John Elway is the general manager of the reigning Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Despite that 2015 success, it's one of his 2016 decisions that surely most interests Washington Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan.
There's a misnomer among many football fans and talkers about the primary goal for NFL front offices. It's not just winning the Super Bowl. That's the dream -- and one that can turn nightmarish if pursued recklessly. The main goal? Consistently put their team in position to win the Super Bowl.
The key word is consistently. That's not easy in the salary cap era. Depth is paramount for a sport where injuries are more common than the cold yet free agency jacks up prices for your players and potential replacements.
That's why Elway ultimately didn't budge on the lofty contract demands from free agent quarterback Brock Osweiler last season even though:
* Peyton Manning retired
* Osweiler, a former second round by Denver, went 5-2 as a starter in 2015 when filling in for Manning
* There was no obvious replacement worthy of starting for even the most pedestrian of NFL teams, let alone the defending champions.
In the NBA, one player can turnaround a franchise. That's why making a staggering financial investment is worth the risk. In the NFL, rarely does one player change the world. That's even true for the BMOC quarterbacks. They don't catch their own passes, they don't block for themselves and they don't play defense.
All of those depth factors played a main if not leading role in Elway standing firm on his contract offer to Osweiler, a prototype yet developing quarterback who received a long-term deal from Houston worth $18 million per season.
The Broncos won the Super Bowl not because of the aged Manning's Hall of Fame resume, but because of their historically dominant defense and offensive playmakers. Elway had no interest in cutting ties with any of them by wildly overpaying for a passer. His comments after Osweiler exited:
“We’ve stayed true to our philosophy of building a team with players who want to be Denver Broncos,” Elway told the Broncos team website Wednesday evening. “That’s been a successful approach to us.”...
Elway, in his parting statement, called the Broncos’ offer “very competitive and fair.”
“We ultimately had to remain disciplined while continuing to assemble a roster that can compete for championships,” Elway said.
Siemien became the first QB with no passing attempts to take over a defending Super Bowl champion in Week 1. After seven weeks, he's developed nicely for the 5-2 Broncos, who are tied for first in the AFC West.
If you haven't figured out the Redskins corollary, here goes. Kirk Cousins is Osweiler, though a more proven and costlier version. When a contract couldn't be agreed upon last off-season, McCloughan kept Cousins via the NFL franchise tag. The cost, $20 million. That price jumps to around $24 million if McCloughan plays tag again should no long-term deal occur.
McCloughan, who is clearly Elway in this scenario, said this last May about a possible deal with Cousins.
He’s our quarterback. He won the East last year and that’s pretty cool because that’s what we need here. We need those types of guys. That's the guys I’m trying to draft, but also, we can’t go crazy because it’s about 53, it’s not about one. That’s what we keep preaching and what we’re going to keep preaching, but yes, we want him here."
Elway had a 53 over one choice. Even with a chance to become the first back-to-back champions since the 2004-05 New England Patriots, he chose the 53. Why? Because the goal isn't just about winning the Super Bowl, but putting the team in consistent position to contend for one.
The Redskins have more than 20 players entering some form of free agency next year. Some are standouts, like DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker. Some are key contributors on various levels, like Will Compton, Chris Thompson, Ty Nsekhe and Terence Garvin. Washington needs upgrades on the defensive line and at safety. Spend tons on one position, even one as important as QB, and you make sacrifices elsewhere.
That's why maybe a developing Nate Sudfeld, a 2016 sixth round pick, becomes the 2017 Trevor Siemien. Perhaps a combination of Sudfeld, Washington's version of a rookie like Lynch and veteran Colt McCoy* ($3.6 million cap hit in 2017) form the QB depth next season.
(* It struck me as odd or at least interesting that McCoy, who Chris Cooley thinks is an NFL starter, re-signed with Washington at the start of free agency rather than test the market. Just saying...)
If they can keep Jackson, Baker and those notable role players while signing hole-filling free agent help, perhaps that's the better path if there's no compromise with Cousins' camp.
That's why Scot McCloughan is watching what happens with John Elway's strategy in Denver. It's about the 53 and not the one.
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