Welcome to Part III of our series “Grading the 2014 Denver Broncos”. Each player will be evaluated based on their on-field performance and their value relative to their 2014 cap hit.
The evaluations are based on what I see with my own two eyes. I understand that not everyone will see each grade my way but you follow us here at MHH for our opinion and analysis and throughout this series, we’re going to give it to you.
All salary cap numbers come via Spotrac.com.
2014 cap hit: $17,500,00 (dead cap $22.5M)
Although the season didn’t end quite the way that Manning and the Broncos hoped it would, Manning’s 2014 season was another virtuoso performance. However, for the first time as a Bronco, his season was marred by what many perceived as a 38-year old hitting a wall.
Manning got off to a very fast start and led the league for much of the season in touchdown passes, but following the Broncos Week 11 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the team changed their identity and approach on offense.
Instead of throwing the ball 40+ times and maybe running it 20 times per game, the Broncos reversed that equation, leaning on C.J. Anderson to be the team’s workhorse. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision, as it took Manning out of his comfort zone and obviously made it difficult for him to get into a groove.
In Week 15 vs. the San Diego Chargers, Manning overcame “flu-like symptoms” to suit up and play, but injured his quad in the game, which hobbled him for the balance of the season. It was later revealed that he played through a significant quad tear.
Like his previous seasons with the Broncos, Manning’s 2014 saw him play at a MVP level in September and most of October, only to have him fade down the stretch. His biggest detractors will point to that, saying that Manning peaks too early in the season and wears down by the time the playoffs hit.
Perhaps there’s some truth to this criticism. John Elway agrees that his team, which includes Manning, hasn’t peaked at the right time in the season, which led to the parting of ways with John Fox and to the signing of Gary Kubiak as the new head coach.
Take away 2012 and 2013, where Manning either obliterated franchise passing records, or NFL records, and 2014 would still have been the best season for a Broncos quarterback in the history of the franchise.
He finished the season going 395-of-597 (66.2%) for 4,727 yards, and 39 touchdowns, to 15 interceptions. This performance earned him his 14th Pro Bowl selection, which he was unable to honor, due to his injury. It was the only time he’s bowed out of the NFL All-Star game, without being in the Super Bowl.
Although there’s a vocal minority who think the Broncos would be better off without Peyton Manning, it is my opinion that his 2014 season, despite his injury, was a remarkable one. And the Broncos are lucky to have him.
Again, Manning led the Broncos to double-digit wins, a first round bye and the AFC West crown. Without him, the Broncos would be lucky to sniff 10 wins. Manning is one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, so grading him relative to his cap hit is easy. The Broncos got exactly what they paid for. We’re not talking about a negative return on investment, like with Jay Cutler.
2014 cap hit: $959,069 (dead cap $498,794)
The Broncos selected Osweiler in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft, not long after they had roped Manning in free agency. Osweiler was drafted to be the team’s QB of the future and a suitable stop-gap, should Manning’s neck issues rear its ugly head.
Going back to 2012, obviously John Elway and company were confident in Manning’s health, or they wouldn’t have given him a 5-year contract that paid him an average of $20M per year. But even they probably didn’t foresee how remarkable Manning’s recovery would truly be.
When a team’s starting QB is in the Pro Bowl and MVP conversation every year, it doesn’t bode well for playing time for the backup. Such has been the case for Osweiler. On the season, he saw only 37 snaps, with his season-high coming in Week 10 vs. the Oakland Raiders (17).
Although Osweiler only completed 40% of his passes in 2014, he did toss his first career touchdown in Week 17 to tight end Virgil Green, which was, coincidentally, Green’s first career TD reception. At the end of the day, there’s not much to evaluate on Osweiler.
He’s a good backup and a viable option as a starter, should Manning retire, or go down with an injury. For his size (6-foot-8, 240 pounds), Osweiler is surprisingly mobile and has a cannon for a right arm. He can make every NFL throw, but could use a better touch and situational awareness on many of his passes.
Like Manning, the Broncos got what they paid for in Osweiler. As of the writing of this article, Manning still hasn’t announced whether he’ll return for 2015, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t. If he does return for his 18th season, it will coincide with Osweiler’s fourth and final season of his current contract with the Broncos.
If Manning returns, the Broncos will be faced with a tricky situation in 2016, as it pertains to Osweiler. Do they try to extend a player, who by that time will likely still not have played more than 100 NFL snaps, or do they let him test the free agent market? And will Osweiler want to stick around in Denver and re-sign with the team who drafted him, knowing that he might have to sit for one more year? After all, Manning is under contract through 2016.
If Manning does return for 2015, I think the Broncos will make a strong effort to extend Osweiler on a relatively team-friendly deal, because they believe in him and he would be a natural fit in Kubiak’s zone offense, where mobility can be a major offensive asset.