Mar. 12, 2016
Peyton Manning's Replacement Is...
With 'The Sheriff' finally calling it quits, we look at the realistic options that could be starting under center for the Broncos next year...
Written by Jake Elman
"There’s a scripture reading, 2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Well, I’ve fought a good fight. I’ve finished my football race and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you and God bless football."
And with that, the career of Peyton Williams Manning ended with the same adjective that dominated the future Hall of Famer's career: humble. From thanking God to his family to even the rival New England Patriots, Manning got to end things on his own terms with an emotional, tear-jerking press conference held on Monday afternoon in Colorado. Adios, Peyton, may we see you in the Hall of Fame soon enough.
But, the NFL is a business and, as sad as they may be right now, the Denver Broncos have to move on. It'd be easy to sit here and recap Peyton Manning's press conference, but we all know that John Elway and the Broncos have a bigger problem on their hands: just who is going to replace 'The Sheriff' as their man behind center? Yes, the Peyton Manning era was one of the greatest in Broncos history, as they made two Super Bowls and won four division titles, but the time has come for a new era in Denver.
Just who will be leading that era, though? Well, that's what we're here to figure out today, as we look at some of the potential targets that the Denver Broncos may try to explore as their replacement for Peyton Manning. Please keep in mind that with NFL free agency starting later this week, this question could easily be answered tomorrow or even later today, but these are the guys I would consider if I was running the Denver Broncos and not sitting outside by the water in Florida. Comprende? Comprende.
Brock Osweiler, Denver Broncos: I mean, you can't certainly rule out Osweiler starting for the Broncos in 2016, but my guess would be that he does indeed end up in Houston. Maybe I'm reading into the situation a little bit too much, but I'd have to imagine that Osweiler would still be pretty pissed with the Broncos with the way they treated him in the final weeks of the season; they won a Super Bowl, sure, but Peyton Manning was mildly efficient at best while Osweiler, who was the quarterback that got the Broncos into the number one seed, sat on the bench.
Houston needs consistency at the quarterback position and Osweiler needs a place that, in his eyes, can treat him right and not bench him out of desperation, so Houston it likely is.
Ryan Nassib, New York Giants: How about we answer this question with another question: would it be possible for the Broncos to replace Peyton Manning with his brother's backup? Nassib, a fourth-round pick of the Giants in 2013, has become expendable for the Giants as Eli Manning continues to play well -- key word is well, not amazing or spectacular but well -- and is still young enough (35) that Ben McAdoo could keep him as his ride-or-die for another couple years; especially when Eli, as I've said plenty of times before, isn't the biggest problem for the Giants' losing as of late. For Nassib, who turns 26 later this week, the 2016 season will be his final year of the rookie contract he signed after being drafted and, after only playing five games in his first three seasons with Big Blue, is likely to bolt for a new home.
That is, unless, the Giants send Nassib packing and acquire a new, potentially cheaper backup quarterback (perhaps even repeating the same process of drafting a signal-caller) to fill the void behind the always-healthy Manning. Easily, I could see the Broncos be willing to take a chance on Nassib, who threw for a 70-28 TD-INT ratio in four seasons with the Syracuse Orange, as their quarterback of the future. Looking at Nassib, there are three main bright spots that could really interest John Elway and the Broncos:
1. He's spent three years behind a Manning.
2. He has a desire to win and get a chance.
3. The asking price for him now will likely be much less than it will be next year.
Going from sitting behind a Manning to replacing a Manning sounds like a pretty kickass deal for Nassib, but anything has to be better than living in a city ruled by Bill de Blasio.
Geno Smith, New York Jets: Since we just talked about Nassib, I guess we may as well just stay in the New York area, right? Some of you may be surprised that I would put Geno Smith on this list and not Robert Griffin III, seeing as both are both athletic quarterbacks that are no longer the faces of their respective franchises, but the truth is that Smith has more potential with Denver's roster than Griffin; plus, Smith is much less of an injury risk, even if he can't tell time correctly. Right now, the Jets' quarterback position is unclear -- Ryan Fitzpatrick could come back or he may not, former Kansas City Chief Chase Daniel (more on him in a second) is reportedly a target for the team, and Bryce Petty is still always an option -- but one thing is clear: Geno Smith is no longer an untouchable player.
