AFC West: Manning to Broncos

Video: Courtship of Peyton Manning

March, 27, 2012

John Elway sits down with Adam Schefter to discuss recruiting and landing Peyton Manning, the expectations facing Manning this season, and how difficult it was to trade Tim Tebow.
We don’t know for sure whether Peyton Manning will be the same player he was prior to the neck injury that cost him the 2011 season. We don’t know for sure whether Manning's signing with the Denver Broncos will result in a Super Bowl championship.

But what we do know is Manning and the Broncos are exactly in the situation they want to be.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBroncos brass want a title, and they believe Peyton Manning is their best chance at a ring.
Tuesday’s news conference was a two-way exercise of relief.

Pragmatic and detailed, Manning seemed at peace with his decision to continue his career with the Broncos after his 14-season tenure with the Indianapolis Colts ended with his release. Manning’s new employers, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and executive vice president of football operations John Elway, had the look of men who know their pursuit of winning another Super Bowl together is now on the right path.

All three men gushed about each other. There is no doubt the Manning-Broncos relationship is the right fit for all parties. And because of it, there is no doubt: The Tim Tebow show in Denver is rapidly coming to an end.

While the Broncos wanted Manning’s introductory news conference to focus on the new quarterback, there was no way this two-headed story could be told without Tebow’s situation being part of it.

Elway said a trade of Tebow is “possible.” I got the impression it is more probable. Elway essentially talked about Tebow in the past tense. He raved about what a great young man Tebow is and how well Tebow understood and handled his conversation Monday night with Elway and coach John Fox.

There wasn’t a whole lot of talk about how Tebow can fit in Denver. It’s because the Broncos don’t want that to happen. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said he can see Tebow being traded within 24 to 48 hours. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported Green Bay, Jacksonville, Miami and the Jets have all discussed the idea of trading for Tebow. ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio reported a Denver official said if a Tebow trade isn’t finalized, the team will keep Tebow in a reserve role.

However, the feeling in Denver is all Manning and moving forward with him.

Manning said multiple times Tuesday that he was going to get with the Broncos’ training staff and strength coaches immediately after the presser to begin the process in Denver. He talked extensively about his new teammates and coaches.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Manning said.

Manning and Elway both said they have no worries Manning will bounce back from the injury. Elway said he became sold on Manning when the player looked at him and said he had “no doubt" he will be the same old Manning again.

Asked if he could play in an NFL game this coming weekend, Manning, who turns 36 Saturday, said he could. He said he likely wouldn’t be as good as he wanted to be, but with the Broncos’ first game nearly six months away, Manning said he is excited about the progress he has made. He also made a point to mention he is in Denver to win “now.”

Elway and Bowlen believe him. They both said they made this signing with the hopes of winning a Super Bowl. The Broncos and Elway have won two Super Bowl rings together. They know what it takes, and it takes a star quarterback.

Tebow wasn’t it. Manning is it.

There will be no looking back for the Broncos or Manning as the post-Tebow days begin.
The Denver Broncos have dusted off No. 18.

Thanks to Frank Tripucka. Last week, Tripucka, 84, said his number had been retired long enough and he’d gladly let Peyton Manning wear the number if the Broncos signed Manning.

Manning is a Bronco and No. 18 is his.

Manning wore No. 18 in his 14 seasons in Indianapolis and the team retired the number when he was released earlier this month. There had been talk Manning would wear his college number, No. 16, in his new spot.

But No. 18 it is.
The five-year, $96 million contract agreed to today between Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos is truly one that makes sense for both sides. It addresses the magnitude of the player that Manning is while also protecting the team with risk allocation because of Manning’s pre-existing injury. Let’s take a look:

Year One

Manning will make $18 million -- his jersey number -- regardless of injury. Simple.

Years Two and Three: The physical and the waiver

Not so simple. Manning will undergo what is termed a “postseason physical” 10 days before the start of the 2013 League Year, sometime in late February or early March. In the event Manning passes that physical, he will activate a $40 million guarantee, paid out as $20 million salaries in both 2013 and 2014.

