From one Hall of Famer to a future Hall of Famer, what we just saw was a Hail Mary for the ages. Whether it’s a touchdown pass or not, remains to be seen.
Free agent QB Peyton Manning officially chose John Elway and the Denver Broncos over the Titans and 49ers, and the two sides have agreed to a 5-year/$96M contract. The deal will make Manning the undisputed starter in Denver.
And with that, TebowMania is officially over. Tebow, who essentially brought the team back from the dead, is now reportedly on the trade block, with the Dolphins and Jaguars likely being the best fits. Denver finally rids themselves of the quarterback they never really wanted, and the talent they were never really committed to.
As for the Colts, their team purge and rebuild phase is nearly complete. The final step is at the draft, when they’re expected to take Stanford QB Andrew Luck at No. 1 overall. With Luck and Manning being unable to co-exist, something had to give. Would they keep Manning and try and push for the playoffs with a weak supporting cast? Bomb the season, draft Luck and start the rebuild? Or, keep Manning and trade the No. 1 overall pick for four or five more draft picks, and address other needs around the field?
Manning, a 4-time MVP, made his decision rather quickly, but now, the only way he can truly come full circle with this is to win a Super Bowl–something Tebow would never have done in Denver. The first-year quarterback completed just 46.5% of his passes and frequently looked lost reading defences, something Elway said was necessary to play the position at a high level.
Manning, of course, is working his way back from four neck surgeries that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. He did, however, work out for three teams and pass three physicals. That said, it wasn’t too long ago that Manning was unable to throw a ball with any velocity. Now, Denver has decided that an enormous question mark in Manning is better off than anything and everything Tebow has done for the franchise in his short tenure.
While there’s no guarantee that Manning returns to form next season, his work ethic, preparation and dedication that resulted in nine consecutive trips to the playoffs and one Super Bowl with the Colts are required in Denver, where the talent level around the 36-year-old isn’t terrible, but there’s no Marvin Harrison, no Reggie Wayne, no Pierre Garcon.
As for Tebow, his future remains up in the air. He could stay as the backup quarterback, however, the drama and media attention a move like that would garner is not something the Broncos would want. Most likely, he’s traded. But it’s amazing to see just how fast things change. It wasn’t long ago that he was being criticized prior to the draft. After a 1-4 start, Tebow took the helm and won seven of eight games, resulting in a playoff push for a team that didn’t deserve one (to be fair, they basically backed into the spot, rather than grabbing it). He threw an 80-year, game-winning touchdown to beat the Steelers on Wild Card Weekend. After their loss to the Patriots, there was no question that Tebow would be the starter in 2012. Now, there’s no question–he won’t even be on the team for Week 1. At some point, an NFL owner is going to overrule his GM, and bring Tebow aboard. There’s too much media attention and money to be made to simply pass over him, and he’s far too committed to bettering his game. Someone will bite, and Tebow will start.
And that was the question for Denver. Would they stick to plan and play Tebow another season to see how he develops? Work on his game during the offseason and tailoring the offence around his strengths? Well, the release of a player of Manning’s calibre would change that. Many teams would be ready to put their plans on hold if it meant acquiring him. But the question for Denver surrounds Manning’s health and Tebow’s potential–could Manning recover and perform at a higher level than Tebow? Was a changing of the guard the right move to make? There are so many question marks–age, neck, shoulder. There are no guarantees Manning even plays again. But with Manning at 50%, there’s a better chance of winning a Super Bowl than with Tebow at 100%.
Looking ahead to next season, the Broncos and Manning are the X-factor. There are so many possibilities and outcomes, and the potential is there for a massive failed season, or a historic Super Bowl win for the ages. Denver’s defence kept them in so many games this past season, certainly anything is possible when your team is backed by a future Hall of Famer. With a competent, legitimate quarterback now on the roster, the addition of Manning could push them over the top. They immediately become the favourites for the AFC West, and are now a top-three AFC team. If Manning can produce anything better than Tebow, Denver is a contender. What a story it would be for Manning’s comeback to end in a Super Bowl victory.