Rocky Top to....Rockies.
The return of Manning to the league as a Denver Bronco means the death of Tebowmania (-
portable Jonestown the Tebow circus this inspiring young man coming soon to a town near you!) and it's a fascinating, somewhat counterintuitive development when places like Miami, Arizona, or San Francisco offered - at least at first blush - more advantageous situations to one of history's greatest QBs, likable dudes, and awe-inspiring foreheads. As a case study for decisional calculus, it's fascinating.
What Denver gains:
- A veteran, elite QB with enough prestige and clout to usher Tebow out the door without significant fan blowback. It did't take long to realize that Elway and the Broncos were prisoners to Tebowmania; watching entire halves with their starting QB drilling the football repeatedly into the turf, hoping the defense could keep the Broncos in the game, seeing Timmah put points on the board late against an exhausted defense tired of chasing him around at altitude; then listening to fans and media attribute a 14-10 victory to the quarterback. Even if Manning ultimately fails, he allows them out from under the tyranny of Tebowmania and its associated distractions. Hi Jacksonville! Watch the Broncos draft a young QB to groom behind Manning ASAP
- A QB who can throw more than screens and go routes. It's Peyton F'ing Manning, y'all. He's not going to complete only 46% of his passes a la Tebow, even from a hospital bed
- A game changer in an exploitable division. Want to go to the Super Bowl? Your first objective is to find a division pliable enough to let you get there with a divisional title, a first round bye, and one of the few legitimate home field advantages in the NFL. Hello AFC West! The age of parity in the NFL has proven nothing but the fact that you don't have to have the best team - you just need an invitation to the dance. And if you can host the dance at altitude, the band is going to play your favorite music
- A good OL. Ryan Clady is a damn good LT, they have a top third of the league RT, and the Denver OL in sum is a high level run-blocking unit that sets up the play action game beautifully. Watch some old Edgerrin James tape to be reminded of what a Manning offense looks like with a legitimate run game - he hasn't seen that in three years, minimum
- Organizational buy-in. The Broncos are all in on Manning and he and his advisors have a team that will allow him to shape the roster to his specifications, create a playbook in collaboration, and form a structure that will allow Manning to explore junior ownership partnership and/or organizational management post-retirement. This decision is about much more than Manning's next two years of football
- Money and redemption. Peyton will get paid and a chance to cement his legend. Though Manning has his ring and his place in history assured, his historical legacy is, in some minds, closer to Dan Marino than Joe Montana. Or nemesis Tom Brady. A ring in Denver puts him firmly in the conversation for GOAT
- Uh, his neck. A grainy Youtube video of Manning throwing routes against air commented on by a helpful rube isn't sufficient assurance that he can handle NFL hits and deliver the ball in game action. He's had thirty seven major neck surgeries (estimated), missed an entire year of football, still has residual weakness in his arm, and he's 35 years old. What's not to love? Anytime I hear foot injury in association with a NBA center, high IQ in association with a baseball player, or neck injury in association with a football player, I'm concerned
- Outside vs inside. Denver in December: Frigid, windy-ish, grassy. Most of Manning's career? 70 degrees, no wind, carpet. Despite conventional wisdom, Manning has been a solid outdoor QB, but the vast majority of his throws have taken place in the atmospherics of a shopping mall and his spiral is looser than OctoMom's perineal lining. Overdone meme? Dunno. I suspect, if anything, thin air aids his deep ball and playing in non-rainy snow has always been advantageous to offense. I'd have been more concerned about him playing in Seattle, Borneo, or interior Kauai
- Denver talent. The defense is average despite a capacity for stretches of high level play. Good offenses blew their doors off more often than not. The offensive mix is a question mark. Manning needs reliable route runners and instinctive veterans that make quick reads to make his preferred offense hum. Why Denver? Demaryius Thomas, though physically talented, is raw and played all of his meaningful football in option offenses. Eddie Royal hasn't been particularly useful since 2008. Eric Decker is a fit for Manning owing to his general Austin Collie-ness, but he's only one Caucasian. Expect some veteran WR additions and a Bronco passing offense that doesn't work itself out 'til Week 6. If ever. The Denver TE talent is Daniel Fells (he's a'ight) and RBs McGahee and Ball are merely adequate
- Best choice? San Francisco offered Manning an elite defense and a great running game; Arizona offered Larry Fitzgerald, a good, young supporting cast on offense, a developing D and a dome; Miami offered a strong talent infrastructure missing mostly a catalyst behind center. Peyton's banking on the fact that he's the only force multiplier needed. We'll find out soon enough. I suspect Denver's greatest appeal was their sheer desperation and their willingness to cede considerable control to Team Manning. Does that make them the best choice for winning though?