The Broncos will have further protection with an injury waiver to Manning’s neck for these two years. In the event Manning suffers an injury that is related to his C-6/C-7 cervical spine fusion “and related pathologies,” the Broncos will be able to reduce the guarantee for the following year. For example, were Manning to suffer an injury in Week 10 of 2013 related to his neck injury, the Broncos would pay the rest of the 2013 salary, but not be on the hook for 2014.

The waiver gives the Broncos protection on one “body part” of Manning; the key body part of the transaction, his surgically repaired neck.

Years Four and Five: Annual physicals and guarantee

Manning is scheduled to make $19 million in both 2015 and 2016. The amount becomes guaranteed when Manning passes his physical prior to the start of each League Year. This is similar to the guarantee above, although on a year-to-year basis rather than the two-year guarantee of 2013-2014.

Of course, the Broncos can release Manning prior to that physical in either year and avoid any future liability.

There you have it: $96 million over five years, with guarantees throughout the contract that are triggered upon the passing of annual physical exams. And it contains a waiver on the pre-existing condition that Manning is arriving with, giving protection to the team.

My initial reaction is that Manning could have leveraged much more money if he wanted to. The Titans and Seahawks probably would have paid more and required less protection. This is a contract where the player saying, “It’s not about the money” truly means that. There are few deals in sports that are by definition good for both sides. This appears to be one.
The last time the Denver Broncos’ brass assembled for a news conference was in January and it was all about Tim Tebow.

Vice president John Elway and head coach John Fox announced that Tebow earned the right to go to training camp as the starting quarterback.

Then Peyton Manning happened.

Understandably, all bets are off and the Broncos have had a dramatic change in plans. At 3 p.m. ET Tuesday, the Broncos will celebrate Manning’s arrival in another news conference. Don’t expect to hear much about Tebow.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Broncos aren’t expected to talk about Tebow’s future in the news conference. The Broncos want the news conference to focus on Manning’s arrival.

However, behind the scenes, Schefter reports, the Broncos will be trying hard to end the Tebow experiment in Denver. Schefter said the team has already fielded calls about Tebow and the hope is to get the deal done soon.

This turn of events shows just how quickly things can change. Yes, Manning will now enter training camp as the Broncos’ starting quarterback. Expect that announcement to stick.
Pat Bowlen just spent $96 million dollars.

He would have written that check years ago.

I’ll never forget the stunned, beaten look on Bowlen’s face in the visitor’s locker room at the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis in January, 2005 after Bowlen’s Broncos were sliced apart by Peyton Manning in an AFC playoff game.

Bowlen, Denver's owner, muttered something about what should he have expected. It was Manning. Bowlen said he had no chance.

He does now. Manning and Bowlen are on same the team.

Making the inevitable finally believable, Manning is about to officially become a Bronco and officially change the landscape of the AFC West. The team and Manning agreed to a five-year, $96 million deal, making him the highest paid player in the NFL.

The Broncos will introduce Manning at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday. It’s the biggest news in Denver since 1983 when Denver announced its trade with the Baltimore Colts to bring in John Elway. Fittingly, it's Elway who is the man bringing Manning to town.

Barring a setback from the neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season, I expect Manning will give Denver, at least, three good seasons.

And Bowlen will take anything he can get from his former nemesis.
For years, the theme in Denver was the Broncos were searching for their next John Elway.

Leave it to Elway to finally get the job done. It’s been a windy road at the most important position on the field in Denver since Elway -- who became Denver’s top football decision-maker last year -- retired after the 1998 season and back-to-back Super Bowl titles.

The Broncos now have greatness at the position again in the form of Manning. Let’s review what has happened during the often frustrating journey between Elway and Manning in Denver:

Brian Griese

Years as Denver’s starter: 1999-2002

Comment: Griese had the impossible task of replacing Elway. He had his moments, but he was not a special player and Denver couldn’t handle seeing the dip at the position.

Jake Plummer

Years as Denver’s starter: 2003-06

Comment: Plummer was probably better than he was given credit for. He won his share of games in Denver, but, again, he wasn’t a special player.

