Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning speaks at his retirement announcement press conference on March 7, 2016. With Manning's retirement and backup QB Brock Osweiler leaving for the Houstan Texans, the only QB on the team with experience is journeyman Mark Sanchez. Photo by Eric Bakke/DENVER BRONCOS/UPI | License Photo
For just the third time in the 50-year Super Bowl era, the defending champions will begin next season with a quarterback who had nothing to do with winning the title. And as strong as the Denver Broncos are on defense, there is little reason to believe this change will work out any better for them than it did for the previous two teams.
In other words, if you are betting on a Broncos repeat, save your money.
At the moment, the only quarterbacks on the Denver roster are Mark Sanchez, whose career has been on a fairly steady downward trend since he got to AFC championship games his first two seasons with the Jets, and Trevor Siemian, who had a decent career at Northwestern which, you might have heard, is not known as the cradle of quarterbacks.
Of course, Denver still could find another quarterback, maybe someone like the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, and in many ways he would be a perfect fit for the Broncos if he could again play like he did a few years ago. With a quarterback like that, Denver could spread the field and play its run, run, run game because he would be a big part of it.
No matter who they wind up with, however, the 2016 Broncos will join the 1999 Broncos and the 2001 Baltimore Ravens as the only champions in a half-century to start their title defense with a new quarterback.
Just like now, Denver lost its starter following back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 1997 and 1998 when John Elway retired. At the time, it was thought that Bubby Brister, who who won all four of his starts as a backup in Elway's last season and had been an on-and-off starter for years in Pittsburgh, would inherit the starting quarterback job.
Instead, coach Mike Shanahan chose Brian Griese, who as a rookie the previous season had thrown exactly three passes. Griese looked good in exhibition games, but struggled right from the start in the regular season. Once running back Terrell Davis, the linchpin of the offense, suffered a major injury four games into the season, the Broncos were dead.
Denver finished 6-10 that season, reached the playoffs only once in the ensuing three years, and did not win another playoff game for six more years. Denver did not reach another Super Bowl until after both Shanahan and his successor, Josh McDaniels, had been fired, and the Broncos had finished their flirtation with starting quarterbacks Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow before Elway signed Peyton Manning for the 2012 season.
Baltimore's 2001 situation might be a more apt comparison to the current Broncos because the Ravens, in 2000, won the Super Bowl on the back of their defense, just like Denver.
The Super Bowl-winning QB was Trent Dilfer, who perfectly fits the term, "journeyman." Baltimore chose not to resign him, instead plunging into the free agent market to give Elvis Grbac a five-year, $30 million contract.
Grbac played one middling season for the Ravens and, after they lost in the divisional playoffs, he retired at age 31. It was seven years before Baltimore won another playoff game.
Which brings us back to Denver.
Manning had become a latter-day version of Dilfer, a game manager, and you can argue that Denver won the title in spite of him, pointing to the run-run-run offense the Broncos used in the fourth quarter even though that gave them no chance of first downs or running out the clock. And you would largely be correct. But Manning at least gave the Broncos the aura of a quarterback who could - possibly - help out his defense if he had to. Now, the Broncos quarterbacks - Sanchez and Siemian - don't give off the same vibes.
All we know for sure about the current Broncos is that their management had no faith in a quarterback who started seven games last year, winning five, including one against New England. That would be Brock Osweiler, and Kubiak can talk all we wants about how he "believed in'' Osweiler and how he "think(s) the world of Brock," but letting him leave in free agency shows what the Broncos really thought of Osweiler.
For what it's worth, Sanchez has at least experienced playoff success.
He helped the New York Jets reach two AFC championship games in his first two seasons in the NFL, but he also has a career passer rating of 74.3 and has thrown only two more touchdown passes than interceptions.
It's not exactly a resume that inspires confidence, even among teammates. Safety T.J. Ward probably spoke for a lot of Broncos earlier this week during an appearance on the NFL Network when he said, ?"We got to find someone back there."
--Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.