What Contract Should Brock Osweiler Receive?

We know that the Broncos are planning to talk about an extension for Brock Osweiler. The question becomes how long the contract should be for and how much money he should initially receive, keeping in mind that the Broncos need to protect themselves in case he doesn’t improve, but that Osweiler should get some flexibility if he not only improves, but shows he can play a major role in getting the Broncos to the playoffs and making a deep run.

I’ve previously discussed teams who some might think would come into play for Osweiler’s services but that I don’t believe most teams will pursue him. Furthermore, I don’t believe Osweiler is going to get as much money as some people think, but he’s not exactly going to come at a bargain price. Let’s examine a few things to keep in mind that will impact the deal Osweiler will actually receive.

What works in his favor is that Osweiler did a respectable job when he replaced Peyton Manning in the starting lineup. He had two games in which the Broncos trailed (New England and Cincinnati), but he capitalized on situations that allowed the Broncos to win those games. He appeared to be a good fit for Gary Kubiak’s offense, he was able to make most throws and his teammates liked him. Once in a while, he showed the ability to see what defenses were doing and adjust plays as needed.

The flipside is that Osweiler’s sample size is small. He has just seven starts and a couple of instances of relieving Manning (one this season and a couple others in prior seasons). This is not like Andy Dalton’s situation when he got his extension, in which he had three full regular seasons (that’s 48 starts) and three playoff starts to allow the Bengals to determine if he was worth committing to for more years. It’s not like Colin Kaepernick, either, who had more than 30 starts and more playoff starts than Dalton, which included two conference championships and a Super Bowl start. As for the other two quarterbacks who are likely to get the most attention (Sam Bradford and Kirk Cousins), they also have larger sample sizes to evaluate.

Osweiler’s sample size is actually closer to Matt Flynn, who some projected would cash in on a weak QB market (he was a free agent at the time Manning was being courted), but settled for a three-year, $20.5M contract with Seattle with $9M guaranteed. That’s not to say it’s a lock that Osweiler will have to take a deal like that, but Flynn’s deal was a far cry from what Dalton received. And while one could argue that Osweiler has more talent than Flynn, teams just haven’t shown the inclination to pay a player a large sum of money when the player’s sample size isn’t approaching a full regular season. It may not be a strong market for quarterbacks, but it seldom is, and more importantly, the bulk of top players in weak markets who signed large deals had multiple seasons of starts for teams to evaluate.

I believe Osweiler will get a larger total amount of money than Flynn got, and the chance to either earn more or void a part of the deal, because he had more starts (seven versus two for Flynn) and because his skill set is better than Flynn’s. But expectations that he will get Dalton-type money are unrealistic, simply because Dalton has a greater sample size in which the Bengals could evaluate him and determine if he warranted a longer commitment.

Something else to keep in mind is that it remains to be seen how much he will improve his game through film study. That’s something that can’t be measured on the field, but is observed by coaches during the offseason. And while Osweiler can review film of other quarterbacks, his best bet is to study his own play and see for himself where he needs to improve. While he has shown an ability to read defenses at times, there were plenty of times when he missed something that developed before or after the snap.

As far as the market goes, I would rule out most of the teams that are in need of a quarterback, because I expect the bulk will focus on the draft or keeping their current QB. Washington is likely to extend Kirk Cousins and the Jets will likely keep Ryan Fitzpatrick. I would expect Cousins to be closer to a Dalton-type deal and Fitzpatrick will probably have to settle for a deal similar to what Josh McCown or Brian Hoyer got, given that Fitzpatrick has hit his ceiling.

As for other teams, I know Peter King has suggested Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson might want to have Osweiler, but if the new front office is taking the “moneyball” approach, that suggests they aren’t going to overpay for free agents and will build through the draft. So I expect the Browns will draft a QB while sticking with McCown for another year as the veteran passer (we already know they’ll be waiving Johnny Manziel). Houston has never shown an inclination toward making a splash in free agency, so while the Texans wouldn’t say no to Osweiler, they wouldn’t overpay for him, and they might believe they can get a quarterback with their first- or second-round pick, while deciding whether to keep Brian Hoyer for another year, or to cut him and extend either T.J. Yates or Brandon Weeden for a year as their veteran option.

St. Louis is not likely to overpay for Osweiler, either, after things didn’t work out with Nick Foles. I would expect the Rams to draft a quarterback to compete with Case Keenum. That leaves Philadelphia, who is rumored to be interested in bringing Foles back, and San Francisco, who might be more likely to pursue Sam Bradford, given that he did some good things in Chip Kelly’s offense.

Along with Foles, who will either be traded or released, we know that Washington plans to release Robert Griffin III and he’ll likely want to join a team where he can compete for the starting job. The Niners reportedly want to trade Colin Kaepernick, but if they find no takers, they may just cut him and consider the injury-only guarantees they will have to pay as sunk costs. Kaepernick may have declined, but given his past success, a team with a head coach who thinks he can get him back on track might be interested in his services.