Jay Cutler

Years as Denver’s starter: 2006-08

Comment: He is the poster boy of Denver’s frustration at quarterback in its post-Elway existence. Cutler flourished under coach Mike Shanahan and he seemed like he was on his way to being an elite player for Denver. But he famously clashed with Shanahan’s replacement, Josh McDaniels, and he was shipped off to Chicago. It changed the course of the organization that has been felt all the way until Manning’s agreement to come to Denver.

Kyle Orton

Years as Denver’s starter: 2009-11

Comment: Acquired in the Cutler deal, Orton did a nice job for Denver, but he was just a journeyman.

Tim Tebow

Yeas as Denver’s starter: 2010-2011

Comment: He was McDaniels’ parting gift to Denver. Tebow started 16 games in Denver and it was a wild scene. But Elway was never comfortable with Tebow’s ability to be an NFL passer, and now it appears Tebow will be another quarterback who will be shown the door in Denver.
With Peyton Manning coming and Tim Tebow going out, the Broncos still are not settled at the quarterback position.

Who is going to be Manning's backup?

Denver could always opt to keep Tebow, but ESPN has reported the team will try to trade him. They may even release him if they don’t find a trade partner.

The matter of Manning’s backup is significant. Manning passed the Broncos’ physical and he has been cleared to play in 2012 after missing all of last season with a neck injury. But there has to be a backup plan.

There aren’t too many great options out there. The top backup options are Byron Leftwich, Matt Leinart, Charlie Batch Donovan McNabb, Vince Young, Billy Volek, Josh Johnson and Dennis Dixon. Of that group, I think Volek -- who was released by the Chargers last week -- could be the best option. He is a serviceable player in a pinch.

Denver could always draft a quarterback to groom behind Manning. Manning, who turns 36 Saturday, probably has at least three solid seasons remaining in him if his neck holds up.

It might be a little early to draft a quarterback in the early rounds and I think Denver is now out of the Brandon Weeden mix. Denver has closely scouted him, but he will be 29 during the season. There is little chance Denver will take a quarterback who may not be in the position to start until he is well in his 30s.
Few people are more qualified to speak on the subject of Peyton Manning than Bill Polian.

He drafted Manning in Indianapolis in 1998 and was the Indianapolis Colts' vice chairman until earlier this year. Polian is now an ESPN analyst, and I caught up with him to discuss Manning’s pending signing in Denver. Here are some of the subjects he hit:

On the fit: “I think it’s a good fit. It’s a football-only ownership, a great town. The Broncos have a good defense with two good pass-rushers in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. They run the ball well with a good offensive line, and I like their receivers. They could use an upgrade at running back and receiver, but that is easy to do.”

On the Broncos’ chances of winning the division in 2012: “It’s a winnable division, and Peyton does make them better. Peyton makes them a viable contender.”

On the importance of Denver coach John Fox: “I think that is an understated aspect of this fit. John is a sound, very solid football coach. He will have a sound running game and he has the making of a really good defense. John is a very vital cog in this wheel.”

On whether he thinks some former Colts could join Manning in Denver: “[Tight end Jacob] Tamme is a real good fit, and Dallas Clark could be as well. I like Joseph Addai as a fit there, too, but he is not an every-down player anymore, but he doesn’t have to be there. Maybe Jeff Saturday would interest them, but I do already like their line.”
As I digested and began to react to the news that Peyton Manning is about to become a Denver Bronco, I wondered to myself whether the Broncos could be poised to make another huge move.

I wasn’t the only one in our ESPN blog network. Yes, Jamison Hensley, I also believe the Denver Broncos should perhaps consider making a play for Pittsburgh restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

Any team that wants to sign Wallace to an offer sheet must hope the Steelers don’t match. If the Steelers don’t match, the team that signs Wallace must surrender its first-round pick to Pittsburgh. Denver has the No. 25 pick in the draft. The game-breaking Wallace is well worth the No. 25 pick.

