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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

John Elway’s gamble: Peyton heads west

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Sports

This past Monday, the National Football League (NFL) was turned on its head as reports emerged from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter that Peyton Manning would be signing with the Denver Broncos.

After missing the entire 2011-2012 NFL season recovering from multiple neck surgeries, the Colts decided to part ways with Manning earlier this month. Without Manning behind center this past season, the Colts went from a 10-6 playoff team to a 2-14 team with the rights to the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. The Colts are widely expected to draft the highly touted prospect QB Andrew Luck out of Stanford University.

Rather than pay Manning a $28 million option bonus, the Colts decided to part ways. It became increasingly apparent this past season that Manning had been masking numerous holes and deficiencies on the Colts. As painful as this decision was for the Colts and Manning, the decision is the right decision. The Colts are entering a rebuilding period and they need the cap space to build around the heir apparent to Manning: Luck.

In a spectacular press conference that seemed like a retirement ceremony Manning remarked, “Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I wanted to play for.”

A teary-eyed Manning continued, “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”

After the official paperwork went through the league office, Manning immediately became the most-coveted and high profile free agent in NFL history and perhaps in sports history. Reports came out that up to 15 of 30 total NFL teams were reaching out to Peyton for his services but ultimately Manning decided to join the Broncos.

Without any other changes to the team, Manning immediately transforms the Broncos into Super Bowl contenders. With Tim Tebow, a quarterback that only completed 47.3 percent of his passes and frequently threw balls into the ground and missed wide-open receivers, under center last year the Broncos finished with an 8-8 record and advanced to the playoffs where they shocked the Steelers in the Wild Card round.

By replacing Tebow with Manning, it is not much of a stretch to believe that the four-time MVP, Super Bowl champion and first ballot Hall of Famer can take the Broncos two games further, to the Super Bowl.

Manning makes every offensive player better. With the Colts, he frequently took no-name receivers and made them national names. With Manning’s football IQ, his arm strength and his accuracy, Manning can take Broncos’ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to the next level and make him a pro-bowler.

Admittedly, there are three things that could derail the Broncos’ season or even cause them to miss the playoffs entirely. First, the Broncos had the 20th-ranked defense last season. This will have to improve. While the argument can be made that the NFL is now a passing league, teams need a defense that can get the opposing offense off the field.

Second, the Broncos’ schedule is arguably the toughest schedule in the league. In addition to facing their divisional opponents—Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs twice—they will also have to face seven playoff teams from last season—the Ravens, Bengals, Falcons, Texans, Steelers, Saints and Patriots—and finally they will have to face up-and-coming teams such as the Buccaneers and the Panthers. In the NFL, playoff seeding is incredibly important with the crucial advantages of home field and a bye week. With such a tough schedule, the Colts will at best finish with a record of 11-5, which will likely not be enough for a playoff bye.

Finally, the one thing that could completely derail the Broncos, which also has a higher chance of happening than most would like to admit, is another injury to Manning. Manning has had five neck surgeries in the past two years. People close to Manning claim that his throwing mechanics and game have returned to pre-injury levels; however, football is a violent game. One hard tackle, sack or hit could cause a new injury to Manning that could knock him out for the season and possibly force him to retire.

This reason makes it rather peculiar that the Broncos currently do not have a backup QB on their roster as they traded former starter Tim Tebow to the New York Jets on Wednesday.

The Broncos have the tools and opportunity to win a Super Bowl next year; however, they will need to be extremely lucky to get there, let alone win the Super Bowl. In the NFL, chances to win the Super Bowl do not come along often. It is exactly for this reason that John Elway made an all-out push to sign Manning. If the Broncos are able to win a Super Bowl with Manning, the move will be one more achievement in Elway’s illustrious career; however, if the Broncos fail to win a Super Bowl, the move will likely be seen as a failure. Elway has double-downed on Manning, only time will tell if it was a gamble worth taking.