OK, we knew this Peyton Manning thing would be a huge deal: One of the greatest quarterbacks ever hits the open market and auditions new employers. (Usually it’s the prospective employee who’s subject to the audition, but when you’re as illustrious as Peyton you call your own tune.) That was big enough. Somehow it got bigger. Somehow it also affects Tim Tebow, who became to the NFL last fall what Jeremy Lin briefly was to the NBA — either the greatest story in memory or the biggest slice of hype since ESPN invented Brett Favre.
Peyton picked Denver, which surely means the Broncos, who were never quite sure what to make of Tebow anyway, will seek to trade the guy who just took them to Round 2 of the playoffs. Which means Timmy T. is now on the market, which means …
The NFL has officially become the real March Madness.
It was a given that Manning wasn’t going to land anywhere that didn’t give him a chance to win big now. (Then again, he’s so good he could make just about any team win big. Check the Colts’ record with and without him.) But Denver fit his needs better than, say, the Titans. Having spent a bit of time in the Volunteer State, he had to know that Tennessee’s NFL franchise will always be viewed as the after-dinner-mint to the Saturday doings in Knoxville.
And San Francisco? Good team, good coach, good defense. And it’s not as if the 49ers have never won anything. (Five Super Bowls at last count.) But Denver offered the prospect of playing for an NFL team that is always the talk of its town and for an organization overseen by John Elway. If you’re the NFL, you couldn’t be happier about Peyton’s second marriage: A glamour quarterback for a glamour team. Except …
What was Tebow if not that?
So now football-watchers get to do it all again. We get to watch as Tebow goes shopping. We get to re-warm the discussions we’ve been having the past five months: Is he really an NFL quarterback and, if not, why was he winning games at a rate most NFL quarterbacks would love to claim? Is there a team out there that fits the Tebow skill-set? If not, is there an NFL team willing to hire Urban Meyer away from Ohio State before he coaches a Buckeye game?
It used to be that baseball was the sport, with its Hot Stove League, that never shut down. But here it is March and Opening Day is around the corner and the Sweet 16 is upon us and the NBA just sailed past its trade deadline, and what are we discussing? The NFL, which won’t stage another game that matters until September.
For the NFL, this comes at a providential moment. Two weeks ago we were all in a tizzy about the Saints and their bounties — and no, we haven’t heard the end of that sordid story — but now we’re back to teams paying for quarterbacks, as opposed to one team paying for the maiming of quarterbacks. (Speaking of quarterbacks: Seattle’s signing of the famous understudy Matt Flynn would have been the story of any other offseason. Just not this one.)
Peyton Manning choosing to stay in the AFC lends balance to a conference in danger of being marginalized. NFC teams have won the past three Super Bowls, and adding P. Manning to a roster of NFC quarterbacks that already includes Rodgers, Brees and E. Manning would have been a bit unfair. (Local angle: Peyton in San Fran wouldn’t have helped the Falcons’ chances, either.)
Peyton in Denver mightn’t make the Broncos the clear AFC frontrunner — New England, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are pretty good — but let’s face it: Denver just won its division with a quarterback who completed 46.5 percent of his passes. The guess is that the new man will do a bit better.
And it’s anybody’s guess where the incumbent Denver quarterback will land. Just when you thought there was nothing more to say about Tim Tebow, we’ve been handed a new Talking Point. NFL football — it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Oh, and one thing more. Peyton Manning’s new team? It’s scheduled to play in the Georgia Dome next season.
By Mark Bradley