Peyton Manning picks Broncos
By Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter | ESPN
Peyton Manning will become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos, barring a snag during intensified contract negotiations that have commenced under the instruction of the four-time MVP to his agent Tom Condon, according to multiple sources.
Once the Manning deal becomes official, Denver will try to trade Tim Tebow, according to sources.
Manning instructed Condon to negotiate the finite details of a contract that would conclude with him joining the Broncos after a frenzied but focused process that began when the Indianapolis Colts released him March 7.
A contract between the two sides is expected to be a formality. Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway and Manning first discussed the parameters of a five-year, $95 million contract during their March 9 meeting in Denver, the first time the former Indianapolis Colts quarterback visited a team during his free agency.
Elway then told Manning during the Friday, March 16 trip to Durham, N.C. -- where the quarterback has done the majority of his training -- that he wanted to finalize a contract "fair to both sides." Neither side expects any hangups.
However, details such as guaranteed money, structure of the deal and contract language designed to protect the Broncos in the event of Manning's inability to perform due to his prior neck surgeries all will be addressed in the contract, sources said.
Yet the Broncos have few concerns with Manning's medical condition. He already passed the physical exam that a team of Broncos doctors administered during the visit to Durham, a development that Elway informed Manning of when he returned home to Denver that night.
Manning also passed physical exams by the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans but he has told all teams that he still has gains to achieve in terms of arm strength and endurance that are related to nerve regeneration due to his neck injury. Nevertheless, his throwing sessions observed by all three teams -- combined with extensive video of previous workouts -- was satisfactory enough for those teams to pursue the most celebrated available player since the NFL's free agency era began in 1993.
But Elway now has helped produce Denver's biggest win since he led the Broncos to their last Super Bowl win in January 1999. Elway and Manning have stayed in close contract throughout this process, strengthening a relationship that grew well beyond the golf the two had played together in the past.
Manning is comfortable enough with Denver that he has directed Condon not to negotiate with the other two finalists, the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans, to avoid any perception that he was seeking financial leverage, sources said.
Only an unforeseen significant obstacle that would develop during the final stages of negotiations would prevent Manning from signing with the Broncos, sources said.
Once the contract is completed, Manning will travel to Denver for a press conference to formally introduce him as the team's next quarterback. Shortly thereafter, Manning will be allowed to work with the team's trainers, strength and medical staffs because of his prior neck surgery.
While Manning soon will arrive in Denver, Tebow could well depart. According to sources, Denver will try to trade Tebow -- who led the team to an 8-8 finish, an AFC West title and a first-round playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Manning's arrival will set in motion a string of personnel moves for the Broncos. Denver has had a free-agent plan strictly for if the team was able to sign Manning. The two sides now will pursue other players to bolster the roster, some of whom will be familiar to Manning.
One interesting player is former Colts center Jeff Saturday, whom Manning has always endorsed as invaluable to his own performance. A source said discussions related to Saturday, who was Manning's center with the Colts for 12 years, involved evaluations by all three teams' personnel and coaching staffs on whether he would be a logical fit for the team. However, Manning did not mandate that he and Saturday would be a package deal, sources said.
Saturday was supposed to visit the Green Bay Packers and Tenneesse, but Denver will have great allure due to Manning's arrival, whenever it becomes official.
Under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, Manning is not allowed to engage in classroom football discussions with the coaching staff until April 16.
He will not be allowed to use the team's football field under the supervision and instruction of the coaching staff until May 2. Any throwing sessions under the supervision of trainers that are considered part of his rehab may not involve current Broncos receivers until April 16. He can throw independently with Denver receivers without coaching supervision or instruction but it must be away from the facility until the allowable voluntary window opens per the CBA.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. Adam Schefter is ESPN's NFL Insider.