Commentary

Wins should follow Manning

If QB approaches career levels, he should add at least three wins to Broncos

Originally Published: March 23, 2012
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

So how many wins is Peyton Manning worth to the Denver Broncos?

When the game of quarterback musical chairs settles down each year, I try to go bottom-line on the value of new quarterbacks to teams. The process started with Steve McNair in 2006. The Ravens went from 6-10 to 13-3 with McNair. Using some basic formulas involving schedule and quarterback play, the forecasting hasn't been bad. When Brett Favre went to a loaded Minnesota Vikings team in 2009, it was easy to predict he'd help them improve to 12-4.

Thanks to the brilliant minds at ESPN Stats & Information, we have the beginnings of a quarterback forecaster. In baseball sabermetrics, they use a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) system that shows the value of a player related to the number of wins he means to a team. S&I worked up some equivalent NFL WAR numbers based on the past several seasons.

Stats and Info started digging deep into stats and videotapes last year and came up with the Total QBR rating of quarterbacks. Every throw is studied. Every play is analyzed. Every decision is considered. QBR provides a more in-depth comparison system than the NFL's passer rating, which started when the league stressed more running than passing.

The ESPN research group worked up a stat called QBR Expected Wins. I received it in the form of the number of games each quarterback played during a season. Because not all quarterbacks play the same number of games, I reconfigured the numbers to give a 16-game profile of what a quarterback means to a team.

What better season to do this than one in which Peyton Manning didn't play? With Manning, the Colts won at least 12 games per season from 2003 through 2009. His consistency was money, and the Colts counted on going to the playoffs with Manning behind center. In 2009 for example, his QBR Expected Wins number was 6.74. The Colts went 14-2 that season.

Without him, the Colts dropped to 2-14 in 2011.

Stats and Info started charting quarterbacks in 2008. Manning was 5.84 in 2008 and 6.74 in 2009. As ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski noted during his tape studies, he saw a little slippage in Manning's game in 2010. Probably because of his neck problems, Manning had a 4.87 Expected Win total in 2010, which is still exceptional, but the Colts slipped to 10-6.

Let's look at some of the other numbers as a comparison. Aaron Rodgers was on fire during the Packers' 15-1 season last year. He was worth 7.11 wins to the Packers. Drew Brees of the Saints was next at 6.84. Matt Schaub was hot in the Texans' first playoff season before getting hurt. His win total translated into 5.3.

I take a lot of criticism for calling a dozen or more quarterbacks elite, but Stats and Info backs me up a little bit. I break them into an elite group because that tells me who the playoff quarterbacks are. Most of my elites hit the numbers -- Rogers, Brees, Tom Brady (5.41), Schaub (5.3), Matt Ryan (4.81), Michael Vick (4.11), Ben Roethlisberger (3.9), Tony Romo (3.82), Philip Rivers (3.79), Joe Flacco (3.28) and Eli Manning (3.25).

I was ready to move Matthew Stafford into the elite category. His number came in at 3.8. The only one who seemed out of place was Carson Palmer, who was elite in Cincinnati for several years. He had a 3.61 for Oakland in part of a season.

This tells me a top quarterback is worth at least 3.25 wins to a team. If the Broncos get 90 percent of Manning's ability, he should be worth four wins to them. If Tim Tebow can get them to 8-8 completing 47 percent of his passes, Manning could get the Broncos to 11 wins if he completes 63 to 65 percent of his throws.

Oh, in case you're wondering, Tebow's Expected Wins number was minus-0.55.

Over the weekend, the Dolphins blew a chance to sign Matt Flynn by underbidding and watched him go to Seattle on a three-year deal. With only two starts, it's impossible to give Flynn elite status and think he can be worth 3.25 wins to the Seahawks. Tarvaris Jackson, last year's Seahawks starter on a 7-9 team, came up with a 0.35 total.

If Flynn is good enough, he might be worth two to two and a half wins for the Seahawks. Andy Dalton was spectacular for the Bengals, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl. He was worth 1.51 wins to the Bengals. Cam Newton energized the Panthers' offense and earned a 3.1.

The Dolphins settled for David Garrard on a one-year, $3.35 million contract. During his final three years at Jacksonville, his Expected Wins totals were 1.83, 1.29 and 2.63 from 2008 to 2010. Last year he didn't play after the Jaguars cut him.

The Broncos think they've won the offseason by landing Manning. If John Elway gambled correctly, Manning might be able to take the Broncos to a higher level as an offense.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer