The Denver Broncos gambled on Peyton Manning a year ago and it paid off big time. The quarterback was coming off of four procedures on his neck and hadn't played at all in 2011, but Denver still cleared house of their in-house candidates at quarterback and guaranteed him $18 million in 2012 without any injury protection at all.
Suffice to say, Denver had high expectations for Manning -- expectations that Manning met. He threw for 4,659 yards in his first year back from serious injury and added 37 touchdowns. Manning's 105.8 passer rating was also the second-highest of the future Hall of Famer's career, numbers made all the more remarkable by what he had to overcome in returning from injury.
"In talking to different guys that have kind of been through what he’s been through when it comes to that neck, there’s a lot more to it than I think that I knew, as well as what a lot of people know," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said at the Combine. "Now that I know what he had to go through and the things that he had to overcome with that neck, not so much physically, but mentally, he did a tremendous job in the way he worked at it. So when I say he met [expectations], I should probably rephrase that and say he exceeded that.
"But I’m looking forward to next year, too. I think he’s just going to continue to get better."
Elway and the Broncos better hope that he continues to get better because if Manning passes a March physical, it will automatically guarantee the $40 million he is due over the next two years, to say nothing of the non-guaranteed $19 million per season he could be paid in 2015 and 2016.
But the Broncos are aware that Manning will be 37 when the 2013 season starts and need plans for their post-Manning world. Enter Brock Osweiler, their second-round pick a year ago, who Elway remains high on.
"We’re excited with Brock," Elway said. "He came in and even having a year with him under our roof, we’re even more excited about him and what he can do."
Again, though, it comes back to Manning. Everything in Broncosland does and this time it is about what Osweiler did learn from Manning and what he can continue to learn.
"Obviously it worked out tremendously with Peyton. Brock was a guy that I thought could come in and eventually be that guy, to be able to learn from Peyton Manning as long as Peyton still wants to play. He’ll continue to grow, because he was a young guy, he was a junior coming out. So we’re really excited about where we are at that position. Brock’s going to continue to get better and better."
There will be life after Manning in Denver. He may have made the Broncos' gamble pay off once, but Denver probably won't make another bet on an aging Manning once this contract is up. That means the clock is on Osweiler. The Broncos are betting on him next.