Hall of Fame quarterbacks rarely lose in the clutch.
The Duke did it again in Denver.
On the biggest day in Denver Broncos history since John Elway won his second straight Super Bowl 13 years ago, Elway displayed his acumen as an NFL executive by landing perhaps the biggest free-agent prize in NFL history.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen have reported that Manning has instructed his agent to complete a deal with the Denver Broncos, and Manning told the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans of his decision to play elsewhere. Mortensen reports that working out the contract details is a formality.
According to Schefter, Manning’s head was leading him to San Francisco, but his heart was with Elway and the Broncos. The relationship between Elway and Manning is a major reason Manning is going to play in the Rocky Mountains. Legendary quarterbacks like to hang out with one another.
When he arrives in Denver, Manning -- who the Broncos are confident will be able to bounce back from a neck injury that cost him the 2011 season -- will enjoy the presence of a kindred spirit unlike any he’s had before in an NFL building. Manning knows Elway will understand everything he is thinking, and Elway will do everything it takes to make Manning successful in Denver.
Landing Manning became a quest for Denver’s organization last month when it became clear that Manning would be released by the Colts. It was obvious Elway was never completely comfortable moving forward with Tebow as the starter even though Elway and head coach John Fox said Tebow earned the right to go to training camp as the starter.
One of the reasons the Broncos had planned to stick with Tebow was they didn’t have any other viable options. The Broncos are not in the position to draft Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, and no other rookie prospect appears ready to take over a team. The free-agent class offered no major upgrades.
Then Manning became available, and everything changed.
Manning offered Denver the perfect escape route from Tebow-mania. Because Tebow was a huge fan favorite, the Broncos knew it would be difficult to part ways with him. But who can argue with the Manning-Tebow swap? Tebow-mania is dead in Denver. Manning-mania is taking over.
Expect the Broncos to try to trade Tebow. The Florida legend could attract interest in Jacksonville or Miami. Mortensen also said New England (where former Denver coach Josh McDaniels, who drafted Tebow, is the offensive coordinator) could be interested. Mortensen said Tebow could be released if Denver can’t find a trade partner.
Even though Manning, who turns 36 on Saturday, is not going to be a long-term fixture in Denver -- I’d expect three solid seasons from him -- the Broncos are more than comfortable going all in on Manning and moving away from Tebow.
The Broncos tired of the weight of the focus being solely on Tebow. They also were weary of his inability to become a pure pocket passer. Now, instead of having to wait on and answer questions about Tebow’s development, Denver can toss Manning a ball and let him take over.
While Elway was a huge factor in Denver's landing Manning, do not underestimate the role of Fox. He is a player-friendly coach who will allow Manning the freedom to do what he likes. Fox and Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy proved last year with Tebow they are flexible enough to allow the quarterback to dictate the offense.
The option offense is out. The line-of-scrimmage artistry of Manning is in.
Expect the Broncos to aggressively add some pieces who will fit with Manning. Denver’s offense was more run-oriented with Tebow. Now, it will be more passing-oriented. Expect the Broncos to reach out to Manning’s former center, Jeff Saturday, and perhaps tight ends Dallas Clark or Jacob Tamme. I wouldn’t be surprised if another receiver was added even though Manning was intrigued by the idea of working with young receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Fox needs to continue to improve the young defense. The Broncos have been in talks with several defensive free agents, and with Manning all but secured, Fox can focus on beefing up that side of the ball.
The Broncos were often the center of the NFL universe last season with Tebow, and they should be again for a completely different reason. Expect Denver to get a full allotment of prime-time games in 2012 as the football world wants to see whether Manning and Elway can chase a combined fourth Super Bowl ring.
There’s a new franchise star in Denver, and it's only fitting that the greatest Bronco of them all is the reason why.