The big deal is done. Peyton Manning is a Denver Bronco.
A person familiar with negotiations says that Manning and the Broncos completed his five-year contract worth about $96 million on Tuesday morning.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Manning is to be introduced at a news conference at Broncos headquarters later.
The agreement ends a wild chase for perhaps the most valued free agent in the history of the NFL, a quarterback who has won an unprecedented four league MVP awards and took the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
It also represents a huge coup for Broncos executive and Hall of Fame QB John Elway, and could spell the end of the Denver career of Tim Tebow, last year’s quarterbacking sensation.
Turns out Tebowmania may have just been a fad in the Mile High City.
ESPN and the NFL Network first reported on the completion of the Manning deal.
Manning called Elway on Monday and told him that he had chosen Denver over the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers, his other final picks. The Broncos and Manning’s agent then hashed out the contract details.
”I congratulate Peyton as he heads to a tremendous organization in the Denver Broncos. We wish him nothing but the best as he continues his Hall of Fame career,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said Tuesday.
With the 35-year-old Manning recovering from a string of neck surgeries, Irsay released him two weeks ago rather than pay a $28 million bonus.
But plenty of teams still believed Manning can still be the kind of leader who guided Indy to 12 wins a season from 2001-10.
Elway and company beat them all out. The man who led the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s, and now serves as Denver’s vice president of football operations, Elway never sounded all that convinced Tebow was the answer at the league’s most important position. He could now trade the hugely popular quarterback, who energized the Broncos in a run to the playoffs last season but also was plagued by erratic play.
If so, expect the Broncos and Denver to be more upbeat about getting Manning than downcast over potentially losing Tebow.
”There’s a lot to be excited about,” Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers said Monday when asked about Manning. ”Just being on his team is going to make you want to play better.”
Although no starting QB has ever earned a Super Bowl ring for two different teams, every day at the Broncos’ headquarters, Manning will at least see the two Lombardi Trophies in the lobby that Elway won – when he was 37 and 38.
Several Broncos predicted the free agency floodgates will swing wide open once Manning officially joins the team.
”I think we’ll sign some guys, probably a few guys, like Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, guys waiting to see what Peyton was going to do,” Ayers said. ”Defensive guys want to play with a lead, and I’m pretty sure guys are going to assume Peyton will put up points in this offense, we have some weapons.”
With Manning joining the Broncos, oddsmakers in Las Vegas immediately made Denver one of the top choices to win the Super Bowl next season, which will be played in Manning’s hometown of New Orleans.
While Manning has undeniably stellar statistics – he has thrown for more than 50,000 yards passing, nearly 400 touchdowns and has 11 Pro Bowl selections to his credit – the first question for the Broncos will be whether he can perform at the same level.
The neck surgeries forced him to miss all of the 2011, even as he was the highest-paid QB in the game, and several teams that courted him wanted to see him throw. Denver was among them.
Last week, Manning worked out for Elway, coach John Fox and others in North Carolina at Duke’s athletic facilities. Elway said afterward that Manning ”looked comfortable” throwing the ball.
The other issue is what to do about Tebow, who has three years left on his contract.
Tebow took over a 1-4 team from Kyle Orton last year and led the Broncos to an 8-8 finish and the AFC West crown with a series of stirring comebacks that captured the attention of the football world.
Tebowmania reached its apex in the playoffs, when he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the very first play of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next week, though, Tebow was smothered by the New England Patriots, who easily eliminated the Broncos, 45-10.
Afterward, Elway declared Tebow was the Broncos’ starting quarterback heading into training camp this summer but said the southpaw would have to improve his flawed mechanics and footwork to win the job heading into the season.
He also said he’d spent time tutoring Tebow himself and would add more quarterback competition through the draft and free agency.
Did he ever.
Tuesday’s deal allows Manning to stay in the AFC, a conference he knows well and one considered weaker than the NFC at the moment, and re-establishes the chance he’ll play his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli, in a Super Bowl.
They already have three titles in the family – Eli with two. Now the older brother has another good chance to even the score.