Various news outlets are reporting that former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning will be joining the Denver Broncos for the 2012 season.
The Manning sweepstakes began when Indianapolis chose not to pay their future Hall of Fame quarterback a $28-million bonus payment, releasing him on March 7th and setting in motion the biggest free agent frenzy for one player in the history of the league.
After his release, reports indicated that up to 12 teams had inquired as to whether Manning was interested in signing with them. Presumably the only teams that didn’t inquire were those with Pro Bowl quality quarterbacks, outstanding young players at the position or teams that knew they had no chance to land the player regarded as arguably the best to ever play the position.
In the end, Manning’s decision came down to three teams – the Broncos, the Titans and the 49ers.
Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, must still finalize contract arrangements with the Broncos, a process that could take some time in order to protect the Broncos in the event Manning’s prior neck injuries reoccur. However, Manning has repeatedly stated that he wants to protect his next employer in the event that he is injured, making prolonged negotiations unlikely.
In Denver, Manning will join an offense that features a solid offensive line and a pair of promising young wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The Broncos have holes at running back where Willis McGahee was productive in 2011 but has complained about his contract and at tight end.
The Broncos have largely sat on the sideline for the beginning of free agency, signing former Browns safety Mike Adams and re-signing linebacker Joe Mays. Reports have indicated that the team planned to continue building through the draft with Tim Tebow at quarterback unless Manning decided to join the team.
With Manning in the fold, the Broncos are expected to become more aggressive in free agency and the expectation is that a number of former Colts could join Manning in Denver.
There can be little doubt that the team will add a multi-dimensional threat out of the backfield as well as a pass receiving tight end and perhaps a slot receiver to the roster. Since that hasn’t happened and we don’t know who those players might be and whether those areas will be addressed through free agency or the draft, it is difficult to ascertain Manning’s fantasy football value for the 2012 season.
Let’s consider his age and health.
Manning will turn 36 this month and while that is clearly old for most positions, recent history suggests that quarterbacks can be very productive at such an age. The most recent example is Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who remained productive until 38 years of age.
Health-wise, Manning’s nerve damage to his neck is clearly cause for concern but not necessarily an indicator that he is more susceptible to injury going forward.
Keep in mind that Manning’s ability to recognize coverages was the main reason the Colts regularly ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks allowed. His ability to get the ball out before being pressured reduces his likelihood of suffering an injury.
Manning’s performance over the 2009 and 2010 seasons do not suggest any drop off from his performance over the earlier part of his career. He established a career-high in passing yards in 2010 with 4,700 and threw for the 3rd highest yardage total of his career in 2009 (4,500).
In addition, he threw for 33 touchdowns in each of those seasons and a touchdown interception-ratio of two to one while finishing as the top ranked fantasy quarterback in 2010 and 4th at the position in 2009. It is safe to conclude that Manning’s performance did not suffer in either of those seasons as a result of his advancing age.
In Denver, Manning will inherit a pair of young, talented receivers entering their 3rd seasons in the league. While Decker was more productive last season (44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns), Thomas (32 receptions for 551 yards and four touchdowns) is the more exciting talent of the two. However, neither player has reached the heights of Reggie Wayne, Manning’s top wide receiver in Indianapolis.
As for comparing the tight end positions for the two teams, there’s simply no comparison. Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme were far better receiving options than what currently resides on the depth chart in Denver (a pair of second-year players in Julius Thomas and Virgil Green as well as Cornelius Ingram).
As the Denver roster currently stands, Manning would shape up as a low-end fantasy starter, perhaps sneaking into the top 10 but only barely. Lump him into the tier of fantasy quarterbacks that includes Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger but consider moving him up once we see what types of additions the Broncos management has planned on the offensive side of the ball.
Consider Thomas, a player with perhaps more physical ability than any wide receiver Manning has ever played with, a mid-tier WR2 with upside and Decker a low-end WR3.
As for Tebow, his fantasy value in redraft leagues plummets to zero and it isn’t much above that in dynasty formats.