Certainly Osweiler and his agent would ask for a deal similar to Dalton, because good negotiators ask for more than they think they will get. In the end, though, I imagine they will agree to terms with the Broncos on a short-term deal that includes incentives and escalators, plus a means for Osweiler to get out of the deal after two years, should he demonstrate a high level of play in that time period.

Here is how I would structure a three-year deal for Osweiler, one that puts him where his current value should be reflected, but gives him a chance at more money in the short term and his opportunity to get out of the deal and seek more money if he excels.

2016: Give Osweiler $8M in fully guaranteed money, consisting of a $6M signing bonus and a $2M base salary. Osweiler would then have the opportunity to earn additional money based on the percentage of snaps he takes during the regular season and playoff advancement. Here are the incentives I would add to the deal.

First, he would get additional money for the percentage of snaps he takes during the regular season. It would be $250,000 for 50 percent, increasing to $300,000 for 60 percent, to $400,000 for 65 percent and to $500,000 for 70 percent. I set the cutoff at 70 percent, as this would cover him in case he misses a start or two because of injury or the coaches resting him at the end of the season because the Broncos have locked up a playoff spot. If he gets to 70 percent of the snaps, it’s clear the Broncos were happy with his performance.

Playoff qualification and advancement: If Osweiler takes at least 70 percent of the season snaps and the Broncos make the playoffs, he would get $250,000 for a wild card berth or $500,000 for a division title. He would receive $500,000 for either a wild-card round win or a first-round bye, another $500,000 for a divisional round win, another $500,000 for a conference championship win, and $1M for a Super Bowl win. When a playoff game is played, Osweiler must take at least 70 percent of the snaps to earn the bonus.

Let’s assume Osweiler gets at least 70 percent of the regular-season snaps, the Broncos win the division but not a bye, and the Broncos advance to the AFC title game. That means Osweiler collects an additional $2M in salary, which would boost his season total to $10M. The maximum he could collect would be $11.5M.

2017: $9M base salary, guaranteed for injury only. However, Osweiler could trigger escalators or make the money fully guaranteed based on his performance in 2016. For example: If Osweiler takes at least 70 percent of the 2016 season snaps and the Broncos reach the playoffs, it would trigger an automatic $2M increase in the 2017 salary ($1M for the snaps taken, another $1M for the playoff trip) and the entire sum would become fully guaranteed at that point, rather than during the 2017 league year. In other words, playing the majority of snaps and advancing to the playoffs means the Broncos will automatically commit to Osweiler for another season.

Osweiler could trigger additional escalators based on playoff performance, meeting certain statistical marks or receiving awards during the 2016 season. I would set all the escalators to boost the salary to a maximum of $14M.

Finally, I would add incentives for 2017 as well. Those incentives would be based on reaching the playoffs, provided he takes at least 70 percent of the season snaps, and how far into the playoffs the Broncos go, the same as I have set them in 2016. Furthermore, he would receive an additional $250,000 for being named Offensive Player of the Year and an additional $500,000 for being named league MVP.

Osweiler would have the potential to earn more than $17M, provided he hits all escalators and incentives. That’s certainly a lot, but if he were to take the bulk of snaps and the Broncos win two Super Bowls, along with Osweiler accumulating multiple awards, it would be well worth it.

2018: $14M base salary, not guaranteed. However, the contract would include a provision allowing Osweiler to void the final year of the deal and seek a new contract if he meets the following qualifications:

* He takes at least 70 percent of the snaps in 2016 and 2017 AND
* The Broncos make the playoffs in both 2016 and 2017.

If Osweiler accomplishes both tasks, he will have more than enough of a sample size and leverage to demand more than $14M. He can easily demand a contract that is more in line with the top quarterbacks in the NFL, particularly if the Broncos reach the Super Bowl each of those seasons. Additionally, he would be just 28 in 2018, still in the prime of his career and, if he continues playing at a high level, in a good position to collect the bulk of the money he would get in a new contract.

The contract, at its starting point, comes out to a three-year, $30M deal with $16M guaranteed ($8M in full guarantees), so it’s a better deal than Flynn’s, and the incentives and escalators would mean the potential for more money. It gives Osweiler short-term security and a chance to raise what he gets with strong performances. Meanwhile, the Broncos are protected because they can get out of the deal after one year if Osweiler struggles. After two years, they can re-evaluate again, but you would expect that if Osweiler improves in 2016, he should continue doing so in 2017 (and thus he would void the final year) and it will be worth it to the Broncos to pay him more handsomely.

Assuming this deal became reality, Osweiler would count for a $4M cap charge in 2016 and a $10M cap charge in 2017, although the 2017 number would rise if those escalators kick in. (The Broncos should be able to defer some of his incentives until the 2017 cap year). By that point, though, some Broncos will have contracts expire and others may be let go, allowing the Broncos to accommodate that cap charge.

I believe this is the best method for the Broncos to keep Osweiler around, while giving him the chance to earn more money and a chance to get a deal more in line with the “franchise quarterbacks” should he improve and show he can get a team to the playoffs over the course of 16 starts. Do it twice and then it puts Osweiler into a position where he and his agent gain leverage and it makes sense for the Broncos to commit to him for a longer period.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.