Gut Reaction: Something Happen Today?

I’ll bet you Bronco fans thought the final cutdown to 53 players was going to be a ho-hum affair, didn’t you?

Seriously, we did know that a couple of moves might be made that weren’t going to be popular, but the one that likely has all of your heads spinning is the one that nobody talked about earlier this week.

So let’s sort out of everything that’s gone down thus far as it pertains to the Broncos 53-man roster, starting out with the expected move that nobody could have ever thought possible.

As you should know by now, these thoughts are mine and mine alone.

Brock Osweiler to Return — Also Known As Hell Freezes Over

When Mary Kay Cabot tweeted that the Broncos were expected to sign Brock Osweiler after his release from the Browns was official, every Broncos fan’s jaw hit the floor.

Meanwhile, I’m checking to see if Satan is selling parkas and portable heaters down below.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I had expected that the Broncos would look to a veteran with some game experience to be the backup to Trevor Siemian, but I expected they would consider a QB with less than four accrued seasons but had played in at least a few NFL regular-season games. I figured they wouldn’t sign a veteran with four or more accrued seasons because of the rule regarding a full year’s salary commitment for such players on the Week 1 roster.

The news that the Browns were going to release Brock Osweiler and just pay him the $18M they apparently believe a second-round pick is worth raised a few eyebrows, but it just so happens that Osweiler has worked alongside Mike McCoy for one season and has some knowledge of the system. And because Osweiler is due so much money from the Browns, he should come cheap, which would likely explain the Broncos’ interest.

For the record, I’m not the biggest fan of the move — if you are going to sign a veteran QB to backup Trevor Siemian, Colin Kaepernick is the better option. Of course, there will be those ranging from the critics who will demand Kaepernick start because he’s clearly better than Siemian to Bronco fans who will pine even more for Kyle Sloter than they are now (we’ll get to him shortly) that part of me says it’s not worth going down that rabbit hole, even as I believe that Kaepernick should be on an NFL roster.

But what we have to remember is that Siemian is penciled in as the starter and isn’t going to be removed from that spot unless he struggles to open the regular season. And when you consider that he looked better this preseason than he did a year ago, it’s only fair to let him have another shot. Thus, if you are going to find a veteran backup, you may as well take somebody who is not going to generate immediate demands that he start.

We’ll see what terms the Broncos and Osweiler agree to. Personally, I’d give him no more than the veteran minimum but be fine with incentives. After all, he’s collecting a lot of money from the Browns and is in no position to ask for a lot from John Elway.

(THIS JUST IN: Per Ian Rapoport, Osweiler will sign for the veteran minimum, so we can at least rest easy about the money the Broncos will pay him.)

Enough With The Preseason QB Star Bandwagon

A lot of grumbling went up regarding the decision to slip Kyle Sloter through waivers. Criticisms range from the idea of even talking to Osweiler as blasphemy to getting rid of Paxton Lynch to pointing to past QB decisions with no context provided.

Sloter did look good in the preseason, but we must remember that there is a big difference between the preseason and the regular season, even if you have been working in the system throughout the offseason. If Sloter were to play in the regular season, he won’t be facing simplistic game plans designed to evaluate talent; he’ll be facing game plans designed to be as aggressive as possible. Preseasons are for evaluating talent and QBs low on the depth chart play against guys fighting for roster spots, but once the regular season comes, those QBs all face guys who have earned their roster spots.

Considering the news that Paxton Lynch could miss more than just two weeks of the regular season with a shoulder injury, it’s not surprising the Broncos don’t want to rely on Sloter as a backup QB, familiarity with the system be damned. And, no, the Broncos aren’t going to waive Lynch after just one accrued season, so put that thought aside right now.

Furthermore, we Bronco fans need to come to terms with our love-hate relationship with quarterbacks as to whether or not they look like the second coming of John Elway. We’ve fallen in love with UDFA QBs who looked good in the preseason before, but we can’t let it cloud our judgment as to the long-term picture — that these QBs start the season as third stringers, not backups.

