Following intense courting from numerous NFL franchises, Peyton Manning has opened contract negotiations to become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos, FOXSports.com NFL senior writer Jay Glazer has confirmed via a source.
The Broncos and Manning agent Tom Condon spent Monday working out parameters of a deal expected to be worth about $95 million over five years after the NFL’s only four-time MVP called Elway, the Broncos’ revered QB-turned-executive, and told him he had decided to come to Denver.
The other finalists in the bidding were Tennessee and San Francisco. Manning threw for the Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans in private workouts last week to show where he stands in his recovery from a series of neck surgeries. Before he traveled to meet with the Titans and Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos hosted the first of Manning’s three free-agent visits. Manning also met with members of the 49ers and Miami Dolphins.
Titans owner Bud Adams released a statement Monday confirming the Titans were out of the running and later told The Tennessean: ”He called me himself and told me he wasn’t coming, that he made his mind up to go with Denver.”
The Broncos’ full-court press to land Manning began when on the quarterback’s first night in Denver on March 9, when the franchise didn’t hesitate in offering him $95 million over five years during a dinner at Cherry Hills Country Club, Glazer reports. Among those at the dinner: Elway, coach John Fox and former Broncos defensive back John Lynch, who is now a FOX Sports NFL analyst.
Denver was Manning’s first free agent visit, and those who met with him there described a Manning who appeared almost “shellshocked” by the experience of exploring a new team after 14 NFL seasons in Indianapolis. That’s why it was important for the Broncos to circle around and let Manning know how badly they wanted him in Denver.
The Broncos never intended for the size or length of the contract get in the way of their pursuit of Elway. And Denver always felt confident it would land Manning, primarily because the he was adamant with his suitors that he would need to run his own offense. Due to his exhaustive rehab schedule from his multiple neck surgeries, Manning told teams he would not have time to learn and adjust to a new offensive system.
The 49ers and Titans both wanted Manning to adapt to their existing offensive schemes, while Denver’s Fox was willing to accommodate the quarterback’s wishes.
”I think it’s a great place for him,” Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers said Monday outside the Broncos’ complex. ”I don’t think he made a bad decision. I think he made a great decision. Hopefully we can prove him right and hopefully we can win a lot of games here.”
Asked how Manning looked when he threw the ball for the Broncos’ staff, Fox told Glazer that Manning still has some work ahead of him in terms of strengthening and conditioning his arm. But Fox also told Glazer that Manning could play today if he had to.
And what about Tim Tebow? Sources told Glazer the Broncos were quietly shopping their one-time starter as early as the NFL Scouting Combine in late Feb, trying to gauge interest around the league.
Since then, the quarterback market has changed dramatically, and there are fewer teams that will be interested. But it’s all but certain Manning and Tebow will not be on the same team in 2012.
”I wouldn’t say I feel bad for him,” Ayers said. ”It’s a business. And I’m pretty sure Tim understands that. … We wish him luck, no matter what he does. I hope he’s here. He’s a great leader, a great locker room guy.”
One of the NFL’s most polarizing figures, Tebow led the Broncos into the second round of the playoffs last season but is also an unconventional quarterback who may not be able to run the kind of pro-style offense that Denver wants to employ.
Manning’s decision came after weeks of speculation about where he would sign. Manning was cut March 7 by the Colts after spending 14 seasons with the franchise.
Manning’s release stemmed from a combination of factors. After a 2-14 season in which Manning didn’t play, Indianapolis secured the first pick in April’s NFL draft. The Colts are expected to select Stanford’s Andrew Luck, who is the most highly-touted quarterback prospect since Manning in 1998.
The Colts were reticent to pay Manning a $28 million roster bonus he was due on March 8 not knowing for certain that he would be able to fully recover from a fourth neck surgery in a 19-month span. Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay also has admitted his team is in rebuilding mode under a new general manager (Ryan Grigson) and head coach (Chuck Pagano). Although long-time Colts like wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis were re-signed, Indianapolis released a host of Manning’s teammates as part of its housecleaning.
Manning, who turns 36 on March 24, is the only player in NFL history to win four Most Valuable Player awards from The Associated Press. He was MVP of Super Bowl XLI and led the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV. Indianapolis reached the playoffs in 11 of the 14 seasons that Manning played.
Manning had started every game in his NFL career before last season. No quarterback in NFL history has ever reached 50,000 passing yards quicker. Manning also needs one touchdown pass to reach 400.
Overall, Manning has completed 64.9 percent of his passes (4,682 of 7,210 attempts) for 54,828 yards with 399 touchdowns and 198 interceptions.
Manning-to-Denver also creates a fascinating dynamic with Tebow, only months after the former Heisman Trophy winner was the focus of the NFL regular season and perhaps the most talked-about athlete in sports, a polarizing figure both because of his style of play — as far as possible from a classic, dropback passer — and his outspoken religious beliefs.
After taking over a struggling team, Tebow led the Broncos to comeback victory after comeback victory, struggling for three quarters before starring in the fourth quarter and overtime. With an offense transformed into a spread option attack built on Tebow’s running, and a strong defense that kept games close, the Broncos won the AFC West title.
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.
A little more than two months later, Tebow could be on the trading block.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chimed in, saying he hoped Tebow wasn’t going anywhere.
”He’s a young man, right? And a year or two of working under John Elway and Peyton Manning, you know, I’m not sure any other quarterbacks around the country get that opportunity,” Hickenlooper said.
Tebow isn’t the only domino which could fall now that the offseason’s biggest free agency question is seemingly settled.
San Francisco could decide to keep its own free-agent QB, Alex Smith, who went to Miami for a visit with the Dolphins after the 49ers’ flirtation with Manning became public. If Smith does go back to the Niners, perhaps Miami will look to trade for Tebow, who played in college at Florida. The Titans, meanwhile, probably will stick with grooming Jake Locker, who was a first-round draft pick a year ago.
Denver, meanwhile, could try to give Manning some new targets, because they still have millions of dollars in salary-cap space available. The Broncos did not exactly have a wealth of wideouts last season, other than Thomas, and they lost Eddie Royal to the San Diego Chargers as a free agent.
Eric Decker struggled to catch Tebow’s erratic passes, and was plagued with drops, but would seem a perfect fit for Manning’s precise passing game.
Ayers said he hoped the Broncos would be able to convince other free agents to join the Broncos, such as Manning’s former Colts teammates Jeff Saturday and Dallas Clark.
Running back Willis McGahee tweeted: ”To all my free agents across the nfl, I think u know what time it is.”
Former teammates of Elway’s were just as excited, with Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe tweeting: ”I think (at)Terrell-Davis and I should round up the old gang and make a comeback.”
”I got my cleats,” Davis fired right back, ”I’ll meet u (at) Dove Valley!”