Five questions stemming from the Broncos’ signing of Peyton Manning

Are the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender?
Everything hinders on whether or not Peyton Manning really is healthy and if the Denver defense can play as well next year as it did last season. If Manning only lasts six games or the defense falls apart, then the underachieving Chargers could easily take the AFC West next season. That said, the Broncos’ defense shouldn’t have to hold teams to under 10 points with Manning under center and Peyton could make stars out of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, assuming the two can stay healthy. And let’s put it this way, the Broncos’ Super Bowl odds went from 25/1 to 7/1 following the signing of Manning. There’s no doubt that this addition has put the Broncos over the top.

Is Peyton healthy?
Manning told reporters at his press conference on Tuesday that if the Broncos had a game on Sunday, he would be able to play. He said he might not play at the level he expects of himself, but he would be on the field. He also said that he hopes to be on the field for OTAs in April and that he insists he’s been open with teams about his medical history. At this point, Manning deserves to be taken at his word. If he’s still hurt, I highly doubt he would have convinced John Elway to give him $96 million over the next five years. Peyton has too much respect for Elway and the game of football then to deceive anyone. That said, I have no doubt that he’s healthy now but what happens after he takes that first hit? I’m less concerned about his current health and more concerned about whether or not he can hold up over the entire course of the season. After all, he had major nerve damage in his neck.

Are the Broncos making the right decision to move on from Tebow?
The Broncos are taking three separate risks with this signing. The first risk is assuming Manning will be the same player he was before he underwent multiple injuries. The second rest is giving him a $96 million contract and the third risk is that they’re reportedly willing to put Tim Tebow on the trade market. I view the first two risks as major, while the third is more of a small gamble that Tebow wasn’t going to get them much further than he did last season. After all, he may have beaten a banged up Pittsburgh team in the Wild Card round but he was completely exposed by the Patriots the following week. That said, he did win plenty of games last year for the Broncos and whether it was luck or the hand of God, Tebow was a big part of the team’s success in 2012. If Manning only plays two games next year before getting hurt again, some in Denver will wonder why the team was so quickly to part with Tebow just months after he led them to a playoff victory.

What will happen to Tebow?
As of Tuesday night the Jaguars, Jets, and Packers reportedly have interest in Tebow. According to NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi, the Jaguars have “serious interest” in trading for Tebow while the New York Daily News says that the Jets have “legitimate interest” in the former Gator. In rather surprising news, former Rams’ VP of Player Personnel Tony Softli told ESPN 101 in St. Louis that the Packers have at least some interest in Tebow as well. While he may not be viewed as a future starter, the Broncos should have plenty of trade suitors for Tebow if/when they want to put him on the market. The Jaguars make the most sense to land Tebow but there always seems to be a surprise team to come out of the woodwork.

What team got hurt the most in Manning’s decision?
The Miami Dolphins took one off the chin this week. After failing to lure Manning to Miami, the Dolphins reportedly low-balled Matt Flynn (who decided to sign with Seattle), and couldn’t convince an angry Alex Smith to leave San Francisco. (Smith re-signed with the 49ers on Tuesday.) So now the Dolphins are left with Plan D, which is former Jaguar David Garrard, whom they signed on Monday. As of right now Garrard will compete with Matt Moore for the starting job in 2008, which is about as exciting as a box full of yarn. Granted, the Dolphins do own the No. 8 overall pick but if the Browns take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannenhill at No. 4, Miami probably won’t have an opportunity to draft their future signal caller in April. No wonder fans were reportedly ready to protest the firing of GM Jeff Ireland – the Dolphins are a mess.

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Five Quick-Hit Observations from Day 1 of 2012 NFL Free Agency

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall (19) pops up off the ground after beating New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (42) on a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 24, 2011. UPI/Matthew Healey

As expected, teams didn’t waste any time making a splash on Day 1 of the 2012 NFL free agency period. (Funny how so many deals get done minutes after the opening of free agency when teams and players aren’t supposed to talk to each other until then.) While the receivers stole the show on Tuesday, the biggest name on the market is still without a home. Below are quick-hit observations from the first day of the NFL free agency period.