I’m sure some will point to Tony Romo, but remember that Romo was a third stringer for his first three seasons when guys like Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, Drew Henson (acquired for a third-round pick, BTW) and an aging Vinny Testaverde got starts ahead of him — and that Romo only seized the starting job for good when Bill Parcells had enough of an aging Drew Bledsoe. In other words, Romo was not some instant sensation who rose to prominence quickly — he was treated like every other UDFA QB gets treated in his early years: You’re a third-stringer and nothing more, dude.

Nor should we be drawing comparisons to Kurt Warner, who was set to start for a Rams team that was coming off a 4-12 season and not expected to contend for the playoffs — and that was also when the planned starter, Trent Green, got injured. And though arena football is not the same as the NFL, it at least gave Warner a chance to get more repetitions in game situations beyond college football under his belt, along with a couple of preseason stints with other teams. Meanwhile, the Broncos are coming off a 9-7 season — sure, they missed the playoffs, but they were in the hunt until the last couple of weeks, so they were a playoff contender last year, particularly because they were in a tough division. Teams that go 4-12 are out of the playoff race early and are nowhere near comparable to those 8-8 and 7-9 teams who have won weak divisions.

I’m sure some might trot out more recent examples of UDFAs who got starts in their rookie seasons — I mean, Case Keenum starting ahead of Matt Schaub is one instance where…

Oh, I’m sorry, were you expecting a feelgood story in which the hero rides off into the sunset? My bad, I instead gave you a QB situation that didn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, though, that’s the rule with UDFA QBs who are put into a situation in which they are thrown into the fire too soon.

We’ll see if the Broncos get Sloter onto the practice squad, but if not, let’s stop pining over every single QB who becomes a preseason star for the Broncos and think that he’s the next savior.

(Also, let’s not forget that a lot of Bronco fans fall in love with guys who played for Colorado colleges — not just at QB, but every position. In other words, our Colorado college glasses tend to make us swoon over those guys more than others.)

T.J. Ward’s Departure Isn’t About Positions Other Than Safety

If Justin Simmons, Will Parks and Jamal Carter had struggled throughout the preseason, T.J. Ward is still a Bronco and we aren’t having this discussion about him. But those three all played well and the Broncos are fine with moving forward with them, so Ward is out.

I’ve seen some grumble that Donald Stephenson still has a job (though most of that was on Twitter), but Stephenson was not competing against Ward; he was competing against the rest of the offensive linemen. The same applies for players at positions other than safety — it’s that position they are competing for, not simply a roster spot in general.

While it would have been nice to get a draft pick for Ward — be it in trade or as a compensatory pick — it’s not something you can always count on. There’s no guarantee the Broncos get a comp pick for Ward if they are active in free agency in 2018. As for a trade, while it’s easy to point to his salary, the truth is that any team that trades for Ward is probably going to want to extend him right away, given that he was in the final year of his contract.

Because the Broncos cut him, teams who are interested can get him on a long-term deal if they so desire. Or they can at least better structure a deal that they can get out of after one year if it doesn’t work out. If they take him at his $4.5M salary, that amount figures into any extension talks. Now those teams can start from scratch.

I will miss Ward and it will be tough to say goodbye to a quality veteran (though if we’re being honest with ourselves, that goodbye may have come after the season if he had made the final roster). But when you have some younger players who are showing they can be just as good in the lineup, you have a difficult decision to make.

Making Sense Of All These Reserved Lists

We thought Jake Butt might go on the physically unable to perform list, but instead joined Chad Kelly on the non-football injury list to start the season. And now we hear that Shane Ray will be placed on injured reserve — but that means the Broncos can’t bring him back this season — but, wait, he’s not on IR just yet!

Let’s sort out the confusion regarding the lists and understand what the moves the Broncos made are really about.

Jake Butt and Chad Kelly to NFI: Long story short, the Broncos simply took two players who were on that list for the preseason and put them on the regular-season list. After six weeks, they may go to the active roster if they are cleared to play. They can stay on the list for up to 12 weeks, though, but after that, they must either go to IR, move to the active roster or sent through waivers. So, with both players, there’s a chance they could move to the active roster later in the season.

