The chase for Peyton Manning lasted two weeks and in the end it was the Denver Broncos that wound up at the front of the line as Manning decided Monday to finish his career in Mile High. With a new quarterback headed to town, the question in league circles now becomes: What becomes of former Florida Gators signal caller Tim Tebow’s future with the team?
Released by the Indianapolis Colts on March 7, Manning met with representatives from five teams over the ensuing week. Arizona, Miami, San Francisco and Tennessee all had an opportunity to land the Super Bowl XLI MVP and 11-time Pro Bowler but in the end it was the Broncos that won the sweepstakes.
Now the focus of the national media and football fans everywhere turns to Tebow and where he will play football in 2012 and beyond.
Denver picked Kyle Orton to start the first five games of the 2011 season and began with a paltry 1-4 record. Tebow was installed as the Broncos’ starter against Miami and rallied the team to win seven of their next eight games including three in overtime and six in which Denver was either tied or losing at some point in the fourth quarter.
He also helped the Broncos advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2005 where he fueled a 29-23 overtime victory of Pittsburgh in the wild card round. Tebow threw for 316 yards with two touchdowns, ran for 50 yards and another score, and posted a quarterback rating of 125.6 in the contest. He also completed a game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas just seconds into overtime to send the Mile High faithful into a frenzy.
With the offseason in full swing, Denver executive vice president of football operations John Elway and head coach John Fox both spoke kindly of Tebow though neither showed a high level of enthusiasm in his future.
“Hopefully, he can be the franchise guy for a long time, but those are things we don’t know at this time,” Elway said on Feb. 24. “He made tremendous strides last year, and that’s without an offseason. He’s our starter going into training camp, and we have great expectations for him.”
The Broncos were always planning to bring two more quarterbacks in to compete with Tebow even has he held the starting job, but signing Manning obviously changes that dynamic. Tebow will no longer be the “starter going into training camp” and now may not even be with the team next season.
Since the Manning derby began, multiple reports have stated that Elway and Fox intended to trade or release Tebow should they land their horse. Others noted that Elway saw bringing in Manning as the only way to escape “Tebowmania” and give the team an opportunity to move on from a player they invested from a previous regime and were obviously not comfortable with from jump street.
In addition to his presence with the club, Manning expected to sign a three- or four-year deal and finish his career in Denver. Tebow, finding success after being thrust into the starting role to conclude each of the last two seasons, undoubtedly believes he is capable of being a starting NFL signal caller.
Though he probably would have been content to sit and learn the ropes from a player of Manning’s caliber in the short-term, Tebow’s contract (set to expire after the 2014 season) makes that situation unlikely. He will not want to languish on the bench behind Manning only to see his contract run out and the Broncos fail to re-sign him to be the heir-apparent to his replacement.
And Denver’s front office, which never fully bought into Tebow’s ability to be a starting NFL quarterback despite his success on the field in 2011, will likely prefer to draft someone better suited to their philosophy and allow him to develop behind Manning.
All eyes now remain in Colorado but shift from Manning to Tebow and his agent Jimmy Sexton. Unless there is a miracle in Mile High or at least a change of heart by Broncos management including a peace offering to Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy winner will likely be looking for a new place to call home sooner than later.
Photo Credit: Associated Press