25-year-old quarterback who’s only started 7 games has become the biggest X-factor in free agency

brock osweilerJack Dempsey/AP

With the NFL’s new league year starting at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, quarterback Brock Osweiler has become the domino for which the NFL is waiting to fall in free agency.

Osweiler is only 25 years old and has just seven starts to his name after serving primarily as Peyton Manning’s backup in Denver since 2012.

With Manning retired, Osweiler has become the Broncos’ focus, as they reportedly offered him a three-year, $45 million deal.

However, Osweiler hasn’t accepted that offer yet, and with several teams reportedly interested, he could be the player that swings free agency in a number of directions.

The Houston Texans are reportedly interested in Osweiler, and if they want him, they’re going to have to offer more money than the Broncos, unless Osweiler simply wants out of Denver. ProFootball Talk’s Mike Florio reported that Osweiler could be a goner from Denver if he even takes a meeting with the Texans. However, Houston Chronicle’s John McClain said he’d be “shocked” if Osweiler left Denver.

Regardless of which team Osweiler chooses, it’s going to send other quarterback-hungry teams into a frenzy. It’s a very shallow QB free agent market, and if Osweiler is off the table, Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick may be the best option. Fitzpatrick and the Jets reportedly want a deal but were far apart on figures earlier this week.

It figures that if Fitzpatrick is available, teams looking for a competent quarterback will pursue him. After Fitzpatrick, teams might have to hit the trade market if they want a quarterback of any value. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday that if Osweiler leaves Denver, the Broncos’ backup plan would Colin Kaepernick. Rapoport called Osweiler “the big domino to fall.”

Rapoport said several teams have been “sniffing around” Kaepernick, but Broncos GM John Elway and 49ers GM Trent Baalke are close.

Kaepernick figures to be in the mix, even if Osweiler returns to Denver. He’s still under contract and the 49ers have to decide by April 1 whether to keep Kaepernick on board or cut him loose. If the 49ers cut ties, Kaepernick will hit the free agent market, creating another scramble for a viable starter. If he’s still on the 49ers’ roster — or if San Francisco decides to make a move before April 1 — there could be a bidding war for his services.

But this all begins with Osweiler, who is arguably the best free agent quarterback. The Broncos and Texans are the leaders for him, but there are several other teams who would like an upgrade at the position. Whichever way Osweiler falls, it could create a scramble for the next most competent available quarterback.

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