So much for passing the torch. When Peyton Manning retired Monday, it was a foregone conclusion that Brock Osweiler would step into the starting role. He'd shown enough in relief of Manning during the regular season to warrant the full-time gig, even if not everyone was sold on Osweiler as a franchise quarterback.
And with the Broncos, Osweiler would have a lot of things going his way. Surrounded by a great roster, backed up by a dominant defense and with smart coaches helping him prosper, Osweiler would have every chance to succeed. Right?
Maybe. But it wasn't enough. Before we'd finished debating Manning's place among the all-time greats, Osweiler had already vacated his shadow. Instead, he'll sign a four-year, $72 million deal with the Houston Texans, in a move that brings huge changes to both franchises.
Houston finally grabs the franchise QB it has longed for. In Denver, a once-deep quarterback position is now a smoldering crater.
What happened behind the scenes is still unknown. The Broncos had expressed interest in re-signing Osweiler, but they might have been reluctant to go as high as Houston's deal, with includes $37 million guaranteed. But Osweiler might have also been frustrated by the team's Super Bowl run, during which he is rumored to have been frustrated by Manning's return.
Osweiler felt his play had been superior to Manning's in the regular season. But Osweiler rode the bench while Manning led Denver to the Super Bowl.
Whether sour grapes played a part in his decision, Osweiler's move to Houston will eventually be seen as the right move. In Denver, a recent Super Bowl win also brings added pressure. And the circumstances Osweiler would find in the fall are much different than the ones he faced mid-season in 2015.
When he replaced an injured Manning, he was stepping into the role of a fallen hero that many had written off. Broncos fans were quick to hand Osweiler the keys to the franchise. Manning, everyone assumed, was done. And by comparison to Manning's terrible season to that point, Osweiler looked like a golden boy who could do no wrong.
Throwing a game-winning touchdown against the Patriots certainly helped. It seemed like Osweiler was ascending. His teammates trusted him, and Manning was invisible.
But then the playoffs happened. Denver re-inserted Manning as the starting quarterback, and he did well enough to win. Serving more as a game manager than a game winner, Manning quarterbacked the Broncos to an upset win in Super Bowl 50. He rode off into the sunset, only after proving his critics wrong one more time.
That's the situation Osweiler would be entering. Fair or unfair, he'd be replacing a legend who had just won the Super Bowl -- even if Osweiler had outplayed him on the field.
Professional athletes have thick skins, but the shadows looming over Osweiler grew much larger after that Super Bowl win. Compare that situation to Houston, where the quarterback position has served mostly as a recurring nightmare. With the Texans, Osweiler becomes possibly the best quarterback in franchise history. He arrives as a savior -- not as a replacement.
On the field, the circumstances are similar -- in some ways, even better. Houston already has a great defense in place, and that will take the pressure off their new quarterback. But the offense has great pieces to work with, starting with his new go-to receiver, DeAndre Hopkins.
Out from under the ever-watching eye of Denver's most celebrated quarterback -- probably its most celebrated player in John Elway -- Osweiler will be appreciated for the new opportunity he brings to Houston.
Meanwhile, the top of Denver's quarterback depth chart is currently occupied by Trevor Siemian. If you're a Broncos fan, you're sweating right now, because the quarterback market is drying up fast.
But that's of no concern to Osweiler. He's got a great gig in Houston -- a better one than the job he left behind.