Practices to interviews, signing Manning a no-brainer for Broncos

by | CBSSports.com
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is doubt about whether Peyton Manning's surgically repaired neck will hold up and allow him to be the quarterback he was during the 13 seasons spent dissecting the league as an Indianapolis Colt.

But at Broncos headquarters on the high prairie, where deer and antelope once played, never was heard a discouraging word regarding Manning's health -- beyond the quarterback reiterating that he would immediately decamp to the Broncos' training room to continue his rehabilitation work over the next five days.

"There's no question I have work to do," Manning said Tuesday as he was introduced at a press conference held in a jammed meeting room at Broncos headquarters. "It's encouraging to me that all the teams in the process said they wanted to go forward."

Yet Manning insisted that if the Broncos had a game next Sunday, he would be ready.

"I don't know if I'd play as well as I'd like, but I could," he said.

Realistically, there is no backup plan yet -- at least one that allows the Broncos a legitimate chance to take part in Super Bowl XLVII, a goal that was reiterated throughout the press conference, which stretched for nearly an hour.

"Plan B? I don't have a Plan B," said Broncos executive vice president John Elway. "We're going with Plan A."

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That apparent bravado stems from what the Broncos witnessed during the process, beginning when coach John Fox said he watched some video of Manning's throwing sessions prior to visiting with the quarterback March 9 at Broncos headquarters and seven days later at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

"I knew some of the negative things weren't true," Fox said. "I saw pretty close to the Peyton Manning we competed against. We saw all the throws."

Added general manager Brian Xanders: "He threw great. I mean, he had some really nice deep passes, very accurate. You could tell he's done it 10,000 times. And he had good depth perception with the routes that were being run and he did a great job with it."

For Manning to execute all the throws on Manning's route tree was one matter. Passing muster with doctors was another, but Elway, Fox, Xanders and Broncos medical personnel left Duke that afternoon convinced of Manning's readiness.

"I don't consider it much of a risk, knowing Peyton Manning," Elway said. "He told us everything: exactly how he was feeling and what he thought."

As Elway tells it, the crucial point of the conversation came when he asked Manning the question he couldn't avoid.

"Peyton, is there any doubt in your mind that you can't get back to the Peyton Manning that we know of?"

Manning's reply was simple: "There's no doubt in my mind."

That and the examinations left Elway convinced that a potential $96 million outlay over five years -- including $18 million guaranteed in 2012 -- was worth the gamble.

"When he said that and the doctors all backed him up, that's when we knew that hopefully we could land him," Elway said.

That meant perhaps the beginning of the end for Tim Tebow in Denver, who doesn't appear to fit in the Broncos' Plan A or still-unknown Plan B.

Although Elway and Broncos GM Brian Xanders said that no decision had been made and no calls had been placed or fielded regarding the young quarterback. The Broncos' search for a quarterback in recent weeks -- which included a dinner with Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden less than 24 hours before meeting Manning on March 9 -- offers evidence of a team that was already exploring all of their options, even if the first choice had opted for the Titans or 49ers.

The only option the Broncos ruled out was simply releasing Tebow.

"He's a first-round pick, he's just won the division, we were 1-4 at the time, he's got a guaranteed contract," said Xanders. "I can't see that."

What can be seen is a potential trade, and after 24 hours of rumors connecting Tebow to destinations like Jacksonville, New England and Philadelphia, Elway admitted he would like to make that possible if it gave Tebow a chance to play elsewhere.

"It's our goal to get him in the best situation possible," Elway said.

That doesn't appear to be the Broncos, where Tebow's late-game heroics weren't enough to balance his early-game struggles, a 1-4 finish in which the Broncos' offense mustered just 14.0 points per game and a 46.5 completion percentage that was the lowest for a quarterback with at least 250 passes since Cincinnati Bengals bust Akili Smith in 2000.

Elway had said in January that Tebow would be the starter heading into training camp this summer, but the availability of Manning changed that notion.

"I don't think anybody went into this season thinking that was a remote possibility," Fox said. "But as that materialized, you would have to have been goofy if you didn't consider it."

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