Wallace (whom Pittsburgh drafted with a pick acquired from Denver) would likely be interested in playing with Manning, and the feeling would likely be mutual. In Denver, Wallace would be the No. 1 receiver and team with promising receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. That would be a tremendous group for Manning.

Even after signing Manning, the Broncos might be able to construct a winning deal for Wallace. The speedster is only 25, so this would be a long-term commitment, perhaps well beyond Manning’s years.

The only bad part of it is it would take money and a draft pick away from helping the defense. I think Denver needs to continue to work on the defense. But adding Wallace is a plausible move the Broncos should consider.
Here are some reactions from ESPN’s network of analysts on the pending singing of Peyton Manning in Denver:

On Manning’s relationship with John Elway being a key part of the decision…

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Kevin Mazur/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning's arrival immediately changes the expectations in Denver.
“What started out as a friendship between the two men -- them having played golf together before in the past -- grew over the course of the last 10 or so days, and I think without John Elway in the front office, the Broncos probably would not have been able to bring home Peyton Manning. That was probably the key element here.”

- NFL Insider Adam Schefter

“Everyone just got better, particularly on the offensive side. If you’re Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, wide receivers, you are just thrilled, because the ball is going to come out with perfect timing in every single play. If you’re Knowshon Moreno or Willis McGahee or someone they draft, you know you’re always going to run into good looks, because if you get eight in the box, Peyton is going to get out [of] the play and throw the ball down the field. … Besides the skills set, the intelligence set, all players around him know they got a better quarterback.”

-- NFL studio analyst Ron Jaworski

On why Manning might have chosen Denver…

“Knowing Peyton Manning, he wants to be part of the process. It’s very important to him what the coaching staff is like, how flexible they are, how engaged they are in doing it maybe a different way, not just the way they’ve done it before. … Peyton is just smarter when it comes to football than most people in the NFL. His functional football intelligence is greater than 98 percent of the league. So, he sees things a little bit differently. He wants to go somewhere where he knows he can put his fingerprint on it, that the organization will support him, and I think Denver was probably the best fit from day one. … Peyton Manning makes everybody around him better. Not just players. He makes coaches better. He makes front-office people better. He puts everybody at a heightened awareness, and they do their jobs more efficiently and more diligently when he’s in the building.”

-- NFL studio analyst Trent Dilfer

“We can all speculate on why he made the decision. I think there’s no doubt that what he has in mind is to end his career by winning the Super Bowl. John [Elway] was able, along with [Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen, to sell that to Peyton Manning.”

-- NFL analyst and former Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson

On what the addition of Manning means to the Broncos and the NFL overall…

“He can really make a big huge difference for this team. It’s not just the one incremental step to the Super Bowl. If he can take this team to the Super Bowl, it really says ‘I did it.’ … There’s a lot of upside there for Peyton, and a nice comfortable fit. … This is a team -- young coaches that obviously can make adjustments. I think Peyton will be very careful. I don’t think he’s going to come in and break a lot of glass, but he will be collaborative and make sure he does his system.

“It’s going to force the whole country to kind of look west, and that will be good for everybody in the AFC West, but it will be a balance of power. Peyton Manning doesn’t have five or six, seven years to do this. He needs to do it now. The immediate result of him coming to Denver is Denver now needs to go win a Super Bowl -- quickly. That’ll be the story of the year. It will be interesting to see how quickly they do manage to get into the playoffs. They got into the playoffs with Tim Tebow. Now can they extend that with Peyton Manning?”

-- NFL analyst Steve Young

On how the Broncos will measure success with Peyton Manning …

“In the next two or three years, if they don’t win the division and win a playoff game, then it didn’t work. … The pieces are in place to be successful going forward throwing the football. Those pieces were not in place with Tebow.”