1. The Bears and Brandon Marshall are a perfect marriage (at least for now).
Most of the speculation involving the Bears the past 24 hours was centered on Mario Williams. But it was another big name acquisition that rookie general manager Phil Emery had his eye on. The Bears have been without a prototypical l No. 1 receiver for decades but Marshall will change all of that. From what I’ve read, Marshall deeply respects Jay Cutler and the feeling is mutual. Cutler targeted Marshall early and often while in Denver and as long as the latter can keep his head on straight, this trade should benefit the Bears greatly. And while some Chicago fans were clamoring for Emery to sign Vincent Jackson, the Bears’ faithful have to be ecstatic about landing Marshall instead. As for the Dolphins, two third-round picks are nice but Miami is now left with Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Clyde Gats as its top three receivers. The Dolphins lacked offensive talent coming into the offseason and today they just sent their top playmaker to Chicago. While they may have parted with a headache, they just created another need for themselves in the process.

2. The Redskins overpaid for Garcon, but they’ve upgraded their receiver corps nonetheless.
The Daniel Snyder-led Redskins have been overpaying free agents for the better part of a decade. So when I read that they gave Pierre Garcon a five-year, $42.5 million contract it was hardly surprising. There’s no doubt they overpaid for Garcon’s services, but at least the fit is good. The former Colt is very good after the catch, which certainly suits head coach Mike Shanahan’s West Coast offense. Along with Garcon, the Skins also added Josh Morgan and Eddie Royal, so a team that desperately needed more playmakers on offense has come out of the gates strong this offseason. Robert Griffin III should sleep easy tonight knowing that his future receiving corps just got dramatically better over the last 24 hours.

3. It’s good to see the Glazer Family spend some of the Bucs’ cap money.
Two years ago the Buccaneers won 10 games and nearly qualified for the playoffs mostly because of a weak schedule. So the Glazer Family decided that they weren’t going to spend money last offseason in order to improve a young team that still needed to be tweaked. (Oh sorry, unless you want to consider the six-year, $19.5 million contract they gave free agent punter Michael Koenen.) This year, however, the Bucs made a statement by signing Vincent Jackson on day one of free agency. Even though Jackson could be limited in new head coach Greg Schiano’s run-heavy offense, at least Tampa Bay is actually trying to make improvements to its roster. When healthy and you know, playing, Jackson is a multi-faceted receiver. He’s a deep threat, he has great hands, he runs excellent routes, and he blocks extremely well. He’s the complete package and while $26 million in guaranteed money is steep, at least the Glazers finally cracked open that checkbook of theirs.

4. I can’t see Mario Williams winding up in Buffalo.
If I were Mario Williams I would go on as many visits as were offered to me. Premier edge rushers aren’t exactly available down aisle three at Wal-Mart, so he might as well make the most of the opportunity that he’s been given. Thus, there’s no reason not to go to Buffalo and listen to what the Bills have to offer. Apparently they’re willing to pay him as the top defensive player in the league, which is obviously great for Williams. But at the end of the day I just can’t see Williams signing with a team that’s not a contender. Sure Buffalo came out of the gates hot last year and maybe Williams would be their missing piece. But Ryan Fitzpatrick eventually cooled off and the team’s play fell off a cliff. There’s no doubt that Williams would improve their chances greatly, but there has to be another team willing to pay his asking price. Granted, he may have to take less to go to a contender but at least he would have a legitimate shot at reaching a Super Bowl. With the Patriots in the same division as the Bills, I just don’t see Buffalo contending for a playoff spot soon.
UPDATE: As I was saying, Mario Williams is a perfect fit for Buffalo.

5. Weren’t the Colts rebuilding?
I have no idea what the Indianapolis Colts are doing these days. Last year proved how devoid of overall talent they had when Peyton Manning didn’t play a snap and the team fell apart. And with Peyton off to destinations unknown, the Colts have a long ways to go before being respectable again. After cleaning house last week by parting ways with players like Manning, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Gary Brackett, I thought the team was going to start over with a massive rebuilding project this offseason. Instead, they re-upped with 31-year-old Robert Mathis on a lucrative deal and today signed Reggie Wayne to a three-year, $17.5 million contract. Mathis, and to a lesser extent, Wayne, are still productive players but I’m just not sure what the Colts’ game plan is here. Are they rebuilding or are they just trying to hold onto the past in any way they can?

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