Peyton Manning to the Broncos. The end of an era.

As I’m sure you know by now, Peyton Manning has reportedly opted to join the Denver Broncos. Please join with me as we say farewell to the relevant years of Manning’s career.

That’s right. This is the end of Manning’s days contending for Super Bowls. He chose money and contending for a playoff berth instead of pursuing what his brother already has: a second ring. I’m not angered by Manning’s choice to go to Denver, just a little sad (and confused).

I like Manning. I’ve always wanted him to win that second championship and assume his rightful place as the greatest quarterback to ever play football. Unfortunately, that status can’t be his without at least another Super Bowl win, and maybe two. In Denver, I don’t see him reaching the Super Bowl within the near future. In fact, the Broncos may even struggle to reach the postseason on a consistent basis.

What does Denver have that makes you believe they’re close to contending? Tim Tebow was obviously not an elite quarterback, but his receivers didn’t always make it easy, either. Drops are still drops, regardless of who’s throwing the football. As great as Manning is, he can’t catch what he throws. Even Gisele Bundchen knows that. The mediocre cast of receivers in Denver must improve dramatically for Manning to make a significant impact.

Denver’s running game? Ehh. Knowshon Moreno has been a huge disappointment in his first two seasons in Denver. While Willis McGahee resurrected his career with the Broncos, he’s now past his prime. His numbers also significantly declined as the 2011 season wore on. He’s certainly a talented back, but for how much longer, and can he give them enough down the stretch and into the playoffs? As we saw last season, the answer is no.

Everyone likes to point to the Bronco defense as a reason Manning chose the Broncos. It’s a fairly good point, too. Denver has a young, aggressive defense that gets after opposing quarterbacks. Von Miller was a game-changer in just his rookie season and a fully healthy Elvis Dumervil will significantly upgrade an already impressive pass rush. Still, the secondary is a gigantic question mark. The Broncos ranked below the middle of the pack in pass defense in 2011. And have we already forgotten that Tom Brady torched the Broncos for over 363 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that could have easily pushed 500 yards and 8 touchdowns had New England not called off the dogs?

Let’s also not forget about the coach. John Fox isn’t exactly an offensive wizard. His offense was brutal before Tebow took over the starting job and it was brutal (albeit more entertaining) after. His offenses in Carolina weren’t much better. Only the electric Steve Smith (whom Fox ignored too often) added a punch to Fox’s mundane scheme. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Fox is a poor man’s Andy Reid. Fox won’t win you a championship. Sure, he’ll turn your lousy, downtrodden franchise into a competitive, respectable team that may compete for a division title or a Wildcard berth, but don’t expect too much more.

And finally, this is 2012 “I’m coming off multiple major neck surgeries” Peyton Manning. The Broncos aren’t getting MVP Peyton Manning from 2004, or even MVP Peyton Manning from 2008 or 2009, or even Pro Bowl Peyton Manning from 2010. We don’t know what they’re getting, and it’s hard for me to believe they know, either. To assume Manning is the same player this late in his career after sitting out a year is pretty optimistic. He’s the greatest quarterback to play the position, at least in my opinion, but it’s wishful thinking to believe he can carry a slightly above average Bronco team past the elite teams in the AFC.

So what was Manning thinking? Perhaps he knows something we don’t. Perhaps he and Mike Wallace have a gentlemen’s agreement to meet in Denver. Perhaps he believes Jonathan Stewart will come too. Perhaps Manning and the Broncos believe the current nucleus and a solid 2012 draft will propel the Broncos into the same class as the Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, and Texans. Though they could be right, I simply don’t see it.

Manning’s decision to sign with Denver was a business decision, not a winning decision. While I can’t fault him for that, I’m sad that I won’t see Peyton Manning in another Super Bowl. And if I’m wrong about that, I will gladly eat crow.

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