ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sticks and stones are fine. Whatever.
Signing bonuses, guaranteed money and the chase of the almighty dollar? Business is business.
But when sifting through quarterback Brock Osweiler’s departure from the Denver Broncos to greener financial pastures with the Houston Texans, it’s the words, spoken and unspoken, that make the decision sting.
“It is what it is, man,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “Everybody likes Brock, but guys do what they think is best; they go to whatever situation they think is best. Those are personal decisions. Maybe he didn’t like what it was going to be here and the expectations and all that.”
Osweiler, who signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Texans in March, returns to Denver for the first time Monday night since leaving in free agency. Osweiler was a second-round draft pick in 2012, the same year the Broncos signed Peyton Manning in free agency.
Osweiler was the heir apparent, the one who was groomed to take over for Manning. And then he left, just like that, weeks after the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 victory and days after Manning retired.
And then the words came, the ones that are still ringing in many ears around the Broncos’ complex. When Osweiler was introduced by the Texans in March, he was asked why he left Denver.
"I'm very thankful, I'm very appreciative for everything that the Denver Broncos organization has done for me,” he said. “However, in saying that, at this point in time in my career, I feel like the Houston Texans give me the best opportunity to be successful.”
Those words – “the best opportunity to be successful” -- left a mark. After all, the Broncos won four division titles and 50 regular-season games in Osweiler’s four seasons. They also made two Super Bowl trips and won one Lombardi Trophy.
“We didn’t take leaving personally,” Harris said. “That’s the league.”
But the Texans giving Osweiler a better opportunity to be successful?
“Yeah, we probably did take that personally,” Harris said.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway had his own reaction after Osweiler left. He said the team would continue to succeed “with players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here.”
Osweiler also was a no-show for Manning’s retirement news conference and the Broncos’ White House trip and ring ceremony to celebrate the Super Bowl.
He explained those absences last week. A vacation -- “my only vacation with my family” -- kept him away from Manning’s presser. And the Texans’ OTAs, and being with his new team, were a bigger priority than the White House and ring ceremony.
“We didn’t really hang out off the field or anything,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. “So, I don’t really know how he feels and all that. I don’t know if he has hard feelings about business or not. Everybody saw what he said, but everybody says things when they sign in the new place.”
Osweiler also explained what he meant by his words -- “the best opportunity to be successful” – last week. He said he was referring to Bill O’Brien’s offense, which he liked more than what Gary Kubiak and the Broncos run.
“There were a number of things that went into this decision,” Osweiler said. “It wasn’t a decision that was made overnight; it was a decision that took up weeks post-Super Bowl, as we were heading into free agency. I don’t know if that was the correct thing for me to say because, bottom line, there’s so many things that went into it.
“I feel like I had great success playing in [Kubiak’s] system, and I really enjoyed playing in that system. But what Coach O’Brien is doing down here in Houston, at the time when I was doing my research on the Texans, it seemed like a phenomenal opportunity as a quarterback to play in a system like this.”
There was also the matter of the 2015 regular-season finale. The Broncos were 5-2 in games Osweiler started for the injured Manning last season.
But with Manning healthy enough to return in the regular season’s final week, Kubiak made the move early in the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers. Osweiler had thrown for 232 yards, but the Broncos also had five turnovers and needed to win to secure home-field advantage for the postseason.
With 8 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter, Manning went back in the lineup and stayed there for the Super Bowl run. Many in and around the team said Osweiler and his family, in the stands as the move was made, were upset. Many with the Broncos have said Osweiler’s representatives told him at that time the best thing to do in free agency was to find an opportunity elsewhere.
Osweiler said being pulled had nothing to do with him leaving.
“It didn’t weigh in whatsoever," he said last week. “At the end of the day, I really do have nothing but respect for Coach Kubiak and how he runs that team.
“Any competitor would be frustrated in that moment … but it certainly made sense what Coach Kubiak did for the playoff run. I got replaced by Peyton Manning. … I think we all know who is going to play in the game.”
Still, at league meetings in March, Texans owner Bob McNair said Osweiler told him he was looking for a fresh start.
“And then of course he had played behind Peyton [Manning] and with John Elway there, their shadows were quite large,” McNair said then. “He was still going to be under that and compared to them. He has a chance to be a real hero in Houston. And we’ve got a good ballclub, so I think things entered into it.”
Osweiler has tried to rebuild bridges. He said he spoke to Elway when both were vacationing in Idaho this summer. Osweiler also reached out to Kubiak last week after he spent a night in the hospital.
Still, the echo of “the best opportunity to be successful” continues to bounce around the Broncos’ locker room.
“Nobody has any ill will toward Brock,” Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “But at the same time, it’s a competition and we want to shut him down. He came from here and we want to kill him. That’s just what we want to do."
Osweiler said: “I can completely understand why everybody was completely surprised and shocked at the time. But, bottom line, it was an extremely difficult decision, and at the end of the day, it was a decision that was made based on what I thought was best for my family and myself.”