SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - One of the biggest winners from the Super Bowl didn't even take a snap.
Brock Osweiler is a free agent the Broncos probably can't afford to lose if Peyton Manning retires. And judging by how much the five-time NFL MVP's game has deteriorated through age and injury, a decision to do anything but leave pro football as a champion would be foolhardy.
Denver, of course, is well aware of the upcoming challenges behind center. Broncos boss John Elway probably already knows what Manning will do, and he might even be advising Manning to hang it up just the way he did in 1999 after a Super Bowl win.
"I think he is probably just soaking it in," Elway said after the 24-10 victory against Carolina on Sunday in which Manning struggled mightily, but still got a second ring. "I remember when I won it, it is always the time to just sit there. There is so much hard work and it is such a long season that to be able to win the world championship and exhale and say, 'We are world champs' is a great feeling. I am sure he is enjoying it now."
All of the Broncos are enjoying it, of course. As coach Gary Kubiak said Monday morning, he wants to hold onto the championship feeling for a while before looking ahead.
But look ahead Denver must.
And while Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller will become a free agent, that situation is more easily solvable for the Broncos. If they can't reach a long-term deal with Miller, who likely will seek to become the highest-paid defensive player in the league, they can franchise tag him. And they will.
But replacing Peyton? That one is much tougher.
Consider first Osweiler's situation.
Until this season, when Manning had to be benched and then was sidelined for nearly two months by a foot injury, Osweiler pretty much was an unknown. He'd impressed Elway, Kubiak and even the previous coaching staff under John Fox with his work habits, mastery of the schemes, and with some performances in the preseason.
Then Osweiler stepped in and Denver went 5-2 in his starts. Of course, Manning had to rescue the Broncos in the season finale, reclaiming the starting position for the postseason - although it was truly the defense that was carrying the team toward the Lombardi Trophy it emphatically snatched up Sunday.
With Manning out of the picture, Denver's dilemma is how much Osweiler is worth to the champions. He certainly will get attention from quarterback-starved teams such as Houston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and the Rams.
He's more valuable to the Broncos because he knows their system, has been through a Super Bowl run with them, and, no small thing, was under Manning's wing for four years. But is Osweiler worth the megabucks and long-term deal he could get from someone else?
In other words, is he worth superstar QB money?
Kubiak repeatedly said the Broncos wouldn't be on top without Osweiler's contributions, and he is correct. During Super Bowl week, he basically broke down Osweiler's value to Denver.
"Obviously a big, talented young man, can move around very well," Kubiak said. "Really a one-year player in college, but growing as a pro. The biggest thing I'd say for Brock is that nowadays in the National Football League when guys are drafted high, they don't get the luxury Brock has had. Brock has had a chance to grow up under a Hall of Famer and be coached extremely well, and has a chance to come up, I don't want to say the right way but the way a lot of guys were able to come up through the years many years ago.
"I think he's benefited from that, being around Peyton on a daily basis, as a worker, in the meetings, as a pro, so I think he's benefited from that."
Should Osweiler depart - Denver is highly unlikely to use the franchise tag on him (it was $18.5 million this season) - the only quarterback on the roster with Manning's retirement would be Trevor Siemian, a total unknown.
Elway won't be leaving his team in limbo at the position he played, of course. There are veterans he could bring in, some as stop gaps (Sam Bradford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Nick Foles, Chase Daniel, Brian Hoyer could be in that mix), others with potential to build around (Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Glennon).
Or Elway could suit up himself - just kidding.
Given his track record in charge of the Broncos, folks in Denver need not worry. Elway will get it right.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.
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