not he’s the right player to build their offense around, a long-term deal would be foolish. Instead, bring him back under the franchise tag and re-evaluate the decision next offseason when, all being well, they’ll have a full season on which to base their opinion.

To do that, though, they are going to have to get a long-term deal with Von Miller done. As important as having a quarterback is, Miller is one of those rare players with the type of talent that very few possess, and we saw in the Super Bowl just how dominant he can be, making huge play after huge play on his way to the game’s MVP honor. Malik Jackson is a talented player too, but isn’t close to Miller’s level, so the priority is still getting Miller signed long-term, especially knowing just how good he is, and then placing the franchise tag on Osweiler.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • Tim Edell

    Denver is definitely in a tough spot with this one. They have a little over 24 hours to get a deal done with Miller or risk both Osweiler and Jackson hitting FA. While its inevitable that Jackson will be hitting FA the ideal world for both the Broncos and Osweiler would be to sign a 2 year deal in the Foles range of 24-26 million. That gives Denver a 2 year window to evaluate him as their future QB and also for Osweiler the ability to break the bank in 2 years if he performs above expectations.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Osweiler’s best bet for breaking the bank in 2 years is getting himself dealt to the Bears who love overpaying for mediocre quarterback talent.

  • JimmyEatsHotDogs

    Denver doesn’t need another year to figure out Osweiler, if they don’t know what they have by now they never will and then he should move on to a team that will pay him. Why should he stay for another year and get jerked around. SF would sign him in a NY minute.

  • anon76returns

    There’s absolutely no way to justify paying Osweiller $20M with the franchise tag. First of all, there is no room to do it. Assuming Manning retires, the Broncos will get $19M back in cap relief, but that will probably be almost entirely accounted for by Von’s eventually deal, the rookie draft pool (10 picks!), and a rainy day fund to cover eventual IR losses. That means that Brock’s $20M franchise tag would have to come almost completely from cutting players such as Ryan Clady, Louis Vasquez, and DeMarcus Ware. Is finding out if Brock is a good QB worth losing 3 All Pro-level talents from the pass rush (the position group that won the SB) and OL (the position group that most needs to improve)? HELL NO!!
    The Broncos should work out a 2-3 year deal with Brock in the $10-$12M range. He played well in limited reps, and definitely deserves the chance to show he can be ‘The Man’, but you don’t just hand out 13% of your salary cap to a guy with 7 starts under his belt. That is lunacy.

    • larry mckinney

      Okay, but why would Brock sign for just $10 – $12? The market will pay him more than that. In guaranteed money.

      • anon76returns

        The market post CBA has never provided a QB with 7 or less starts in his entire career a contract that pays anything near 10% of the cap (~$15M this year). The closest was Seattle paying Flynn ~$8M in 2012 (<7% of the cap), and that ended up being a huge mistake that no team has since duplicated.

        If the market pays more than $10-$12M, then he's gone, but that will be an absolute gamble that I don't think any NFL franchise is dumb enough to make (I'm assuming the new Harvard educated brain trust in Cleveland will perform to their educational pedigree, rather than typical factory of sadness levels).

        • larry mckinney

          Like Schaefter says, it’ll be interesting. Elway seems to be playing hard ball. Could send Osweiler elsewhere. For less…

          Cleveland has a QB pick coming up, likely their choice of the whole field. Don’t think they’ll be interested in paying 3 or 4 times as much for Osweiler, compared to getting another prospect. At least the draft gives them a QB with years of college experience. Osweiler has had little prep, one year of college and 7 games of pro experience.

          What hath Elway wrought?

        • Kenny

          Well Denver has already offered over $15M, so I guess Denver is dumb enough.

  • mormonrock124

    $20MM guranateed for a guy with a handful of starts that were by in large mediocre at best…makes perfect sense!

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      “Would the ideal scenario be signing Osweiler to a long-term deal that didn’t cost almost $20 million a year? Of course, but until they can find out whether or not he’s the right player to build their offense around, a long-term deal would be foolish. Instead, bring him back under the franchise tag and re-evaluate the decision next offseason when, all being well, they’ll have a full season on which to base their opinion.”