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Manning, Elway put reputations on line for Broncos

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted March 19, 2012 @ 1:49 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Back in 1983, the Broncos traded with the Colts for the right to draft the best quarterback of the generation. Denver acquired John Elway, and the Hall of Famer eventually led the organization to a pair of Super Bowl titles late in his career.

On Monday, the Broncos acquired a former Colt, arguably the best quarterback of the post-Elway generation. Denver signed Peyton Manning, with the hopes that the future Hall of Famer can win his second Super Bowl title in the Rocky Mountains.

The two events are directly connected. Elway, now the Broncos' vice president of football operations, was the face of the team's pitch to Manning. It was the former QB who knew the team needed to upgrade the position and made an aggressive push to sign the four-time league MVP. Manning, a football historian who knows the legacy and commitment to winning that Elway had as a player, wants to end his career in the same way No. 7 did — with a championship ring.

The PFW spin

Denver already had a solid QB in place in Tim Tebow, who won six consecutive games at one point last season, helped the rebuilding Broncos win the AFC West and threw a game-winning, 80-yard touchdown in overtime of the AFC wild-card playoffs to shock the Steelers in January. The plan was to build around the 24-year-old Tebow, adding skill-position talent at receiver and running back and continuing to add to a young and aggressive defense that showed improvement during the 2011 season. Elway committed to Tebow when the season ended, putting to bed a potential quarterback controversy by saying that the third-year pro would be the team's starter heading into training camp.

However, that commitment was in words only; Elway's actions always have spoken louder. Elway wasn't part of the organization when the team drafted Tebow, nor was head coach John Fox. The team completely altered its offense last season to make it work for the run-first signalcaller, running options and draws all game long, even going as far as throwing only eight passes in a victory over the Chiefs. Elway and Fox said everything was fine as long as the Broncos won, but team insiders believed the entire time the two faces of the organization were embarrassed that their offense had turned into one run by a pee-wee team. Elway spent the entire fall scouting quarterbacks for the upcoming draft, and at the NFL Scouting Combine last month, he gushed over the top two quarterbacks in the draft, seemingly jealous he was unable to select Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III for his own team.

When Manning was released by the Colts on March 7, Elway was aggressive from the start. Denver was the first team to meet with Manning, as a Broncos contingent left Oklahoma State's pro day on March 9 — where it had been scouting QB Brandon Weeden — to meet with Manning. A week later, Elway and Co. flew to Durham, N.C., to see Manning throw, getting an answer to the question of whether Manning was healthy enough to return to an elite level. And after it appeared Manning was leaning toward signing with the 49ers or Titans, the Broncos stepped up their offer, clearly investing enough in the quarterback financially that he felt comfortable ending his career in the Mile High City.

The Broncos believe they have improved big-time at the all-important QB position. It is expected a few more former Colts, specifically TE Dallas Clark and C Jeff Saturday, will sign with Denver as well, and it is all but certain the team will draft a running back fairly early next April (Denver holds the 25th overall pick). Considering the expected improvement from several young players on the defensive side as well, repeating as AFC West champions is now expected. Manning made the playoffs 11 times in 13 years in Indianapolis and he's not coming to Denver to watch football from his couch come January.

Manning knows what he wants: a second Super Bowl. Elway accomplished that feat, and so has Manning's younger brother, Eli. Time is running out for Peyton to get his, as he turns 36 next week and is coming off four neck operations.

Elway wants another Lombardi Trophy, this time as a member of the front office, and he believes Manning is the one who can bring it back to Denver. However, by rebuilding his franchise for a player coming off a serious injury, the pressure is on both to be successful.

For two of the greatest QBs in NFL history, I doubt they'd expect anything less.


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