Declaring it an opportunity he could not pass up, John Elway proudly introduced Peyton Manning Tuesday as the new quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
"I’m very excited to begin the next chapter of my playing career," Manning said at a news conference after he agreed to a five-year, $96 million contract.
"I can tell this organization is committed to winning. In the end I felt the Broncos were just a good fit. This is truly a special football environment, and I’m glad to be a part of it."
Manning, who will turn 36 Saturday, held up an orange No. 18 jersey, thanking former Broncos quarterback Frank Tripucka for allowing the franchise to unretire the number for him.
"It’s truly an honor for me," Manning said, adding that he believes retired numbers should stay retired but that 84-year-old Tripucka convinced him he should wear it.
The four-time MVP’s new contract will reportedly make him the highest paid NFL player, with an average annual salary of about $19 million. The deal comes less than two weeks after Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts.
Manning, who missed all of the 2011 season following a fourth neck surgery, admits he still has work to do to return to the form he showed before the operations.
"I’m not where I want to be. I want to be where I was before I was injured," he said, adding he is encouraged by what doctors have told him about his progress to this point.
Manning said he could play this Sunday if there was a game but acknowledged he probably could not perform up to his usual standards.
"I don’t consider it much of a risk," said Elway, who after a legendary career as Broncos quarterback is now the team’s executive vice president of football operations and led the charge to bring in Manning.
Elway said the team’s doctors "felt great" after examining Manning.
Manning’s contract will pay him $18 million guaranteed in 2012 and includes injury protections for the Broncos.
If Manning passes a physical in 2013, he will make $20 million in each of the following two seasons, and is scheduled to make $19 million in 2015 and 2016, when he would be 40.
With the future Hall of Famer as the new starter, the Broncos are reportedly looking to trade last year’s starter, Tim Tebow.
Manning praised the wildly popular 24-year-old but said he has not spoken to him yet.
"If Tim Tebow is here next year, I’m gonna be the best teammate I can to him," said Manning, calling Tebow a "great player and a great guy."
Tebow, a fan favorite even before he became the starter, led the Broncos on an improbable run to the AFC West title and a playoff victory over the Steelers last season.
Elway said the Broncos have not yet talked to any other teams about Tebow, but hopes the Heisman Trophy winner can remain a starting quarterback in the league.
"The toughest thing about this whole thing is Tim Tebow," Elway said. "I’ve got a great deal of respect for him."
Manning, who had also considered heading to the San Francisco 49ers or Tennessee Titans, made the decision to sign with Denver Monday.
Elway said when Manning called him to inform him of his choice Monday morning, he flashed a thumbs-up sign to head coach John Fox, who was so happy at the news he began quietly jumping around the office.
Manning, who already has one Super Bowl ring, spent the past 14 seasons in Indianapolis after the team selected him with the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft.