DENVER -- If success is determined only by the size of your bank account, then Brock Osweiler is your man. He was offered an $18 million wage to work for the Houston Texans and a $16 million wage to work for the Denver Broncos, and he took the extra loot. In that context, Houston, we have no problem.
But we all know that happiness and prosperity in life, even in pro football, are often defined by things that have nothing to do with dollars and cents. Take championship rings, for instance. How much money do you think Dan Marino would give back if it meant adding a Super Bowl title to his otherwise staggering legacy?
Someday in the distant future, Mr. Osweiler -- never to be confused with Mr. Marino -- might wonder if he should've taken a home-team discount to keep playing for a Marino contemporary who does own multiple Super Bowl rings, John Elway, a legendary quarterback who has a chance to become a legendary executive.
Osweiler sure had to be thinking that way Monday night, when the Broncos made the NBA-sized quarterback look smaller than the fine ink in his $72 million deal. Osweiler threw the ball 41 times for a grand total of 131 yards in this 27-9 defeat. He opened with a three-and-out after the Broncos won the coin toss and elected to send their defenders right at him, and things went south from there.
Osweiler was all over the place with his passes, and the Broncos hit him hard on or after delivery every chance they got. Osweiler yelled at wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a much better football player than the quarterback, after one throw to nowhere. He dropped one perfectly fine shotgun snap, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, he fumbled away a pass attempt that was more like a Comedy Central routine.
"I looked up in the fourth quarter before that last drive, and he had like 70 yards passing," Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said. "And I just smiled on the inside. That's what we wanted to do. We wanted Brock to come out here and struggle, and he came out here and struggled."
Talib was asked at his locker if the Broncos were motivated not only to end their surprising, two-game losing streak but also by a desire to prove to Osweiler that he shouldn't have left.
"Definitely, definitely," the cornerback said. "We know he looked up at those passing yards in the fourth quarter. And maybe it wouldn't have looked like that if he had stayed."
Talib's colleague in the secondary, T.J. Ward, said the Broncos had identified an alarming weakness in Osweiler's game.
"We knew that he struggles with disguises," Ward said. "We'd seen that from playing here and the film, so we tried to do that. We started kind of slow in the beginning, but we got better as the game went on, and it affected him."
Not much didn't affect Osweiler in this game, and that might've had the Broncos wondering if they should've tried to re-sign him after all. But Elway did want him, and he drafted him in the second round to someday lead the franchise the same year he signed Peyton Manning.
Osweiler slammed that door in his former boss' famous face, and that was a worse decision than any he made Monday. Elway has taken the Broncos to seven Super Bowls as a player and general manager. Elway's teams won three of those big ones, and yeah, he'd probably trade a lot more than his economics degree from Stanford to make that number four or five.
Osweiler left that guy for a Texans franchise that has won two wild-card games in its 14-year existence. No offense to Bill O'Brien, once a quarterback whisperer in New England, or Rick Smith, a good general manager. O'Brien and Smith definitely know what they are doing, and they definitely understood that they were taking a big, fat gamble on an athletic, 6-foot-8 kid with seven career starts to his name.
You can understand what the Texans were thinking. They were sick and tired of the middling quarterbacks in their rotation, and they needed to try something drastic at the sport's most important position before they wasted another year of J.J. Watt's prime.
But what in the world was Osweiler thinking when he left this near-perfect situation in Denver? For that matter, what in the world was his super-agent, Jimmy Sexton, thinking?
Denver is a defending champ with a passionate fan base, a terrifying defense, a former quarterback (Gary Kubiak) as head coach and a former quarterback, Elway, as the GM who proved last season that he knows how to build a team that can win it all while removing a ton of pressure from the limited man under center. Elway has proven to be a lighting-fast learner too. The Broncos were coming off a 4-12 season when he was hired in 2011, and he has won five consecutive division titles, 58 regular-season games, six postseason games and one Super Bowl in two tries. Osweiler walked out on that program because he said he fit better in O'Brien's system.
How did that fit work out Monday?
"Extremely disappointing" was how Osweiler described the performance. The Broncos, he said, "are a great football team. They are very well-coached. They came in playing all three phases today."
Yes, they did, just like they did when Osweiler was one of them. So, of course, he was asked if he had any regrets about leaving a championship team.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I always told people that I never live my life looking in the rearview mirror with any regret."
Osweiler said he was surprised the boos that greeted him weren't louder. Hey, the fans aren't stupid. Brock Osweiler's return to Denver in the colors of the Houston Texans wasn't exactly LeBron James' return to Cleveland in the colors of the Miami Heat.
Even so, Osweiler should still be the Broncos' starter -- not the less talented Trevor Siemian -- and the quarterback's representative, Sexton, has to take a hit for that. Too often, agents confuse the richest deal with the best deal. If Sexton's client is telling the truth when he says his benching late last season for a returning Manning didn't drive him out, then what was the deal? Osweiler wouldn't have faced the burdens of replacing the record-breaking 2013 Manning. He would've been replacing a shell of Peyton's former self.
Osweiler said what he said about the Texans giving him "the best opportunity to be successful," and Elway said what he said about spending his money on "players who want to be Denver Broncos and want to be here." The Broncos GM smartly saved his free-agent pennies for Von Miller, Super Bowl MVP and the kind of weapon Elway knew he needed for the Cam Newtons of the world, after he saw what Seattle did to Manning on that godforsaken Super Bowl day in New Jersey.
This isn't to say Osweiler won't develop into a pretty good player in this league. He beat the unbeaten Patriots last season, and he delivered a thrilling comeback against the Colts last week, and he made a sweet, third-and-8 run against Denver in the third quarter. There are reasons one of Osweiler's assistant coaches at Arizona State, Matt Lubick, brother of Broncos assistant Marc Lubick, assured Elway in the winter of 2012 that the kid would end up as one of the steals of the draft.
But Osweiler is struggling now, while the Broncos are the Broncos, and Elway has beaten the Patriots in one AFC Championship Game with an offensive-minded team (2013) and in another with a defensive-minded team (2015). He has already joined Bill Belichick, Pat Riley, R.C. Buford and Theo Epstein among the best personnel guys in sports.
As he headed for his car after this sweetest of October victories, a smiling Elway stopped near a stadium barrier to mingle with players' family members and others looking for photos. He always walks -- or hobbles -- with his shoulders pinned back and his barrel chest puffed out. It seemed on this night that his chest was puffed out an extra inch or two.
Why not? It was painfully clear that Brock Osweiler, former Bronco, had put his money on the wrong horse.