Earn $26 million to not play in 2011, have multiple serious surgeries to a sensitive part of the body for a quarterback or any player, and then, have that team tank and get a future franchise QB with the No. 1 pick, therefore having to make that injured player a free agent.
Not only has Peyton Manning had a lot of success in his career (currently the second-most successful Manning), but he is very smart since he has done the impossible twice.
He had a second team give a five-year, $90 million-plus (we'll get into the actual money in a minute) contract to a guy who might never play again.
It's amazing and stunning in some ways, at the same time, completely believable that the Denver Broncos would turn the keys to the franchise over to Manning.
The unbelievable thing to me is that so many pundits and people believe this is going to end well.
Peyton Manning was a great player and a really good ambassador for the league, so it would be fantastic if he was the same Peyton from his prime. The fact that he went to a great football city like Denver only enhances the desire to see him succeed for people without a dog in the fight.
If he did succeed and lead the Broncos to a deep playoff run, or even a Super Bowl, it would be much more miraculous than expected or logical. It would be like, um, there was a guy in Denver who was winning games when they weren't expected to win. I'm not sure he's there anymore, not really sure where he's going to play. If only ESPN talked about him more, I would remember the name. Hopefully, it will come to my brain soon.
I don't think it's going to work, because I'm looking at the evidence, and it's filled with more bad than good.
Let me state my case of why the marriage between Peyton and the Broncos will not live up to expectations.
1. They are the Denver Broncos
Through years of watching, I have come to the conclusion that the two things that dictate success the most in the NFL are good ownership and a franchise quarterback. A team can win without a franchise quarterback (or one playing at an MVP level) with a bad owner, but most times, a bad owner's team doesn't win without a franchise quarterback.
In some ways, the signing of Manning is the admission of this fact, since the Broncos haven't been to the Super Bowl since John Elway retired. In recent years, the Broncos have been run like a complete joke. From horrible drafts to bad coaching decisions to horrible trades, Denver has made moves with no short or long-term vision.
If you think I'm being too critical of Denver and Pat Bowlen because of the Josh McDaniels disaster, remember someone had to hire him. Let's play a would-you-rather scenario. Would you rather have?
a. Jay Cutler, Johnny Knox, Mike Wallace, Kraig Urbik, Earl Thomas, Ed Dickson and Aaron Hernandez (they're more also)
b. Richard Quinn, Robert Ayres, Alphonso Smith and Eric Decker
It's a incredibly tricky path to follow, and not incredibly likely, since the Broncos would have had to draft all of those successful people at those spots in scenario A, but let's just say that the talent level in Denver because of years of bad decision making may not be up to Indianapolis standards (and if they are, talent tends not to play well for bad owners).
2. The Denver Broncos play outdoors in Denver
The last time Manning played in Denver, he did have success, with three touchdowns in a 27-13 victory. That was in September. I know that the 2011 season was the season winter forgot, but in many years in Denver during the second half of the football season, it's cold, and it snows some. Do these seem like ideal conditions for a dome quarterback of 14 years?
The most recent example of this change was Kurt Warner. Warner dominated in St. Louis. He went to the Giants and was average. He then went to Arizona and given a chance to play, dominated again. The cold is only going to make those hits to the turf harder. Through all of the great talents Peyton Manning has shown in his career, never once did I think that he was awesome in snow. Maybe 33-year-old healthy Peyton could adjust easily, this will be much more difficult.
3. His nemesis team now plays in the same division
New England always felt like Peyton Manning's toughest team to face, since Tom Brady one-upped Manning a lot early, and the AFC Championship game was a breakthrough moment for Manning. However, looking back at recent years, the San Diego Chargers most likely have been even more difficult on Manning than the Patriots. Manning's game log against the Chargers shows some success, but also a lot of tough games.
Date Home Score Comp Att Yds TD INT Sacks
12/26/04 IND 34-31 27 44 383 2 1 4
12/18/05 IND 17-26 26 45 336 1 2 4
11/11/07 SD 21-23 34 56 328 2 6 2
1/13/08 IND 24-28 33 48 402 3 2 0
11/23/08 SD 23-20 32 44 255 2 1 1
1/3/09 SD 17-23 25 42 310 1 0 1
11/28/10 IND 14-36 31 48 285 2 4 1
What to make of those stats. He did throw for a lot of yards. What stands out to me are a few things.
In seven games, the least amount of attempts he had was 42. I know Manning threw a lot during this era, but 42 drop-backs minimum a game isn't a great formula to keep him healthy. He was 2-5 versus the Chargers, and 0-2 against them in the playoffs. Even more interesting is that the two playoff runs the Colts made to the Super Bowl, were the two years the Colts didn't play the Chargers.
Unless the schedule drastically changes to accommodate Manning, he'll play the Chargers twice a year. If I'm correct, all of this neck trouble started with the last game on this list, so one sack might not look so bad. The Chargers do hit him a lot.
4. Even as one of the best quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen, in 13 seasons Peyton Manning made the Super Bowl twice
Making the Super Bowl is incredibly difficult and takes some fortune, some luck and sometimes the winner is just the hot team at the moment. In 13 seasons, Manning's Colts made the AFC championship three times. He's far from a guarantee to lead a team to a championship.
