Commentary

Elway's drive saves Broncos again

His determination to get Manning (and ditch Tebow) makes team a contender

Originally Published: March 19, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

John Elway is a baller.

He was as a player and he has proved to be in just 14 months as the executive leading the Denver Broncos. He tolerated Tim Tebow. He coveted Peyton Manning.

Real recognizes real.

And now it is all but a formality. Manning will continue his legendary playing career in Denver, for the Broncos and John Fox, and for John Elway.

Imagine that.

Elway got his guy.

It is a monstrous win for the franchise, the city of Denver and Broncos fans everywhere, and an even bigger win for Elway. Not only does he get the best free agent ever, a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the greatest quarterbacks in history, Elway also eradicated an untenable situation with Tebow. No matter how Tebow exits, it has become abundantly clear that Elway didn't believe Tebow could become the type of passer he needed to be to take the Broncos to the next level. Elway never gave Tebow his unwavering support, not when Tebow was orchestrating all of those breathless comebacks, or after Tebow helped the Broncos beat the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs.

No amount of work at UCLA was going to change the fact that Tebow doesn't have the arm or the accuracy Elway wanted. Elway didn't want Tebow or a college-style offense. He rode the wave last year, but he wasn't buying it for the future. And now Elway not only has the perfect quarterback, he has the only one who could displace Tebow and not enrage the fans.

This isn't Matt Flynn coming to town. This is Peyton freaking Manning.

Knowing firsthand how immensely popular Tebow was, Elway still orchestrated the biggest free-agency coup ever. He stuck to his beliefs. He knows how the NFL has changed since he was a player, how it is more important than ever to have a vertical passing game, how you can't win a Super Bowl unless you have one of the big boys under center -- a Rodgers or Roethlisberger, a Brees or Brady, or a Manning.

Tim Tebow isn't winning the Super Bowl, not in this era. A quarterback has to be able to move the chains, take a big strike, hit open receivers and score points.

And Elway wasn't afraid to take a huge risk. Sure, this is Peyton Manning, but it is a Peyton Manning coming off four neck operations, a Peyton Manning who will turn 36 on Saturday, a Peyton Manning who has not taken a meaningful snap since Jan. 8, 2011.

There is a chance it might not work. If it doesn't, even the great John Elway will be vilified. Elway didn't care. He wasn't scared. He can judge talent. He can spot apprehension, or a problem. If Manning wasn't right, Elway would have known. He was a championship quarterback once.

Doctors from three teams, including the Broncos, cleared Manning, as did Manning's personal doctors. But he is still coming off four surgeries. He needed his nerves to regenerate and his arm strength to return.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/The Denver Post/John LeybaJohn Elway and John Fox obviously liked what they saw when Peyton Manning worked out for them.
The signs are all positive. Manning threw for the Broncos. They got to see, as Manning said, that he is still a work in progress but that progress is being made.

Elway obviously liked what he saw.

For Manning, so much of this has been about the process, about doing things the right way, about handling his business like a professional. And it was about finding the right fit. It wasn't necessarily all about money, because Bud Adams would have offered Manning more money to play for the Tennessee Titans. It wasn't necessarily all about winning, because San Francisco has the makings of a better all-around team in 2012 than Denver, as constituted today, does.

It was about Manning's being comfortable in his new environment, having some control and the Broncos' embracing Manning's vision for an offense. Elway got that. He understood exactly what Manning was going through, certainly better than anyone else in this process and probably better than Manning did himself.

That is why Elway put no pressure on Manning. He didn't set a deadline for a decision. He told Manning to take his time, to be absolutely sure.

No doubt Elway connected with Manning in a way that no one else could. He won his two Super Bowls at age 37 and 38. He knows what it takes at that age to prepare your mind and your body for the long run through a regular season and the playoffs. He could counsel Manning, be a sounding board, a source of information and a peer.

It never made sense that Manning would go play for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. They are too much alike. They both would need control. But Elway doesn't. He can sit back, as the executive, and help Manning in a way no one else could.

There is no better student of the game than Manning, and who better to work for than a Hall of Fame quarterback who won multiple Super Bowls?

That mattered. Elway mattered. He closed the deal. He got this done.

Now, there will be no quarterback controversy in Denver, not in 2012. The Broncos know who their starter will be and they have the utmost confidence in him. Manning got a playoff-caliber team with a stable offensive line, good young receivers, a mean defense and a veteran coach in Fox, who is not concerned about proving himself or keeping his job. He just wants to win.

Manning found the right fit -- alongside John Elway, who showed with this move that he knows exactly what he is doing.