Despite visiting the Cardinals, Broncos, Dolphins, Titans, and 49ers in the past week, Peyton Manning limited the finalists in the sweepstakes to three teams (Broncos, Titans, 49ers). The fact that the Cardinals and Dolphins were eliminated from the running does not shock me. I never saw Peyton going to Miami, especially after the surprising Brandon Marshall trade. I expected the Cardinals to stay in the race longer due to the fact that they play in a dome and the recent success of Kurt Warner in Arizona at the tail end of his career. Apparently Manning was not seduced by these factors however. Although there was no clear consensus among analysts as to where where Manning was most likely to land, I firmly believed that the Titans and 49ers were the frontrunners and that the Broncos were more of a longshot.
Apparently foolishly, I originally figured the Titans would be appealing to Manning for several reasons. First of all, Peyton played football for Tennessee in college. In a college football crazed place like Nashville, Manning is already a very popular figure there. Though he would never admit this publicly, I suspected that Manning would like to play in the AFC so that he can get a few shots at his former team before he retires. If there was something to this, then what better division for Peyton to land than the AFC South? Another way the Titans attempted to gain an advantage over the competition in courting Peyton is through their promise of a lifelong contract with the organization. During his 8-hour visit with the Titans last Wednesday, owner Bud Adams reportedly offered to make Manning a Titan “for life.” In other words, the Titans were looking to seek a precedent-setting advantage by offering Manning a lucrative salary as an executive or coach. I thought Tennessee had a realistic chance for those three reasons. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.
It was already a forgone conclusion where Manning would sign when he instructed his agent to begin contract negotiations with the Broncos Monday morning, but a deal has now been reached and Manning is officially a Denver Bronco. The two sides agreed to a 5 year $96 million deal. Broncos fans can thank John Elway for that one. Obviously this news is a victory for the Broncos and a defeat for the Titans and 49ers, but what about from Manning’s perspective? Did he make the right decision? In my eyes, Manning is making a huge mistake signing with the Broncos. If he wanted to win a Super Bowl, he definitely should have signed with the 49ers. Had this happened, the 49ers would have been my Super Bowl favorites going into 2012.
Prior to the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, the 49ers were already having a solid offseason. They had already signed Randy Moss which could very well have been the best bargain signing of the offseason by any team thus far. The biggest weakness of the 49ers offense was clearly the lack of a viable deep threat, and there is a good chance that additions of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham will fill this void. The team already had a premier defense and a solid running game led by Frank Gore. The combination of Manning and Moss would have filled the biggest missing pieces of the roster. If Manning wanted to win a Super Bowl quickly, the 49ers were clearly the best option. The Broncos defense is young and talented, but isn’t even close to as good as the 49ers defense. Neither team was an offensive juggernaut in 2011, but the 49ers were far more efficient than the both the Tebow and Orton led Broncos scoring attacks. The 49ers had probably the best special teams in the entire league in 2011. In essence, all they needed after signing Moss was Manning. Now you can’t really blame the 49ers for not signing him, because you know that they were doing everything in their power to do so. What I question is why Manning opted out of signing with the best interested team. Deion Sanders, who played with the 49ers at the end of his career, derided the decision Manning’s decision. Following the breaking news, Sanders tweeted “Manning to Broncos!! Bad move just my opinion. Outside no dome very cold winters inexperienced receivers. I would have chose 49ers. Oh I did.”
Stephen King thinks he has the answer to this question. Citing a 49ers source, King says unrealistic expectations in San Francisco might have been a turn-off. “SB-or-bust feel would have bugged PM,” King tweeted. It is true that anything short of a Super Bowl victory from the Manning-led 49ers would have been relatively disappointing in 2012. The problem I have with this alleged reasoning by Manning is that, at least to me, the expectation of a Super Bowl victory from Manning would not have been unrealistic at all. I would have put my money on it. It just doesn’t seem like Manning to shy away from such high expectations. Another theory is that Manning was opposed to signing with any team from the NFC due to the level of competition in the conference and the fact that he would have possibly met his brother Eli in a playoff rematch between the Giants and 49ers. To me, this is a stronger argument for why Manning made the decision he did. Still, Manning’s decision seems plain stupid to me. The 49ers went 13-3 with Alex Smith as their starting quarterback last season. In Manning’s 13 seasons playing for the Colts with a solid supporting cast on offense, he only led the high-powered team to a better record twice.
We have clearly established that the 49ers would have been an excellent choice by Manning. So what will the future likely hold for the Broncos going forward with Manning as their starting quarterback? No one would be foolish enough to deny that they will be a much better football team as long as Peyton can stay healthy. In my opinion, however, they will still not be a Super Bowl contender. In a weak AFC West, I expect the Broncos to win the division in 2012 with about 10 wins. The other deficiencies on the Broncos roster will still be apparent throughout the season however. Their secondary will still be exposed by good passing games, and their offensive line will still leave a lot to be desired in pass protection. This should be troubling for Broncos fans, since protecting Peyton in 2012 will be of primary importance. At wideout, they still have one of the weakest groups in the entire league. The Broncos are not a great team now because they have Peyton Manning, they’re just better than they were before. Could Peyton Manning partially make up for a multitude of sins? Of course he can. He did it in Indianapolis for his entire career up until now with a weak defense. The difference is the Colts, unlike the Broncos had real weapons on the outside that Manning could throw to. The Broncos are smart for not staying out of the sweepstakes due to the fact that they have Tim Tebow on their roster. Acquiring Peyton is the best thing that could have happened to the Broncos this offseason, but the franchise still has a lot of work to do before they can expect to see another Super Bowl. And with a 36 year-old quarterback, not a lot of time to get better in other areas.