Manning is the new man in the Mile High City.
It took over a decade, but the Denver Broncos have finally found a successor worthy to follow Number 7.
Brister and Griese were busts. Plummer got us to an AFC Championship, only to throw that game away (with his left hand at times even). Cutler whined his way to the Windy City. Orton found out the hard way that you can only play it safe so often before you are called out. Then there was Tim Tebow. He won some games, he won some hearts, but he never won over the front office.
The next man up already has a Super Bowl ring to his name, and brings the highest quarterback rating of any passer since the start of the 2008 season. Manning is the only player to win four mvp’s. Today, Manning informed his agent to start negotiations with Denver and informed the 49ers and Titans that he would be taking his talents to the Centennial State.
This acquisition wasn’t cheap. Even though the contract is still being discussed, it is believed to be for around five years and $95 million. What will be interesting to see is how much is guaranteed to 35-year-old slinger, who is coming off a year in which he had four neck surgeries.
I would expect that Peyton is now going to be the pain in the neck of his opponents this coming season. The Broncos won the AFC West with a meager 8-8 record last season. The Cheifs may be improved this season after an injury’riddled 2011. The signing of another Peyton (Hillis) also adds depth to an already above average running game. Rivers gives San Diego a shot if he throws to the right team, but I wouldn’t expect either them or the Raiders to pose any legitimate threat.
Joining a weak division may have been one factor, but what are the others that led to his coming to Denver? If chance to win is undoubtedly number one, then control of the offense is most likely number two. Coach John Fox is a defensive mind, and has already reportedly given Peyton the keys to run the offense. Another reason could be comfort. He has a close friend in the same city in Todd Helton. Former target Brandon Stokley also still lives in the area, even catching passes from the quarterback in Castle Rock during Manning’s first visit. The real comfort most likely comes from John Elway.
Elway has played in five Super Bowls and more importantly, he won twice after his 35th birthday. Elway has already done what Manning will now attempt. With Elway, he ended his career as Super Bowl MVP. Now, Manning will have an opportunity to replicate that success. More comfort can also come from the fact that he will not have to play either the Giants or the Colts next season.
Peyton Manning’s value to an organization was never more apparent than when the Colts didn’t have him. They went from a 10-6 team to a 2-14 team sans Manning. Manning one of the few players in NFL history that has the ability to impact a team to that magnitude. That being said, the Broncos still do have some holes.
Two such holes may be addressed by Manning’s former teammates. Reggie Wayne has already re-signed with the Colts, but that doesn’t mean Manning won’t get a former target. Stokley may return after playing both with Manning in Indy and with the Broncos, but it is unknown how much he has left in the tank. The more likely reunion would be with tight end Dallas Clark. The Broncos didn’t have a true receiving threat from the tight end position last year. Manning however had at least 100 completions to tight ends in each of the last nine seasons in which Manning threw a pass. Clark still has value as a receiver and could fit perfectly with Denver. The other is center Jeff Saturday. Saturday is the only man that Manning has ever stood behind, and could stand behind Manning and follow him to Denver. J.D. Walton is an average center, who is still young and could really benefit from learning behind the veteran Saturday.
The Denver’s other holes would probably have to be filled from someone other than former Colts. They need a bruising running back to take the pressure off an aging Willis McGahee. Michael Bush is a viable option but could command too much money. The most intriguing option would be Jonathan Stewart from Carolina, who is believed to be available after the Panthers signed Mike Tolbert earlier today, Former Colt Joseph Addai is a possibility, but doesn’t really fit the mold of what the team is believed to be looking for. They would also like to add both a cornerback and defensive tackle, but both are believed to be addressed early in the draft. Brodrick Bunkley may also return to the team’s d-line. Next is a position of weakness that was expected to be something of a strength. With D.J. Williams facing a six-game suspension, the team may have to add up to three linebackers. Joe Mays is not really a starting caliber MLB and would only be brought back if he was willing to accept a reserve role. Mario Haggan and Wesley Woodyard could also return as reserves, but a starter is needed and none of these names really jump out at you. Luckily that Raiders may have provided the answer with another in a long line of questionable personnel move. Late last week, the team released starting linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, despite a season in which he had seven sacks last year. He could replace the production lost by Williams, who has played MLB before, and could make the switch back after his return from suspension.
