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In landing Manning, Elway all-in on biggest gamble of his life

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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John Elway risks his legacy on a go-for-broke deal. (US Presswire)  
John Elway risks his legacy on a go-for-broke deal. (US Presswire)  

In essence, this is how John Elway pulled off maybe the biggest coup in NFL history: He played to Peyton Manning's sense of history. To his ego.

Elway, I'm told by multiple sources, spoke often to Manning about greatness. No other person in the Manning sweepstakes could do this like Elway. It was a quarterback thing. A great, historic quarterback thing. They spoke the same language, and it's like Latin to everyone else.

One of the first things Elway said to Manning was this: Imagine everything you can do here, and imagine if you win a championship here. You win a title in Denver, and no other quarterback will be able to touch your legacy. Including me.

Elway stayed in constant touch with Manning throughout the process and all the time continued to appeal to Manning's ego and sense of history. Elway also once told Manning that a title in Denver would push him past Tom Brady. Brady and Manning have obviously been bitter rivals.

Jim Harbaugh played quarterback as well and Manning highly respects him, but Harbaugh isn't Elway.

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There was one more thing. Elway had told Manning that Tim Tebow would be traded if Manning signed. It's unknown if Elway offered this nugget or if Manning demanded it. But the Broncos began looking to trade Tebow literally the second Manning informed the Broncos of his decision. (Some reports suggest the Broncos were already attempting to trade Tebow days ago, but I'm not so certain this is the case.)

When Manning informed the Broncos he had selected them Monday morning, the football office erupted into cheers. The contract is expected to be signed almost immediately and be a multiyear deal worth about $20 million annually with a large chunk of it guaranteed.

When Reggie White, the last mega-free agent, went to Green Bay, it was considered more of a gamble for White than Green Bay because White was headed to a much smaller market.

This is the opposite. This is Elway's big gamble. This is the biggest gamble any general manager has made in the history of football. If it works, Elway will secure himself as a Hall of Fame executive to go along with his Hall of Fame arm.

If this fails, it will go down as the greatest flop in league history. Elway will never recover from it, and the Broncos organization will be set back for some time.

This is the most thrilling, high risk/high reward and, yes, dangerous move we've seen by a league executive in some time. Philadelphia signing Mike Vick is right there, but Vick isn't considered one of the top three passers of all time.

No, this is the greatest gamble. Very little comes close.

It's not a shock that Elway pulled this off. He owned multiple car dealerships, and if you've ever spoken with Elway, you'd know he is a confident, smooth talker. If Elway ever went into politics, he'd be the Republican nominee for President within five years. He's that good.

Manning will certainly say at some point this was a terribly close decision, but everything I hear is that it wasn't as close as many are saying. Elway was that convincing, and the fact Manning made the decision so quickly after visiting Tennessee over the weekend seems to indicate Denver was a clear-cut winner.

Elway and Manning likely clicked in another way. Like Manning, despite going to Super Bowls, Elway didn't win one until later in his career. The same as Manning. And like Manning, Elway wasn't totally healthy when he won his titles.

Yes, the gamble of a lifetime. Elway has made it, and now everything rests on what Elway decided. And considering it was that way in Denver for so long with Elway as a player, maybe that's how it should be.

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