It's finally happened. John Elway has made what he hopes will be the signature of his tenure as executive vice president for the Denver Broncos: signing Peyton Manning. He isn't signed yet, of course, but negotiating a contract is just a mere formality at this point. Manning will receive a deal for five years and somewhere in the vicinity of $95 million, much of it placed in the first few years of the deal.
The first years of the deal. That's the big thing here. Bringing in Peyton Manning is a win-now move, obviously, but does anyone really expect Manning to play five more years in the league? He's just four days shy of his 36th birthday. At best I think we can hope for three seasons from Manning. An aging quarterback with a history of neck injuries doesn't really exude confidence of playing five more years
Still, let's be clear about this: Peyton Manning gives the Broncos the best chance to win now. John Elway saw his chance to make Denver his own again and what better way to do it than to bring in a quarterback who will be (and already is) discussed as being part of the pantheon of elite quarterbacks to ever play the game. Manning is a Super Bowl winner and No. 3 in both career passing yards and passing touchdowns. Even if Manning isn't 100 percent recovered from his neck injury, a depleted Manning is still likely to be better than many quarterbacks who started a game in the NFL during the 2011 season.
But it also feels wrong to say that this is a win-now situation. It's a Super Bowl or bust situation, and ultimately it's a no-win situation should Manning never hoist the Lombardi Trophy or at least reach the big game in the next few years. Worst case scenario? Manning's neck injury pops up again at some point during training camp or early in the season and he can never play again. Or maybe he falls one win short of making the Super Bowl.
The big question years from now will be: how do we judge the acquisition of Manning? Anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl leaves the Broncos in no better position than franchise has been the last several seasons. Oh, certainly the image of the Broncos as a winner will be enhanced even if the Broncos make a few more playoff appearances with Manning under center, but if that's all Manning provides it's far too little. (Yes, I'm guilty here of imposing a narrative before knowing the real story while also admitting that we need to avoid the historian's fallacy.)
Be excited about bringing in Peyton Manning. We will have one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history donning a Broncos uniform. But know that the fog in front of the team should keep us in check when thinking about the Broncos' future. Bright it may be, but who knows what obstacles are obscured in front of them?
As for Tim Tebow, he now becomes the false protagonist. Ever since Tebow was drafted as Josh McDaniels' guy in 2010, his story in the NFL has been about when he would ascend to a starting role. It wasn't until the final games of 2010 that he had it, but then it was pulled away from him before training camp began.
Yet, Tebow had his ascension five games into the 2011 season, led the team to an AFC West title by way of backing in with an 8-8 record. The story after that is familiar: Tebow plays the savior role when he and Demaryius Thomas connect for an 80-yard touchdown pass to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime of the AFC Wild Card round. But Tebow wasn't able to overcome his struggles in the next game against the New England Patriots, incurring chest injuries.
I'm not here to praise Tebow or to braise him. He was the product of a time and a place for the Broncos. That time has now come since John Elway was finally able to make a move to establish that his new order has finally found its legs (or maybe neck, right?).
Keep him, release him (seriously, who's thinking that), trade him -- whichever one it is, we should thank Tebow for making the Broncos exciting and relevant in a season that almost never happened. Like Rocktober 2007, it was an improbable run, one that defies explanation, but one we'll never forget.
Peyton Manning or Tim Tebow -- it's still Broncos football to me.