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Peyton Manning Couldn’t Let Go of “The Horseshoe”

Peyton Manning is a Denver Bronco.  That doesn’t make any sense to me.  Shock value?  Sure, there’s still some shock value with that statement.  But on an objective level, I don’t understand this as a fit from a football perspective.

The most important thing to Peyton Manning wasn’t going to be having the best chance to win a super bowl.  No, I think Manning was just looking to develop a relationship with a city and a staff where he would be welcome and wanted, and the pressure to deliver immediate results would not be paramount.

I think Peyton Manning fooled himself into thinking the Denver Broncos gave him an opportunity that the other teams did not.

The spot I feel would have been best for Manning would have been with the Tennessee Titans.  If he had gone to them, he could have been with a team that would have competed immediately for a super bowl title, in a city and with an owner that would have asked nothing from Manning and would have enjoyed the ride.  Once a year, Manning would have had to return to Indianapolis to play the Colts — a stressful event to be certain and something Manning apparently was willing to let decide his future.

I think either Kansas City or Seattle could have offered everything Manning was looking for in their sales pitch, but the Manning camp did their client a disservice by not hearing their sales pitches.  If Manning had visited Seattle first instead of Denver, he might have decided that playing on the west coast might not have been such a poor career option.

In Denver, Manning is going to find the last chapter of his career to be far less enjoyable than I think it seems right now.  To explain why, I need to focus the rest of the article on the perspective of the Denver Broncos.

The Denver Broncos have not been a very good team in recent years.  Despite a lot of good drafting by Mike Shanahan down the stretch  in his tenure, the team never improved from 2o06 on.  Player development stalled, and a lot of the offensive players Shanahan did develop got pawned off for additional picks by the Brian Xanders/Josh McDaniels regime, and then 1) that regime didn’t draft particularly well, and 2) the useful parts they did draft were not assimilated into the team being built by Elway, Xanders, and Fox since 2011 after the team rid itself of McDaniels.  Enter the discussion of QB Tim Tebow.

Tebow was the quarterback of a bastardized football team.   He was picked (along with WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker) to be the pet project of Josh McDaniels, an unproven coach.  McDaniels’ role in the personnel department has been effectively replaced by the legend himself, equally unproven in terms of picking established talent.  Elway’s predisposition to treat Tebow like the problem he never wanted leads us to where we are today.  The problem is the perception: Peyton Manning sees a franchise steeped in tradition, lots of young talent on the rise, and a pair of allies in Elway and Fox.  Elway and Fox see Manning as a golden ticket, if not to the postseason, than it least to a future where Tebow (the starting quarterback) is no longer their problem.

What none of them have is the perspective of an outsider.  And as an outsider, I can assure Manning, Fox, and Elway that they are perceiving the situation incorrectly.  Perhaps dangerously so.  Elway was seemingly deluded into buying the media hype that he was stuck with Tebow unless he could find a golden ticket out of this situation.  Elway sees Manning as his golden ticket.

But in reality, the Broncos’ situation isn’t different from any other team’s situation when it comes to going in a different direction.  If you make a franchise changing decision at the quarterback position, you need to win games in order to prove the validity of your credentials to make such a change.  Trust my perspective on this one: being a hall of fame player does not save your job when you bring in another hall of fame player in the twilight of his career, and he doesn’t win for you.  And Fox/Elway likely failed to realize the kind of expectations they set for themselves by amplifying a simple maneuver (trading away Tim Tebow) by bringing in a 36 year old future hall of fame quarterback coming off his fourth neck surgery.  Fox can’t possibly spin another 8-8 season in a way that makes him look competent; too many Bronco fans are expecting Manning to bring home the Lombardi trophy in 2012.

And what are the Broncos?  Well, they essentially tore down all the team’s drafts prior to 2011 (which has been spectacular so far), so the overall youth of the team obscures the fact that they aren’t committed to playing a lot of their youth, and will in a heartbeat bring all the Manning-era Colts offensive players in as they age into Broncos.  That’s acceptable only because last year, Denver was a 5.8 win team by point differential equation, as Bill Barnwell points out.  You can probably tack two expected wins onto that the moment Peyton Manning signs, with the potential for plenty more future wins, but you also need to consider that the schedule gets considerably harder for Denver this year (which people had no problem saying when it meant predicting losses for Tim Tebow).

There are also considerable risks related to getting rid of Tebow that the Broncos are not considering.  If by chance the world were to find out this year that Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, J.D. Walton, Willis McGahee, and Knowshon Moreno are just not that great of a supporting cast, the hope is that adding Manning will get that fixed.  Either that Manning will improve the cast, or his presence will dictate the need to find veteran help (such as Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, and Brandon Stokley).  With Tebow, the lack of development on those players falls on the quarterback and the kind of offense the Broncos are running, while Tebow himself gets graded on personal improvement as well as wins and losses.  With Manning, any failures from that group fall on the front office for not surrounding the best quarterback of the generation with more talent.

But fans are not always so rational.  If Manning can’t turn the good fortune the Broncos enjoyed last season into actual, tangible teamwide improvement, there will not be a whole lot of patience in terms of passing judgment on the decision to move on from Tebow. The hammer is never going to fall on Manning, it is going to fall on the front office.

But Manning isn’t going to find he’s enjoying the Denver Broncos as an organization if the organization goes from first to third, and then realizes one year from now that a 37 year old Manning cannot compete with Philip Rivers in his prime, nor can he compete with a multi-dimensional Chiefs team that can win in a lot of different ways — and could have really been special with Peyton Manning.

The Broncos have consistently struggled to reach the other side of .500 since losing the 2005 AFC Championship game at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They’ve reached .500 a bunch: they did it with great offensive potential in 2008, and no defense, then they did it with a great defense in 2009, but no running game or red zone offense, then they did it with good defense, timely plays, and Tebowmania in 2011.

If they do it on the back of a declining Peyton Manning in 2012, we’ll be writing articles wondering “what went wrong in Denver?” a year from now.  And I’m pretty sure that Peyton Manning doesn’t realize that that’s what he’s signing up for with the Denver Broncos.

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