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School of Brock

What the NFL learned from Houston’s disastrous Brock Osweiler signing — and who stands to win and lose leaguewide as free agency looms one year later

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Yesterday was LeBron Day — but today? It’s QB Day. We live in a world where two statements are simultaneously true: (1) Quarterbacks are more valuable than ever, and (2) Joe Flacco is on the verge of becoming the highest-paid player in the NFL. So, with the league set for an offseason featuring plenty of high-profile quarterback movement, we decided to devote a whole 24 hours to separating the signal-calling wheat from the chaff. You can find all of the posts here. And remember: No matter what happens, at least you don’t owe Brock Osweiler $37 million.

The NFL is a copycat league: When the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl with tall cornerbacks, nearly every team began spending its high draft picks and cap money chasing the same strategy. When the Patriots started to value slot receivers about a decade ago, the rest of the league followed suit. One good idea can spread quickly during an NFL offseason — and one horrific idea can create a similarly chilling impact that spreads through the sport. We can now call that side of things the Brock Osweiler Ripple Effect.

Almost a year ago, the Texans handed Osweiler a $72 million deal that guarantees him $37 million even if he’s a disaster. After his first season, it seems clear that the contract will be for that $37 million minimum. To be fair, this is not the worst deal in the history of the world. Netflix paid Sony around $8 million per Bloodline episode; the Kings gave away DeMarcus Cousins for almost nothing. Signing Osweiler to a huge deal off a small sample of success wasn’t quite that bad — but it was pretty bad. The best that can be said about Osweiler’s debut season in Houston is that he remained tall throughout. His 5.8 yards per attempt was the lowest mark among NFL starters, worse than even Blake Bortles’s. Osweiler’s passer rating was the worst in the league if we don’t count Ryan Fitzpatrick’s, whose disastrous season with the Jets was such an outlier that it should never count for anything.

Houston’s decision to give Osweiler that contract after just seven career starts on a loaded Denver team that wound up winning the Super Bowl (with Peyton Manning back behind center) was the peak of growing desperation for quarterbacks that has defined the NFL. The passing game has been increasingly important leaguewide, with teams passing for 18.1 percent more yards in 2016 than they did a decade before, in 2006. Unfortunately for those teams, the number of capable quarterbacks hasn’t increased in tandem. As a result, the most important position in sports is now somehow harder to adequately fill than ever, fostering the kind of anxiety that leads to a team giving more money to Brock Osweiler in 2017 than the Seahawks are giving to Russell Wilson.

It’s rare for quarterbacks who have won games in the NFL to hit the open market, and when they do, mistakes will be made. Houston’s Osweiler mistake was so severe that it changed not only that team, but also the league. We know the Texans lost, but with the wider ripple effects still coursing a year later, and with NFL free agency looming, we present the delayed winners and losers of the Brock Osweiler deal.

Loser: Mike Glennon

Glennon has started 18 career games, and though he hasn’t started since 2014, he has managed to make an indelible impact on the NFL since joining the league. In 2013, for example, he was sacked 40 times, tied for ninth-most in the league. He also, uh, recovered three of his own fumbles, tied for 10th in the league that season. Definitely notable stats!

Surprisingly, Glennon has made a better name for himself since becoming Jameis Winston’s backup. He’s gained notoriety for his performances in mop-up duty, and now analysts are building a case that he should again be a starter.

Unfortunately for Glennon, he’s earning buzz in the wrong year. When ESPN floated the idea that Glennon could command upward of $15 million (an eye-popping annual salary, but still lower than Osweiler’s), public reaction was nearly unanimous: “Uh, did we learn nothing from Osweiler?” It’s clear that giving the unproven Glennon a large chunk of change will come with hefty criticism. One of the only reasons to sign a boom-or-bust quarterback like this one is to placate a fan base desperate for competence. Reminding anyone of Osweiler won’t sate that desire.

Winner: Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins is not a great quarterback, but he has an actual track record of sustained adequacy, meaning he’s not Brock Osweiler. As such, he’s going to get paid like a star. A year after the Osweiler deal, above-average is hot, potential is not. Not having a solution at quarterback is not an option for any team, but it would be particularly dire for Washington, which has the pieces to compete for the playoffs and which hasn’t seen the same player lead the team in passing for four straight years since Mark Rypien, who finished his streak in 1993. Cousins could manage the feat next season if he’s still in town. The alternative, of course, is dipping into a quarterback market full of mediocrity. The fear of the unknown, and of repeating past mistakes, will lead the Redskins to franchise tag Cousins, then give him an obscene amount of money. Cousins likes that.

Winner: John Elway’s Reputation

It’s technically true that Broncos boss John Elway “won” the Osweiler negotiation by not signing him, but if you tried to invest in Enron in 2000 and decided it was too rich for your blood, the record would still show that even though you escaped the worst of it, you did try to buy in. Elway tried to sign Osweiler, offering $16 million a year and more than $30 million guaranteed, according to The Denver Post. Osweiler took Houston’s offer instead, and Elway, who’s won his fair share of deals over his six-year tenure as GM, got to claim another victory as his former QB flailed with the Texans. “A lot of times those deals you don’t make are the best ones,” Elway said in September. It’s important to remember that Elway tried to pay Osweiler a lot of money, but few people will, which means the GM’s reputation as a football genius will be further bolstered each time someone makes an Osweiler joke.

Loser: The AFC South

It’s shallow to point to quarterbacks as the sole reason teams win and lose. No one seriously thinks Joe Flacco is a better quarterback than Drew Brees even though Flacco won more games last season. Osweiler should have been the exception, because no opponents should have let an Osweiler-led team win the division. And yet the Texans went 5–0 in the division in Osweiler’s starts. That’s a stunning outcome given the quarterback talent in Indianapolis (Andrew Luck) and Tennessee (Marcus Mariota). Imagine losing in Monopoly to a guy who didn’t know how to play and never used any hotels because he accidentally swallowed them. That was the AFC South in 2016.

Winner: The Texans Defense

The Texans defense, led by Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL this season. They also fielded the second-best pass defense and held offenses to the fewest plays per drive. But no stat — no measurement at all — says more about the Houston defense than the fact that it led the team to nine wins despite the quarterback doing this:

Winner: GIFs

It’s a great time to be a Brock GIF consumer. QB guru Cian Fahey recently watched every Osweiler throw this season and clipped the worst ones, such as:

There’s no live football at the moment, but there are still plenty of Brock GIFs, and that’s a gift.

Loser: Brock Osweiler

Nothing Osweiler showed in 2016 indicates that he’s poised for a breakout in 2017. He’ll likely go down as a Mike Hampton or Jon Koncak type, a player whose career will be defined by his bad contract. The criticism got so bad last season that Osweiler’s own owner had to defend him. Osweiler was briefly benched for Tom Savage in December and got his job back only when Savage had to sit due to a concussion. At this point, it seems Osweiler has just one fan remaining: Shea Serrano.

Winner: Brock Osweiler

Hey, dude got paid.