Peyton Manning heads to Denver Broncos, while Tim Tebow may be traded

March 19, 2012

The Peyton Manning sweepstakes came to an end Monday when the free agent quarterback informed the NFL teams pursuing him that he intended to sign with the Denver Broncos.

The resolution of where Manning, one of the most high-profile free agents in pro football history, will play next immediately rippled through the ranks of NFL quarterbacks. The Broncos seem intent on trading quarterback Tim Tebow and speculation immediately focused on the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars. A trade to either team would send Tebow back to the state where he won a Heisman Trophy and two collegiate national championships at the University of Florida.

Manning had narrowed his choices to the Broncos, Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers. He informed Broncos front office executive John Elway, the franchise’s Hall of Fame quarterback and two-time Super Bowl winner, on Monday morning that he planned to play in Denver. Other teams also received word of Manning’s decision, a person familiar with the deliberations said.

Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, was working to apply the finishing touches to a contract with the Broncos. No last-minute breakdown in negotiations was expected because the teams on Manning’s list of finalists understood that it would take a deal in the range of $90 million over five seasons to sign him, according to the person close to the situation.

“I’m happy that he made a decision [and] he chose Denver,” Broncos running back Willis McGahee told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “It’s a great place to play and the fans are going to really embrace him when he comes in. I think it just took our team to [another] level with him saying he’s coming to Denver.”

The Titans lost their bid to bring Manning back to the state where he played in college for the University of Tennessee.

“Peyton called me this morning to inform me of his decision and obviously I am disappointed, because I thought we would be a perfect fit,” Titans owner Bud Adams said in a written statement.

The 49ers were left scrambling to try to re-sign Alex Smith, the quarterback who helped them reach last season’s NFC title game. Smith, a free agent, also was in conversations with the Dolphins.

Manning, the only four-time most valuable player in NFL history, became pro football’s most sought-after free agent ever when the Indianapolis Colts released him March 7. He will attempt to revive his NFL career in Denver after missing all of last season following a series of neck surgeries. Manning joins a Broncos team that Tebow led to the playoffs last season.

Elway praised Manning’s recovery after Broncos representatives met with Manning and watched him throw late last week at Duke University. Manning had visited Denver earlier in his free agent deliberations.

Manning was pursued by a group of teams that also included the Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and Washington Redskins. The Redskins seemed to get nowhere with Manning and instead completed a trade with the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection in April’s NFL draft. They plan to take Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s Heisman Trophy winner.

Manning, who turns 36 this week, threw for 54,828 yards and 399 touchdowns in his 13 healthy seasons with the Colts. Colts owner Jim Irsay declared that his team was in rebuilding mode when he released Manning, a move that kept the club from having to pay Manning a $28 million roster bonus.

Several people in the sport said the Broncos had taken a few quiet steps recently to pave the way for a trade of Tebow if they landed Manning.

The wildly popular Tebow became a cultural and football phenomenon last season when he won seven of his first eight games after taking over as the starter for a Broncos team that began the season 1-4. The mania calmed a bit when Tebow and the Broncos lost their final three regular season games. But the attention on Tebow soared again when the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a first-round AFC playoff game, only to lose at New England six days later in a conference semifinal.

Even when Tebow was winning, there were persistent questions about whether Elway and the Broncos regarded him as the franchise’s long-term solution at quarterback. Tebow’s leadership and running ability were unquestioned, but he struggled with his passing accuracy, finishing the regular season with a completion rate of 46.5 percent.

The Dolphins were rebuffed in their efforts to get Manning and failed to sign free agent quarterback Matt Flynn, the former Green Bay Packers backup who agreed to a contract with the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. Miami did agree to a one-year contract with free agent David Garrard on Monday. The Jaguars have Blaine Gabbert, a first-round draft pick last spring, and just signed free agent Chad Henne, a former Dolphins starter.

Mark Maske covers the NFL for The Washington Post.
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