The first team which Peyton Manning met with appear to remain the favorites to land him, at least right now. Manning spent two days in Denver, meeting with team officials last Friday and Saturday. He left Denver, for Arizona, reportedly very impressed with the Broncos, their informal, casual style and the pitch they made to him.
What's in their favor?
The Broncos are a young team, with bags of untapped potential. Proved in 2011 that they were more than willing to make changes to accommodate whomever was under center. Proven power running game would take pressure off Manning, give him time in the pocket. Quickly improving defense a real positive too. Reportedly quickly developed a good rapport with John Fox and John Elway. Denver fans are known to strongly rally behind a QB it likes, and it's hard to imagine Manning not becoming an immediate hit in the city. Would allow Manning to remain in the familiar AFC, in a wide open AFC West division. Unsung heroes on their O-line.
What's not in their favor?
Weather—by far the biggest concern for Manning would be the cold weather and outdoor stadium. Manning has always played in a dome, and coming off a neck injury, a warm climate and roofed stadium would certainly help. Denver fans have invested a lot of emotion, and money in support of Tim Tebow—also represented by Tom Condon. Many are fiercely loyal to Tebow, and any deal which sees him traded away likely to cause uproar. Fans likely to turn on Manning if he doesn't succeed, and Tebow remains in Denver, however. WR position is not considered one of real strength for Broncos. Very tough schedule.
Manning met with the Broncos early, and they appear to remain his favorite landing spot. He was reportedly impressed with the laid back atmosphere in Denver. He brought into the ambition of the owners and the passion of the fans—several of whom were on site when he visited Arizona, to try and dissuade him there.
In John Elway, Manning will have a close friend, and kindred spirit, and head coach John Fox is exactly the sort of personality that Manning can get behind. As they demonstrated in 2010 and 2011, the Broncos are an organisation which is more than willing to shape their playing style around whichever quarterback they have under centre. They are more than able to rethink and re-imagine their offense to suit very different styles of play, and Manning would certainly get the freedom and trust he needs to excel in Denver.
Playing in Denver would also allow him to remain in the AFC, where he has played all of his career, and in a wide open AFC West, without the concern of having to return to play against Indianapolis this year.
Clearly, the team have plenty of upside, which keeps them at the head of the pack right now, but anyone who believes that it is a done deal is kidding themselves.
The weather is a real concern for Manning, as is their schedule, with games against New England, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Atlanta.
Perhaps a bigger issue is the clear conflict of interest for agent Tom Condon. Negotiating a deal for one client, which you know will negatively impact another is a tough place to be, and could stymie any deal before they even reach the negotiating table. And whatever the Broncos do with Tebow is considered a lose-lose situation for Manning.
Tebow's fans are fiercely loyal, even when it flies in the face of all logic. If Tebow is traded away, Manning will forever be the player who forced out Tim Tebow, not the best way to win friends. If they keep him, then any failure on Manning's part, any run of poor form, minor injury or big loss will inevitably be enough to mobilise Tim's rabid fanbase, calling for Manning's removal, and making Sports Authority Field a decidedly unpleasant place to play.
Chances of signing Manning?
In spite of these obvious hurdles, the Broncos remain the most likely team to land Manning, albeit by a small, and constantly decreasing margin.
The Broncos bring to the table the right mix of what Manning appears to be looking for in a team, and have the cap room—more than $40 million free right now—to make him a very good offer. Time is on their side—unlike the Cardinals, they do not have any major due dates to work towards—and the decision to cut, trade or keep Tebow can be made at any point after locking Manning up.
However, money is clearly not everything for Manning. Indeed, his decision to contact and meet with the Cardinals, and effectively shun the Chiefs and Seahawks indicates that Manning would rather work in the right environment, with the right players, than to merely sign with the team with the deepest pockets. In that respect, the Cardinals still appear to have the upper hand, which prevents the Broncos from becoming runaway favorites.
Slight though it is, however, it remains, at this juncture, advantage Broncos.