Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, General Manager John Elway and Head Coach John Fox have pulled off the biggest coup in NFL free agent history: the signing of Peyton Manning as their quarterback.
The Broncos are convinced that this signing gives them their best chance of winning a World Championship, and soon. It probably does, but questions remain and other questions arise.
Peyton's neck strength is not an issue. He is every bit as safe (or unsafe) as any other player in the league. There is no question about that. He is presently dealing with nerve regeneration from his cervical spine to his triceps.
The triceps is the muscle in the upper arm that extends the elbow. Peyton Manning and his doctors know when his nerve will regenerate and be able to throw normally. His recovery is measurable, trackable, and predictable. The nerve to the triceps regenerates at the rate of approximately an inch a month, and that progress is measurable. How much of the nerve must still regenerate and how fast is the nerve regenerating? We should know the answers to these questions. Every month we should be able to make an intelligent prediction about Peyton's future.
I do not understand why this was not public. Why don't we know, and why hasn't someone in the media asked? All indications are for full peripheral nerve regeneration, but he will not physically be as good as he was. No one at age 36 is, even though he will be well rested. There has to be a plan in place if there is a failure, certainly better than the one they had in Indianapolis.
Two shoulder situations in Saint's history give us a chance to reflect. The first is Aaron Brooks when he was the Saints starting quarterback. I remember specifically asking our athletic trainer at St. James High School, Larry D'Antoni, about his injury. He taught me that Brooks' velocity would not be affected but his accuracy would. Brooks was not very accurate to begin with. Brooks, the sports medicine staff, and coaches had to know this. Brooks started all of the remaining games, the Saints ended on a losing streak, and the final game loss to Cincinnati cost them a playoff spot. The backup was Jake Delhomme who later took the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl.
Drew Brees only has so much time left in his surgically repaired shoulder. It is important to him that he gets as many guarantees up front as possible because some decline is already discernible. While as accurate as ever through the intermediate areas, he is losing some distance capability. That is part of a natural progression, especially with 13 anchors in his right shoulder.
Peyton Manning's contract has now set the bar for Drew's contract. Manning's five-year contract for $96 million includes $18 million guaranteed this season and $58 million if he remains healthy. So much for an incentive laden contract. This comes to an NFL leading Average Annual Value (AAV) of $19.2 million. Tom Brady is next with an AAV of $18.0 million.
For most people replacing Tim Tebow and dealing with "Tebow-mania" would be difficult if not impossible. With Manning, the Broncos have landed the one player who can handle it. Even the staunchest Tebow supporter has to admit that Peyton Manning gives the Broncos a better chance to win a championship now. Of course, not every fan will agree. Winning early and often is imperative.
To Bowlen, Elway and Fox "Tebow-mania" was noise and they feel that dealing with the noise is a distraction from winning. That is why Tebow will be moved, probably through trade. There is not much of a market, however, and the question to be answered is what to do if there are no offers? The only two options would be keep him or release him.
It would be difficult to simply release him. Teams really do not want to cut their first round draft choice from three years ago, especially one that had some success. There is some cover under the guise of giving Tebow a chance to be a starter somewhere else.
The Broncos could keep Tebow as a sub-package quarterback: spread-option (Wildcat), goal-line, two-point plays, four-minute offense. He could also be mentored by Manning in the finer points of the game. While Peyton has pledged that he would be a great teammate, he is a very poor mentor. After all, if he were a good mentor the Colts would have had great backup quarterbacks.
Tebow would be a poor backup because his skill-set is so different from Manning's. Another QB will have to be on the roster whose skill would be more in line with Peyton's.
However, there is not a big enough tent to contain those circuses. I have been surprised at how little love Tebow's teammates have sent his way after the Manning signing. All have talked about how excited they are to have Peyton as their quarterback, but none have made any comment about how well Tebow did last year. Even wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who caught the game winning 80 yard touchdown against Pittsburgh, was underwhelming in his praise.
Manning is going to need some help, and there is a nucleus, although several are coming off injury. Thomas is one of the key players going forward along with Eric Decker, both 6'3" receivers going into their third year. Decker is coming off a knee injury suffered in the playoffs. An unknown player that may contribute is 6'5" tight end Julius Thomas from Portland State. He is also coming off injury, but had an outstanding training camp in 2011. His background was as a basketball player lettering for four years before he played his one year of football. Could he be the Broncos Jimmy Graham?
There is some ability there, and the question going forward will be if they have the intelligence, discipline and work ethic to be legitimate targets. That is not always a given. Remember Chad Ochocinco? Manning will make them better players than they have been, but still untested.
Denver will run the ball, especially under John Fox. This fact was supposedly attractive to Peyton. Willis McGahee is entering his 10th season after averaging 4.8 yards per rush last season. Knowshon Moreno is the regular starter in his fourth campaign, but is coming off injured reserve. He only had 37 carries in seven games last season. It is a concern whether this pair can hold up through the season.
The offensive line did a good job run blocking last season, but had some problems in pass protection. Much of that blame, however, goes to Tebow who often did not react well to pressure defenses. Any pass protection shortcoming will disappear with Manning, who not only will get the Broncos in the correct protection scheme, but gets rid of the ball quickly to the right person.
Playing outdoors in cold and poor weather conditions along with the altitude of Denver could be a factor after 14 years of indoor play. Peyton historically has not played as well outdoors and especially in the cold. But even Tom Brady is affected by those conditions. The altitude may be a factor early in the season, but Manning has played well in Denver before and altitude is a real home field advantage.
Peyton will wear number 18, which was the retired number of Denver's very first quarterback Frank Tripucka. Until now, Tripucka was the only player in Bronco's history to wear the number. While Tripucka helped lay the foundation for the club's future success, Peyton Manning looks to re-establish the excellence set by John Elway.
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