DENVER – It wasn’t too long ago that the Broncos had arguably the most fractured fan base in the NFL.
Some wanted to stay the course with Josh McDaniels. Others wanted to end the experiment as returns rapidly diminished. Some wanted Tim Tebow inserted into the lineup immediately upon arrival; others thought the pick was a mistake.
That discord has largely evaporated; the warm feelings of a playoff win have a way of doing that. But questions over Tebow remain. The statements of John Elway and John Fox in January and again at the Scouting Combine serve as a reminder that Tebow’s bosses know how far he still has to go — and how nothing beyond the start of training camp is assured.
But the support of many fans for Tebow is so fervent — and, yes, religiously devout — that even if he struggles next September as he did in the three-game losing streak late last season, benching him will cause the loudest Colorado uproar since Kobe Bryant’s rape trial. The schism in the fan base that developed from 2006-10 would return.
In other words, if you’re going to go with someone other than Tebow for a reason other than injury — and you don’t want to anger half of your fanbase — it had better not be for a veteran with scant credentials or a second- or third-round rookie with unanswered questions of his own. It’s got to be for a no-doubt, slam-dunk, clearly-better option, one that everyone with even a thimble of common sense could agree upon.
Like Peyton Manning.
Assuming that Manning’s neck is healthy and his arm strength has returned, only the most devoted of Tebow supporters could cry foul. And if they did, they’d be putting one man ahead of the team.
Yes, Tebow’s end-game exploits helped make last year’s turnaround possible. But so did Matt Prater’s clutch accuracy, John Fox’s stabilizing sideline influence, Elvis Dumervil’s successful comeback from multiple injuries, Von Miller’s emergence, Willis McGahee’s renaissance and the return of Dumervil, D.J. Williams, Marcus Thomas and Champ Bailey from early-season injuries that kept the defense from its intended form until Kyle Orton’s final start as a Bronco.
The question some want to ignore: if the Broncos had more consistency from the quarterback position, would they have needed so many comebacks in the first place?
If Manning were the quarterback, would the Broncos have been held below 20 points in six of their last eight regular-season games? Would the offense have accounted for just 15.5 points per game in that span?
By the end of the season, Tebow’s negative play ratio (sacks + fumbles + interceptions / total pass plays + rushes) was roughly the same as Kyle Orton’s; Tebow’s was one every 9.5 plays and Orton’s was one every 9.4.
By comparison, Manning’s career negative-play ratio is one every 16.0 plays. Since 2006, it’s one every 19.5. That says nothing of his completion percentage, which is the highest all-time career mark for any quarterback with at least 1,000 attempts.
With a more accurate quarterback, perhaps Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker drop fewer passes. Perhaps McGahee and other Broncos runners — whoever they may be — don’t spend most of their carries slugging for yardage through eight-in-the-box defenses.
The Broncos have the cap room for Manning. After the recent playoff appearance, they have an influx of cash they haven’t had in six years.
Yes, Manning isn’t likely to come to Denver. He’ll have plenty of options, and the Broncos’ myriad needs make it unwise to throw all their cap room and cash budget at one player.
But if you’re Fox, Elway and Brian Xanders, it does no harm to take a look. Manning’s merely the best quarterback of his era, and for all the sound and fury he spawned, Tebow remains a work in progress.
Further, the Broncos would learn something about Tebow.
If he accepts the addition of Manning enthusiastically — seeing it as an opportunity to watch and learn from one of the five finest quarterbacks in the history of the sport while being motivated to push, match and eventually usurp the ex-Colt — then the Broncos know they have a keeper for the long term beyond what would likely be a relatively brief Manning era. If Tebow pouts and frets at the news, then they learn that maybe Tebow doesn’t have as strong a timber as they’d hoped.
It’s the NFL, and if you’re not in the top 25 percent at your role, you’re replaceable.
There’s no harm in checking into Manning — and if it can be done at a reasonable cost-to-risk ratio that allows for other needs to be addressed, there’s no harm in bringing him to Denver, either.