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If the Broncos won with Manning, who lost? Here's who

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Manning joining the Broncos isn't welcome news to Tim Tebow and his legion of fans. (Getty Images)  
Manning joining the Broncos isn't welcome news to Tim Tebow and his legion of fans. (Getty Images)  

With Peyton Manning joining Denver, the Broncos become the popular choice to win the AFC West again, and Tim Tebow becomes the popular choice to lose his roster spot.

But that's how it goes.

Manning's decision has an immediate effect on more than just the Broncos, Tim Tebow and the AFC West. It has an impact on those he left at the altar, and it's time to start counting the collateral damage. While Denver won the most important free agent on the market, others lost ... and more than just missing out on Manning.

These are their stories:

1. San Francisco 49ers

OK, so the 49ers could have free agent Alex Smith back, but that's the point. He's not there. Not yet, anyway. Instead, while they were dickering with Manning, Smith went to Miami and talked to the Dolphins -- and maybe something happens there, maybe it doesn't. All I know is that San Francisco is without Manning and Smith for now, with the next move up to the 49ers. Yeah, I know, they made Smith a three-year, $24 million offer that he didn't sign, but after what Seattle did with free-agent Matt Flynn you can see why. The guy got a better deal for what? Playing two games? Smith won a division title with the 49ers and had them within one victory of the Super Bowl, and that should count for something. There was a feeling that if San Francisco lost out on Manning, and he went to Tennessee then maybe, just maybe, Matt Hasselbeck -- a guy who intrigued them a year ago when he was a free agent -- might be an option, but this just in: Manning didn't go to Tennessee, and Hasselbeck's under contract. That takes us back to Smith, and if the 49ers miss out on him as they did Manning they're left with Colin Kaepernick, last year's second-round draft pick. I understand that he's someone they like, but I also understand he's someone who hasn't thrown more than three passes in his NFL career. The leverage just shifted to Alex Smith, big time.

2. Tim Tebow

From the beginning, it was clear that Broncos exec John Elway and Tebow weren't going to last. While Tebow was busy rescuing the Broncos from the bottom of the AFC West, Elway tried to look happy -- though those who knew him said he felt cornered into keeping a quarterback he didn't draft and couldn't correct. Elway didn't say as much, but he didn't have to. Check out his reaction after Tebow scored the winning touchdown in that come-from-behind defeat of the Jets, and it speaks volumes. Elway wanted someone who could throw consistently, accurately and productively, and that wasn't Tebow. It didn't matter that he took the Broncos to their first division championship since 2005 or that he beat the defending conference champ in the playoffs. Elway wanted to upgrade the position, and he salivated at the opportunity to add a future Hall of Famer. As luck would have it, the Broncos had the cap room to make the move, so they put the full-court press on Manning when he became available -- hoping to convince him that Denver was his best option. And they succeeded. But Manning's arrival signals Tebow's departure, with the Broncos eager to move out an enormously popular player who couldn't convince coaches and the front office they had a future with him. So he goes, and the first team I think of as a possible destination is New England. I mean, it was Josh McDaniels who drafted Tebow, right? So he can sit behind Tom Brady and learn, right? Maybe not. All I know is that somewhere there's a package of 20-25 plays waiting for this guy. We just know it's not in Denver.

3. Tebowmaniacs

Manning might be the only quarterback who could supplant Tebow without an uproar from Denver fans, but that doesn't mean this decision goes down easily. It won't with Tebow fans, and there are a million of them. Tebow was someone who wasn't supposed to make it in this league, yet he was 8-5 as a starter last season, took the Broncos to the playoffs and won a playoff game vs. the defending AFC champion. It didn't matter. Neither Elway nor coach John Fox drafted the guy or had a conviction in him, so they were looking for someone, anyone to challenge him and take away his job -- and they just found him. Manning is a future Hall of Famer. Tebow is not. The decision makes sense, with Manning polished, accomplished and 3-0 in Denver's new stadium. Still, Tebow won over a lot of fans last season, and those fans are not going away. On second thought, maybe they are ... to Tebow's next address.

4. Bud Adams, owner of the Tennessee Titans

Give the Tennessee owner this: He did everything he could to convince Manning to return to Tennessee. He offered him a "lifetime contract" that included a prominent front-office role after he was finished playing and played on Manning's allegiance to Tennessee, where he attended college and where his wife, Ashley, grew up. "I was hoping we could get him," Adams said. "On my next birthday I will be 90 years old. So I felt he could get us in the championship quickly." In the end, of course, it didn't work out, leaving Adams and the Titans with Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker as quarterbacks, and that's OK. At least they have something to turn to; San Francisco may not. When the Titans spent the eighth pick of the 2011 draft on Locker they did it because they thought he can be a productive and effective starter -- and he showed signs when he played last season. He has a future, and while Manning would have served as a mentor, Hasselbeck can, too. This isn't what Adams wanted, but this is what he gets ... and it's not all that bad.

5. Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars

He recently said he would have drafted Tebow in 2010 had he owned the Jaguars then, but he didn't. He didn't buy them until after the club drafted Blaine Gabbert, and it was general manager Gene Smith who made that decision -- believing Gabbert had what it takes to solve a need at quarterback. Smith wouldn't have drafted Tebow in 2010, and he didn't. Basically, he doesn't have the conviction about Tebow his owner does, and that's another way of saying that Jacksonville isn't budging here -- even though Tebow would fill the stands on Sunday. Jacksonville has Gabbert and Chad Henne as quarterbacks, which means the Jags believe they're covered at the position. It also means that, barring an edict from Khan, Tebow won't be returning home.


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