In a span of 60 hours this week, the Broncos traded one phenomenon for another -- and turned their offseason and prospects for 2012 upside down.
Two months earlier, executive vice president John Elway announced at a season-ending press conference that Tim Tebow would be the starting quarterback when training camp began. The availability of Peyton Manning changed all that, and by Wednesday night, Manning was two days into his Broncos career, while Tim Tebow was a New York Jet, having been dealt there along with a seventh-round draft pick in exchange for fourth- and sixth-round picks in April's draft.
Trading a young quarterback who went 9-7 as a starter the last two seasons and won the franchise's first playoff game in six years is highly unusual -- but so was the availability of a quarterback of Manning's caliber.
"I don't think anybody went into this season thinking that was a remote possibility," Broncos coach John Fox said. "But as that materialized, you would have to have been goofy if you didn't consider it."
But until March 7, the Broncos couldn't do anything about it. Just like the rest of the league and football-consuming public, they knew that Manning's release by the Colts was a near-certainty, but Fox and Elway twiddled their thumbs until the Colts released him.
Fox called Manning that night and broke the ice by talking not about football, but the absurdity of news helicopters shooting video of Manning's private plane landing at Opa-Locka Airport near Miami. With that innocuous call, the chase began.
The Broncos didn't meet Manning until two days later and didn't work him out until March 16, but Fox had seen video of one of Manning's sessions and had an idea what the workout would reveal.
"I knew some of the negative things weren't true," Fox said. "(The workout) kind of confirmed what I thought -- and what the medical people thought -- that it's going to move forward like any medical rehab situation, so we felt very good about it."
What Fox witnessed when Manning threw looked familiar to a coach who's gone against the prolific quarterback before.
"I saw pretty close to the Peyton Manning we competed against," Fox said. "We saw all the throws."
Added Broncos 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."
Concerns about Manning's neck injury and multiple surgeries remain, but they weren't enough to scuttle the deal -- or cause the Broncos to keep Tim Tebow as Manning's backup. Not only is Tebow an awkward fit for an offense that will be designed to Manning's skill set, but his most ardent and vocal supporters could have made it impossible for the Broncos to make a clean break.
The Broncos were left in an unprecedented situation. To allow a certain Hall-of-Fame quarterback who already sits among the league's all-time elite to consolidate his position, Tebow had to go. His supporters wouldn't allow him to quietly develop on the bench, and Manning's desire to play multiple years meant that the 2010 first-round pick would have lost potential prime years watching from the bench.
"It's my 19th year in the league and I've seen the drafting of Michael Vick and then things happening to him, I've seen players come and go," Xanders said. "It's the NFL and there's always opportunities on your team and elsewhere."
For Tebow, that opportunity is with the Jets, where he can expect new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to revive some of the Wildcat concepts used with the Dolphins in 2008.
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