With Jake Butt, it might mean that either Jeff Heuerman or A.J. Derby could be out of a job if they don’t show improvement after six weeks. Virgil Green is safe, though, barring the Broncos cutting him to replace him with another veteran — a move that isn’t likely to happen.

Shane Ray to IR: It turns out that Ray won’t be placed on IR until the day after final roster cuts because that allows the Broncos to bring him back to the active roster later in the season. Had he gone onto IR today, he’s done for the season. And the move not only allows the Broncos to bring Ray back later in the season (and, as it turns out, he can come off after eight weeks, not eight games, so the Monday night game against the Chiefs is the first week he’ll be available), but leaves one roster spot open for somebody to be added back to the active roster once that move is made. It’s one of those odd quirks about IR rules that is in place to prevent the abuse of the list — and, yes, it’s a silly one that could easily be modified as such: Any player may be placed on IR when he is injured, but must come off IR once he is cleared to practice.

Carlos Henderson to IR: This one is easier — he went on IR today and will miss the season. We’ll see if he can get it together next season, because when he was healthy, he wasn’t exactly impressing people.

The rest of the banged-up players: Any player who is expected to miss a week or two can’t be placed on the physically unable to perform list if they took part in preseason practices or games. Furthermore, any player added to the PUP list would have to stay there for six weeks. No activating a player before those six weeks are up if you have another player lost to an injury. That’s why the Broncos couldn’t keep Stevan Ridley or Juwan Thompson around while placing Devontae Booker on PUP, because you could lose somebody two weeks into the season and Booker may be cleared to play at that point, but wouldn’t be available if he was sent to PUP.

Yes, these rules about the lists are confusing and would beg for a simplified approach — like my suggestion that everyone who is injured goes to IR, but once cleared to practice, he must come off IR and either be added to the active roster or cut/waived. That should eliminate the worries about teams hoarding players on IR. If you have to, threaten to dock draft picks if they don’t take healthy players off IR, but stop fretting about what teams used to do back in the day.

Random Thoughts About the Rest of the Roster

* I had expected the Broncos might only keep eight offensive linemen, but they have nine. The moves showed the Broncos aren’t giving up on Max Garcia, are fine with Donald Stephenson taking his pay cut and liked what they saw from Billy Turner.

Meanwhile, the Broncos were able to get a draft pick for Ty Sambrailo, no doubt because the Falcons are so low on the waiver priority list (remember, Sambrailo must go through waivers because he has fewer than four accrued seasons). And, no, I am not surprised that Michael Schofield is gone, because it’s clear the current coaching staff wasn’t a fan of his. And that no team was willing to trade for him might indicate teams aren’t that anxious for his services and will take their chances with waiver claims.

* I though Chris Lewis-Harris had a good preseason but the Broncos preferred Lorenzo Doss — or maybe they though there’d be too much confusion with Chris Harris already on the roster! Seriously, though, Lewis-Harris played well enough to earn a roster spot but was one of several tough decisions the Broncos had to make.

* Because the Broncos currently have a 52-man roster, with the pending Osweiler signing to make 53, but then go back to 52 once Ray goes to IR, I’ll withhold from assembling a practice squad. That’s because one of those candidates could find himself brought back to the active roster, barring any trades the Broncos might make (but seem unlikely at this point). If I were to guess, though, the Broncos try to bring back one of the defensive linemen they waived, given the short-term injuries at that position. Meanwhile, the Seahawks cut Ahtyba Rubin, rumored to be a Broncos target, but he’s a veteran who would meet that salary requirement, so I wouldn’t count on it.

* One note regarding waivers: Anybody another team claims must immediately go to the active roster. No team is allowed to claim a player off waivers, then simultaneously waive that player to put on a practice squad the next day. It’s active roster or don’t make the claim.

* Roster moves aren’t finished, of course, and we’ll see who the Broncos might claim off waivers. But even before those take place, we know some tough choices had to be made. While it’s hard to let certain players go, better to have to make a tough choice on the final cutdown when you say “these guys are all good but we can only keep so many” than when you say “which guys are less worse than others.” Fortunately for the Broncos, it was the former in nearly every case.

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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.