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Peyton Manning Makes the Right Choice

His rival is Tom Brady, not his brother.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 20, 2012

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Peyton Manning Makes the Right Choice

This past Sunday, I was thinking about how I was going to use my Partial Observer column to argue that Peyton Manning should sign with Denver. (I am not a fan of the Broncos.)

I wrote:

Tim Tebow was a fun, even amazing story. But I think the Broncos should trade him to Jacksonville, or push him in front of a bus if necessary, to get Peyton Manning. None of the other contenders in the Manning sweepstakes make sense for Manning. Tebow may have late-game miracle magic, but Manning can produce every quarter, which translates to more wins.

To a commenter suggesting San Francisco, I replied:

Actually, I'm considering what factors are in Peyton's mind. I think there's a family factor here. I don't think Peyton wants to compete against Eli in the same conference. If they compete in the Super Bowl, that's one thing, but I don't think either one wants to deny the other the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. And, if Peyton signs with the Titans, that would make it seem that he's vindictive toward the Colts, who are in the same division. The combination of best P.R., best team, and personal family interests has Peyton going to the Broncos.

As early as last November, while Tebow was pulling out late-game heroics, I suggested that if the Colts get the #1 pick in the draft and choose Andrew Luck, all the Tebowmaniacs in Denver would gladly push Tebow under the bus to sign Manning. After Manning's release by the Colts and news that the Broncos were in pursuit, I began to see why Denver would be a good fit.

As my Facebook reply suggests, I don't think Manning wanted to compete with his brother for opportunities to go to the Super Bowl. Some in the media scoff at this interpretation. But one piece of evidence is the 2004 draft. San Diego had the #1 pick and chose Eli Manning. But he refused to play for them, and the Chargers traded him to the Giants for their #1 pick, Philip Rivers.

It seemed like an odd thing to do. Passing up an opportunity to play for then-coach Marty Schottenheimer for the Chargers, in order to play for Tom Coughlin with the Giants, didn't seem like an upgrade. Either team seemed to have an equal opportunity for early playing time, as the Chargers seemed intent to give up on Drew Brees (hard to believe in retrospect) and the Giants had who was then believed to be a washed-up, broken-down Kurt Warner.

Their father, ex-NFL quarterback Archie, seems to have played a role in forcing the trade. I don't blame him, and would have done the same thing in his position. In order to maximize the chance that either or both sons would make and win Super Bowls, they should be in different conferences where they'd play only once every four years in the regular season. Had they remained in the same conference, there was a greater likelihood of knocking each other out of the playoffs more often, decreasing the overall opportunities for making the Super Bowl.

I wonder if Peyton felt uncomfortable with playing for the Cardinals or 49ers, the strongest NFC suitors, for these reasons. He might not feel like he "owed" his parents anything, but the family seems close enough that he would not want to disappoint his parents, potentially wreck his Eli's season, or see Eli wreck his.

What about the AFC suitors? The Dolphins' management appeared to have been a mess. Ever since they interviewed Jim Harbaugh before firing head coach Tony Sporano in early 2011, not very many people trust the franchise. Tennessee would have been uncomfortable as well, as it would have been a "homecoming" media circus and would have had the unnecessary distraction of playing Indianapolis twice a year, because the Titans and Colts are in the same division.

Imagine that the new, post-neck surgery Manning isn't nearly as good as the Manning the of 00's. Fans of the team he signed for would say, "Why did we give up on {Kevin Kolb, Alex Smith, Matt Moore, Matt Hasselbeck}?

Denver didn't have the problem. The Broncos didn't have a quarterback. In Tim Tebow, they had a bruising fullback playing quarterback, playing in an offense that rarely scored many points, in a system that was simply not tenable in the NFL. If he came back for another season as starter, Tebow would have been more susceptible to injury because he simply runs too much. Manning is an instant upgrade. Moreover, the coaches don't need to instruct him on the mechanics of playing quarterback. Manning, instead, will be able to help teach receivers how to make reads and run timing routes.

The Tebow story last year was remarkable, but trading Tebow is addition by subtraction. Even if Manning's arm turns out to be a noodle, the new backup quarterback will have more conventional NFL QB skill-sets then Tebow, and would be more able to run the offense.

And now, what IF Manning is as good, or nearly as good, as before?

With Kyle Orton and then Tebow, the Broncos averaged 19.3 points per game and went 8-8. If the Broncos had a healthy Peyton Manning playing for them last year, and because of him the team scored one more touchdown in every game, they would have gone 12-4.

If something like that is accomplished in the next few years, then Manning will have added to his legacy. He could prove that he is as capable in cold/bad weather settings as in domes. And, he could continue his rivalry with Tom Brady as to who is the best quarterback of this generation -- perhaps facing each other in the playoffs a few more times.

And, with an accomplished coach in John Fox and an apparently strong General Manager in John Elway, the Broncos could be in a position to win every year. Fox, who's background is defense, would be more likely to let Manning run his own playbook. Manning wouldn't get that in San Francisco.

The story would be perfect if the end result is Tebow traded back to his hometown of Jacksonville, where he is treated as a god for his heroics at the University of Florida.

This way, everyone wins. Including the fans and the NFL.

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