Why Peyton Manning's Move to Denver Won't Work

Broncos executive vice president John Elway Reuters

The Denver Broncos put Peyton Manning through an extensive physical exam before starting contract talks with him this week. Apparently, no one in Denver thought to check Manning's head. And while they were at it, they should have checked the heads of every Broncos official, including VP John Elway.

If both sides had sat down and created a computer-perfect blueprint for disaster, they couldn't have done a better job. I can't begin to penetrate the Byzantine salary cap of the NFL. And I'm not really sure if the failure of the San Francisco 49ers or Tennessee Titans or anyone else who has been on the Peyton prowl since the Colts released him, to land Manning has to do with the amount of money they have available under the cap. You'd think that if, say, the 49ers—who were, after all, by far the best team vying for the Manning sweepstakes—would have made it clear to Peyton that they have the most to offer, or at least they do if Manning's goal is to win one more Super Bowl ring. (And if that isn't why he's not retiring after four surgeries on his neck, what could it possibly be? Unless he just wants to pony up, as it were, from the Colts to the Broncos.)

The 49ers, who were just one fumbled punt away from the Super Bowl when they lost to the New York Giants and Peyton's brother in the NFC championship game, made a huge gesture that Manning should have appreciated: They backed up their pledge to upgrade their passing game a few days ago by signing Super Bowl hero receiver Mario Manningham.

So what was the problem? Did San Francisco not have enough money to satisfy Peyton? Would it perhaps have been prudent on his part to take a little less in order to have his best shot at going to the big game? Instead of the expected $90 million plus over five seasons—Five seasons? Really? Manning will be 36 this Saturday—would it have made that much difference to him if his contract was for a mere $80 mil? Just think of all the extra loot—endorsements, commercials, hosting SNL again, et al—you can get if your team wins the Super Bowl. And with Manning on the team, surely the 49ers would have been everyone's pick to go all the way.

Of course, there's never an easy path to the Super Bowl, but the San Francisco organization, with their colorful coach, Jim Harbaugh, had revamped the team in just two seasons and very nearly got to the final game with a mediocre quarterback, Alex Smith. No one who watched the Niners last year doubts that they were just one player away from the Super Bowl, and that player was the guy who takes the snaps from center.

I do know that the Denver Broncos are not just one player away—even if he is a superstar quarterback—from the Super Bowl. In fact, the Broncos are something of a mess, with an undistinguished set of receivers, an on-and-off defense, and a killer 2012 schedule, facing 7 teams who had better records last season than the 8-8 Broncos. Six of those teams won at least 10 games, 2 won 12, and 2 more won 13. The Broncos may actually have to improve this year just to finish 8-8 again.

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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