Hell, Smith may not even be on the roster next year regardless of who the starter is, especially with the progress that Petty made and the potential he brings to the table. With that said, the Jets may be able to sneak a trade in with the Broncos for the former second-rounder, a deal that Denver may be willing to make because all Smith has to do in Denver is not make mistakes. We saw this season that as long as the defense stands firm, the quarterback can play decent at best and the Broncos will still come away with a win. I don't know how comfortable I'd feel making a trade for Smith, but does the 25 year old bring potential to the table in the right situation? Yes, yes he does.
Chase Daniel, Kansas City Chiefs: I talked a bit about Daniel before, and after a few years sitting behind both New Orleans' Drew Brees and Kansas City's Alex Smith, the former Missouri star may finally get his chance to show the NFL what he can do. Had the Eagles not signed Sam Bradford to an extension, I'd have said Daniel would likely go to the City of Brotherly Love and reunite with former offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, but now I think Daniel has three realistic options as to where he could go and start: the New York Jets; the Cleveland Browns; and the Denver Broncos.
And, all bias about the Jets aside, I just think Denver would be a perfect landing spot for Daniel; the guy knows the AFC West, he knows what Denver is capable of, and he can be promised a starting spot. Sitting behind both Brees, who ironically gave Peyton Manning one of his two Super Bowl losses in February 2010, and Smith -- two winners, by the way -- and gaining the experience from a future Hall of Famer and one of the league's most underrated quarterbacks has helped his career big time, and getting to work with Gary Kubiak (the same coach who turned Matt Schaub into a damn Pro Bowler) would do the same thing. Oh, and just imagine all the puns from foolish internet bloggers like me, especially "Daniel, Denver Chasing Title."
Matt Schaub, Baltimore Ravens: This one I think is near-impossible when it comes to Schaub being a starter, but Kubiak and the former Virgina signal-caller worked magic in Houston and maybe, just maybe, would be able to do the same in Denver. If anything, I could see Kubiak bringing the two-time Pro Bowler into the Mile High City as a backup just for the sake of a reunion. But as a starter? No.
Zach Mettenberger, Tennessee Titans: Mettenberger is in a similar place as Nassib, as he's stuck behind a quarterback (Marcus Mariota) that his team has no plans on getting rid of any time soon. Honestly, anything I said for Nassib pretty much applies for Mettenberger, though the former LSU star may be a better fit in Kubiak's offense than Nassib.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Now, here's where things get really interesting. As Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported in December, "Ryan is still due to receive more than $50 million over the next three seasons. Specifically, he gets a base salary of $15.75 million in 2016, $15.75 million in 2017, and $19.25 million in 2018." In other words, the Falcons, who could afford to really start anew when it comes to certain aspects of the team, might really consider working out a trade for their former first-rounder if a team was willing to give up the right parts. If you're Denver, a team that has had success with veteran quarterbacks in the past (notably Manning and former Pro Bowler Jake Plummer), the time to strike for Ryan may be now.
Is Ryan going to give you the gaudy passing numbers of a Brees, the scrambling of a Newton, or the play-calling of a Manning? No, but Ryan will give you durability (he hasn't missed a start since 2009), consistency (Ryan hasn't had a sub 4700 passing yard season since 2011 or a sub 61 completion percentage since 2009), and a clutch factor (24 game-winning drives since the 2010 season) that would make him an ideal fit in Denver. Only 31 when the season starts, Ryan is at that perfect age where he's still young enough to be the franchise quarterback, but old enough to know that at this point, the time for fun and games is over; and after three consecutive playoff-less seasons in Atlanta, it may be time for Ryan to don the orange and blue of the Broncos rather than Atlanta's red and black.
The NFL Draft: This is certainly a possibility, but I can't see the Broncos drafting a quarterback and immediately handing him the keys to the team, especially not with the team in a bit of a win-now mode. If anything, I'd see them draft a prospect they could develop for a couple years -- someone like N.C. State's Jacoby Brissett or even Penn State's Christian Hackenberg if he fell low enough -- while having a veteran start in the meantime. It worked this time around, didn't it?
Tim Tebow, ESPN: Haha, no.
Who do you think is best suited to replace Peyton Manning as Denver's quarterback? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by leaving a comment or tweeting me, and if you want to properly join the Mix, give me a follow on Twitter at @JakeElman