The final question is who will backup Manning, who poses a big injury risk even though he has been cleared by three team’s doctors. Tebow is on the roster but may be moved. His $3.124 million cap hit is more than affordable. That number also will decrease each year until it expires after the 2014 season. So why not keep Tebow?
Although it isn’t always pretty, Tebow has shown the ability to win in the NFL. He could provide security in case of injury and more importantly, learn from a hall of famer and one that will probably be there on the first ballot he is eligible in Elway and Manning, respectively. Manning’s best quality is his ability to read defenses. This is what Tebow’s greatest shortcoming is in my opinion. It was Tebow taking to long to adjust to what the defense was offering and make a decision that lead to him taking so many sacks, more than it was a sub-par o-line. Who better to learn from, than the absolute best? Also, Tebow needs to work on his short pass accuracy. He actually looks more comfortable with the long-ball than short passes, which would be almost automatic. Manning’s 74.4 completion percentage under 15 yards is the best in the NFL. If Tebow wants to improve, Denver may be the best place to do it.
That being said, I don’t believe that will happen. The rationale behind this is two-fold. First is the countless Tebowmaniacs who could stir up some controversy. Tebow has a popularity that transcends that of a normal athlete. This could provide a distraction that may be easier to just rid themselves of. Also, Tebow has a marketability that may decrease as he falls down the depth chart. Selfishly Tebow may want to capitalize on this in another market. The second reason is Denver’s front-office and coaching staff have never seemed completely confident in Tebow. Manning offers them a way out without seeming like villains. This way, they can bring in a backup that could more adequately play in a system designed around Manning than Tebow (who would need a completely different playbook).
The quarterback market is beginning to thin out, but there are still some viable options. Jake Delhomme has a familiarity with coach John Fox, but they may want to go younger. Same applies to Kerry Collins. John Kitna, Mark Brunell, Donovan McNabb and Chad Pennington. David Garrard is familiar with new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, but Del Rio is the man who cut Garrard when he was the head coach of Jacksonville last year. Vince Young may not fit in the system team would implement for Manning. Matt Leinart actually may be the best option after being released by the Texans. He has the talent to be successful and could get his career on track after studying behind Manning for a few years. He’s a pocket passer, with a strong arm and has looked okay with limited playing time over the last two seasons. The Broncos could also address the position in the draft. They are believed to be very interested in Brandon Wheeden from Oklahoma State, but may not want to spend a first round pick to get him (especially considering he is already 28). I believe the team is better served at using their early picks to address needs on defense.
Tebow could still stay with the team, but assuming he doesn’t; here is a look at teams that may be interested the southpaw. The Jacksonville Jaguars are believed to be the front-runners. Their owner has expressed interest, but they have already committed a lot to the quarterback position having drafted Blaine Gabbert in the first round last year, and having signed Chad Henne this off-season. Cleveland has also been brought up, but Tebow doesn’t really fit into a west coast offense. After Matt Flynn snubbed Miami and signed with the Seahawks, I would actually put the Dolphins as the best fit. Tebow has won a high school championship in Miami and a national championship with the Florida Gators. Also, who can forget his miraculous comeback against the Dolphins in Miami last season? Tebow would instantly challenge LeBron James as the biggest athlete in South Beach and would fill a need with the team.
Frank Tripucka, the Broncos’ original quarterback, has already said he would be honored to unretire number 18 for Manning. It still remains to be seen if Tebow is willing to retire to the sideline for a few years; or even if the team is willing to let him. Tebowmaniacs may be said, but this is a team sport and Manning makes the Broncos a better team. Now all we can do is hope that Manning rides off into a beautiful Colorado sunset with a couple more Super Bowl titles to his name.
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