ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When the 2015 Denver Broncos gathered in June for two reunions, first at the White House and later at Sports Authority Field at Mile High to receive their Super Bowl rings, there was one marquee player from the championship team missing: Brock Osweiler, the backup quarterback who led the Broncos to 4-2 record while filling in for Peyton Manning late in the season.
Osweiler had an explanation for his absence: The events conflicted with practices with his new team, the Houston Texans, who travel to Denver to play the Broncos on Monday night.
But some Broncos believed that maybe there was more to it.
“I got my opinion. And then there is the truth, and the truth is you have to ask him. But my opinion is, maybe he just wasn't as close to us as we thought,” running back C.J. Anderson told USA TODAY Sports.
When Osweiler, a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2012, chose to sign with the Texans in March rather than stay with the Broncos and take his place as Manning's heir, it was one of the most surprising moves of free agency.
But a combination of factors led Osweiler to seek a deal elsewhere.
On Thursday, Osweiler dismissed the notion that he left Denver because of hard feelings from the way the 2015 season played out. Osweiler was benched in the third quarter of the Broncos’ Week 17 game against the San Diego Chargers in favor of Manning, and he did not take a snap in the postseason.
Osweiler said that at the time he was frustrated about the benching, but he quickly gained perspective.
“I got replaced by Peyton Manning to make a playoff run with a great football team,” Osweiler said. “I think any coach or any team in the National Football League, if they had Peyton Manning healthy and ready to play, I think we all know who is going to play in that game. It had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for Osweiler to leave was money.
Osweiler signed a four-year deal worth $72 million with the Texans, which was more money than Broncos general manager John Elway was willing to pay. Elway was hoping to sign Osweiler to the type of middle-class quarterback contract that is seldom seen in the NFL.
“Bottom line, Denver had an opportunity to extend an offer. In fact, they had a great, very long period of time to extend an offer,” Osweiler said Thursday. “There were two offers on the table, there were two things to examine, to explore, to try to do as much research on as possible to see what the best move moving forward would be.”
Few Broncos asked Thursday could fault Osweiler for taking the best offer.
“I was happy for him, that's a lot of money. I'm happy for him to take care of his family and take care of his family for a couple generations hopefully,” wide receiver Jordan Norwood told USA TODAY Sports. “I wasn't surprised, because that's how the business worked. Somebody had to make that much money at the quarterback position, and Brock played well enough last year to be in that spot.”
Outside linebacker Von Miller said he talked to Osweiler in early March, before the franchise tag deadline, as both players were seeking big deals. Miller knew it was unlikely that both would get the money they were seeking from the Broncos. In the end, Miller was the one who re-upped with Denver.
“I knew there were a lot of teams that wanted his services, and I knew it was going to be tough to keep Brock here for the price that he deserved. He deserved that $72 (million),” Miller told USA TODAY Sports. “We weren't going to be able to do it. That was the only reason. And sometimes you've got to make financial decisions like that.”
Osweiler he did admit one regret with the way he left Denver and arrived in Houston: Saying at his introductory news conference in March that he felt the Texans gave him a better chance to win than he had in Denver. His choice of words might have angered some people on his old team, but Osweiler contends he meant it from a schematic standpoint, believing he would be a better fit in Bill O’Brien’s offense than he was in Gary Kubiak’s.
“I was able to see Peyton play in a similar system in 2012, '13 and '14. I don’t think any of us can deny what he was able to accomplish in those systems,” Osweiler said. “As a quarterback, as a competitor and as someone striving to do great things in this league, it just seemed like a great opportunity to play in a system that was similar to that.”
Follow Lindsay H. Jones on Twitter @bylindsayhjones.