His playoff career record is 9-10, which is solid, but far from great. His brother's record in the playoffs is 8-3. Four of the 10 playoff losses were at home. Peyton Manning, when healthy, beat Rex Grossman in a Super Bowl and threw a game-clinching, losing interception in his other Super Bowl. He got lucky to face the Bears, not so lucky that Tracy Porter jumped the route for the pick.
5. Did I mention, the Broncos ownership stinks!
Remember, what happened last year. The Broncos became the magical team of the NFL in spite of them. They could have traded Kyle Orton for a draft pick, or a player, and spent the year proving what they already decided—the other guy was a bum.
I think if I turn on ESPN I might be reminded of his name. Instead, they hang onto Orton, and eventually cut him, and get nothing for him. Now, they get rid of their bum, for a fourth and sixth-round pick. Even that miniscule return is diminished with a seventh-round pick and $2.5 million.
John Elway goes out there in the offseason and completely lies to the fans about their starting QB next year. Then to appease their new star, they let everyone know they were dumping their bum to the highest bidder, which to the Broncos could be a penny.
Now, I understand they couldn't get a first-round pick for the guy, since teams cherish those picks, but the reason they got so little in return was because they couldn't let Peyton sleep one day while worrying that he wouldn't be the most popular QB in Denver. No, that couldn't happen. Instead the Broncos dump, it's on the tip of my tongue, a fan favorite for a guy who when all is said and done, might throw worse than him.
6. Tim Tebow is far from a great quarterback, yet he has something
I just saw some news on him, it is Tim Tebow. The odds of Tim Tebow accomplishing what Peyton Manning has in the NFL in terms of passing are slim and none. The best way to describe a majority of the offensive snaps Tebow took as quarterback last year was awful. The offense resembled one seen in Red Grange highlights. Yet, when the fourth quarter struck, somehow, some way, the Broncos won games.
It was a complete team effort from the defense stepping up to an offensive line blocking huge to a fantastic kicker. It wouldn't have happened without Tebow. Some of those endings were baffling—the Bears game especially. Yet, when we review the 2011 Broncos season, they started 1-4, won their division and won a playoff game against a 12-4 team.
What was most amazing about the season was not the comebacks or that Tebow's faith caused so much difference of opinion. The most amazing fact about the season was the fans wanted Tebow to play instead of Kyle Orton, and they were right. Maybe not long term, but for that season, the fans knew better than John Elway and Pat Bowlen.
For that more than anything else, Tebow had to go. They're the football guys, they're the geniuses and they're the ones who have structured the long-term success of the franchise and put the ball in the hands of a 36-year-old whose had four neck surgeries in the past 20 months.
7. Multiple spinal fusions are not typical procedures
For all of the hype over Manning being a free agent and the chase for him, no one is really sure how damaged he is. One thing is sure. He is. One vicious hit on Manning, and he could be back on the table for another spinal fusion surgery. Normally, I don't like throwing out could scenarios, since most things could happen, however Peyton Manning is just as likely to be closer to neck surgery No. 5 then he is his third Super Bowl.
When I think of the Manning injury, I like to compare it to Edge, the former wrestler, not the guitarist. Even U2 might be affected if their guitarist had that many surgeries, but he's not a great example. Adam Copeland is. Edge had neck fusion surgery and kept performing after the surgery, however, did miss a lot of time with other injuries.
In 2011, Edge complained about numbness in his arm and lingering pain, and then, after more detailed testing, was told he would not be medically cleared to perform and had to retire. Keep in mind, this is the WWE, where the performers are beaten up constantly year round, having a star performer being told by doctors he couldn't continue.
Meanwhile the NFL, the league that has lawsuits from former players and is heavily penalizing the Saints for vicious hits with a bounty, had multiple teams salivating after Manning with little detailed medical testing or research on his health besides a throwing session here or there. Athletes who have many surgeries in a short period of time tend not to get healthier with more punishment.
8. To back up Manning, the Broncos are interviewing Caleb Hanie
I have to end with this amazing piece of news. The Broncos are looking at having an insurance policy for a guy who didn't play in the league last year because of injury be a guy who did play in the league last year but shouldn't have. I am confident that the Broncos have to go the veteran QB route to back up Manning, since there is no way Peyton is going to help develop a young QB.
He's a perfectionist and has a horrible track record of helping backups—Dan Orlovsky, Jim Sorgi, Curtis Painter. Being a backup to Manning was a cushy job, but not one to help a QB grow. I love how the Broncos had Jay Cutler and traded him to Chicago, and then, I guess completely stopped paying attention to his career.
From what I noticed, Cutler and the Bears were 7-3 last year and looked like a very dangerous team in the NFC. Cutler got injured and was out for the season. In came Caleb Hanie and out went the Bears' hopes.
Hanie went 0-4, threw for under 140 yards in three of the four games and threw nine INTs, in four games. Curtis Painter threw nine INTs, with 141 more attempts and Painter wasn't good either. He lost a game to Tyler Palko.
I can understand the initial excitement of getting a Hall of Fame quarterback. Just know that there is a much better chance this is not the Peyton Manning you were looking at, then the Broncos making a Super Bowl run.