– "Monday Night Football" play-by-play voice Mike Tirico on ESPN Radio’s "Scott Van Pelt Show"

On what’s next for Tim Tebow with the Broncos’ addition of Manning …

“They’re going to try to do anything they can do to trade him. Ultimately, from a football perspective, if you talk to football people within this league, I don’t think any football people really want him on their football team … I don’t think they want to deal with the circus that is Tim Tebow, and also the fact that he doesn’t have the quarterbacking skills necessary to play in this league … I think the guy’s a good football player. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I don’t think he’s a good quarterback. I don’t think he has the skill set that you have to have to play quarterback in this league. And there’s a lot of teams, I mean, let’s face it -- I live in Denver -- I saw that circus on a week-to-week basis in person. And there’s not too many teams I think that really want to deal with that in their city.”

-- NFL analyst Mark Schlereth, a two-time Broncos Super Bowl champion who still lives in the Denver area

“The more I studied him in an NFL setting, the more disturbed I was that he has no clue what he’s looking at. His IQ as a football player is not very good. That is why they have to come down and make it some [kind] of a college-form system that he’s comfortable with in Florida. He can’t execute, from a cerebral aspect, a pro-style system.”

-- NFL analyst Merril Hoge
Richard Seymour joked about sleepless nights and Shaun Phillips tweeted about needing to work out more.

Yes, the defenses of the AFC West have been put on notice. Peyton Manning, one of the best players in the NFL if his neck woes are behind him, is joining the division as the new quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

The Manning signing likely will have an effect on the thinking of the three other teams in the AFC West when it comes to making additions this offseason. It’s got to be defense, defense, defense.

That was probably where the three teams were probably leaning toward concentrating on in the draft, anyway.

Kansas City -- coached by Romeo Crennel, whose defenses played well against Manning while he was the defensive coordinator in New England -- likely will look to upgrade on the defensive front and at linebacker early in the draft. The Chiefs loaded up on offense in free agency.

The Raiders have signed veteran cornerbacks Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. The Raiders will need the experience with Manning gunning for them.

San Diego will look for a pass-rusher in the draft's first round and may add some defensives pieces in free agency. It also has signed Baltimore linebacker Jarret Johnson.

The landscape of the division was rocked by this move, and Denver’s opponents have to adjust accordingly.
Now that Peyton Manning is headed to Denver, barring an unexpected contract snag, the focus will be on his health.

The Broncos are clearly confident that Manning will be recovered from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2011 season. The Broncos watched Manning throw on Friday, and Denver leader John Elway tweeted that Manning looked good.

There have been numerous reports and testimonials that Manning -- who turns 36 on Saturday -- is making great strides after having a reported four surgeries since May.

Still, his health will be a focal point of the offseason in Denver. The Broncos' mandatory minicamp (there will be a few other offseason sessions) is tentatively set for the second weekend in June. It will be a circus.

This will also be one of the more closely watched preseasons in the history of the NFL.

Because of rust and the fact that he needs to build chemistry with his new teammates, expect Manning to play a little more in the preseason than he normally would.

The Broncos’ preseason schedule likely will be released in the coming weeks, and tickets to those games will be uncommonly popular as the football world watches to see that Manning indeed will be healthy for the 2012 season.
Peyton Manning answered one question, choosing to play quarterback for the Broncos next season, multiple sources told ESPN.

But here's another one: Whom are you going to throw the ball to, Peyton? Some might answer Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace.

As I speculated earlier this morning, the one team I would watch going after Wallace is the Broncos. They have the cap room ($40 million before the Manning signing), the late first-round pick (25th overall) and the need for a dependable wide receiver.

The Broncos have a promising playmaker in Demaryius Thomas if he stays healthy, and they can always bring along a Manning favorite in tight end Dallas Clark. But look at the other options -- Eric Decker and Matt Willis -- and you can see why the Broncos might be tempted to go after Wallace. And, if you look at the wide receivers left -- Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn and Early Doucet -- no one will make more of an impact than Wallace.

Of course, the Steelers have the chance to match any offer given to Wallace, a restricted free agent. The deadline to extend offer sheets is April 20.
John Elway, Peyton Manning, John FoxAP Photo/John LeybaQuarterback Peyton Manning offered Broncos VP John Elway an escape from Tebow-mania.

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.

Peyton Manning is going to be a Denver Bronco. Just as important, Tim Tebow is likely going to be a former Denver Bronco.

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.