Peyton Manning goes to Denver trying to match the two Super Bowl titles of John Elway, the man who recruited him to the Broncos.
Manning, a four-time National Football League Most Valuable Player, will try to end his career in Denver by adding another championship to the one he won in Indianapolis after the 2006 season.
“I can tell this organization is committed to winning,” Manning said yesterday at a Denver news conference announcing the quarterback’s free-agent signing. “In the end, I felt the Broncos were just a great fit.”
White Broncos jerseys with Manning’s name and familiar No. 18 already were on sale last night at the NFL’s website, two weeks after the 14-year veteran was cut by the Colts.
Manning, 35, who missed the 2011 season following neck- fusion surgery, signed a five-year deal with the Broncos. He was personally recruited by Elway, the team’s vice president of football operations.
“He’s a guy that raises all boats,” Elway said at the televised news conference. “My goal is to make Peyton Manning the best quarterback to ever play the game, and he’s got that ability with the football that he’s got left.”
Financial terms weren’t disclosed. ESPN reported the contract is worth $96 million, citing an unidentified person in the league. The Broncos didn’t say if the contract included provisions to protect them financially should Manning’s neck injury persist.
Manning was released March 7 by the Colts. Team owner Jim Irsay said the Colts are rebuilding after a 2-14 season and it was better for Manning to move to a franchise ready to win.
The Colts have the top pick in April’s NFL draft and have said they plan to select Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck. Manning was drafted with the No. 1 pick in 1998.
Elway was among the first to contact Manning once the release was final, and Manning said he found out that Elway hasn’t changed since the Hall of Fame quarterback retired as a Super Bowl champion after the 1998 season.
“Now I’m seeing him as a leader of a franchise and I just really liked what he had to say,” Manning said. “Everybody knows what kind of a competitor he was as a player, but I can tell he’s just as competitive in this new role, and that got me excited.”
Tebow on the Move?
Elway said the team probably will try to trade Tim Tebow, who took over as the starting quarterback in Denver halfway through last season and led the team to the playoffs.
The second-year player created a national phenomenon known as “Tebowmania” while raising questions about his low pass- completion percentage and reliance on running in a league built around strong-armed quarterbacks.
“The toughest thing about this whole thing is Tim Tebow, because of what I think of him,” Elway said.
Tebow was gracious when Elway and coach John Fox called to break the news, Elway said.
“He said, ‘Well, we’re talking about Peyton Manning and I understand what you’re doing,’” Elway said of Tebow’s reaction.
Manning will wear No. 18, his jersey number with the Colts. It had been retired by the Broncos to honor Frank Tripucka, now 84, one of the team’s first quarterbacks in the 1960s, who gave his blessing to have it returned to active status.
At least 12 of the NFL’s 32 teams had expressed interest in Manning, who chose the Broncos over the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans in the final chase. The Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals were eliminated late last week.
Wherever he went during the search for a new employer, Manning attracted reporters and camera crews, some in helicopters and at least one lens peering through a slit in a fence to catch him throwing on a practice field at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
“I hated that it took time and other teams maybe got put in tough positions; I hated that about it, but it’s the only way I knew to do the process,” Manning said.
Manning, who had at least three neck operations in the past two years, was cut by the Colts a day before the team had to commit to pay him a $28 million bonus and a $7.4 million salary in 2012. He said he could play next Sunday if there were a game, though he wasn’t sure whether he’d play well.
“I have work to do,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be.”
Manning led the Colts to a Super Bowl title in February 2007 and was named league MVP in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009. His 54,828 yards passing, 4,682 completions and 399 touchdowns are third on the NFL career list, trailing Brett Favre and Dan Marino in each category.
The Broncos went 8-8 last season following a 1-4 start, then beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime in the first round of the American Football Conference playoffs.
News of the contract talks with Manning sent the odds of Denver winning the 2013 Super Bowl to 10-1 at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino’s sports book, Jeff Sherman, the book’s assistant manager, said in an e-mail. The Broncos’ Super Bowl odds were 60-1 less than a month ago.
Denver, winner of the AFC’s West Division title last season, now has the fourth-best odds of winning the Super Bowl behind the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, according to the LVH’s sportsbook.
Denver and Indianapolis don’t play each other during the 2012 NFL regular season, a campaign that will include increased expectations for the Broncos.
“The work’s just beginning,” Elway said. “The expectation level is going to go up, but that’s where we want it.”
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