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Why John Elway and the Broncos are 'Panning for Manning'

Peyton Manning was supposed to be there for the Miami Dolphins' taking.

With high profile free agent quarterback Matt Flynn supposedly a great fit in Cleveland's offense, and Baylor signal caller Robert Griffin III practically having "Daniel Snyder and Mike Shananan love child" written all over him, Miami's path to Manning looked straightforward and unobstructed. Manning-to-Miami made sense.

And then the Denver Broncos had to go and make things complicated.

Winners of a wild card playoff game at home against the Steelers last January, and currently a vessel for arguably the most popular and controversial athlete in sports right now (Tim Tebow), the Broncos were unlikely players in the Manning sweepstakes, but they may now be the frontrunners to land Manning.

And the Broncos' reasons for going all-in on Manning, in my opinion, go far beyond their desire to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to mile-high altitude, though. Rather, I believe Denver is positioning itself to be the player in this deal for a very simple reason: this could be John Elway's one and only chance to wash his hands of Tebow without inspiring a full-blown revolt from Broncos fans.

Put yourself in Elway's shoes for a second. You were arguably the most anticipated college prospect to ever enter the NFL. You're a Hall of Fame quarterback with two Super Bowl rings--a virtual demigod in the pantheon of great signal callers--and the definition of a "gunslinger" at the position.. You are, for all intents and purposes, the face of the Denver Broncos, which is why it seemed like a great idea when you took the team's executive vice president of football operations gig in January 2011. This was your opportunity to find Denver its next franchise quarterback--a smart, savvy, athletic, strong-armed passer who would make the Broncos competitive for the next decade. This was your opportunity to find Denver its next ... well, John Elway.

Instead, your "franchise" quarterback is Tim Tebow. Tim freaking Tebow! You're John Elway, the gunslinger, Super Bowl winner and Hall of Famer, and you currently have your vice president of football operations job tied to the success of Tim Tebow--a player who has to work out of a college offense, and is pretty much the antithesis of anything resembling a gunslinger. You know you deserve so much better than this, yet there isn't a thing you can do about it.

See, there's no way Elway could even entertain the thought of kicking Tebow to the curb. Nope, never. That would be the unthinkable. America loves Tim Tebow, loves his underdog status, loves the charm he exudes whenever he thanks his lord and savior Jesus Christ prior to every interview he does, and loves the fact that he comes across as a genuinely nice kid--the kind you'd sign off on in a heartbeat if your daughter brought him home. Yep, America can't get enough of Tebow, and it has almost nothing to do with his ability on the football field. In fact, if the Denver Broncos were The Beatles, Tim Tebow would be their Ringo Starr--likeable, memorable and beloved by fans, which masks the fact that he doesn't belong there and could be easily upgraded.

So, the Ringo Starr of the NFL just happens to be tethered to John Elway's position in the Broncos' front office, and you can bet Elway's not happy about it ... not one bit. I can only assume how many nights of sleep Elway has lost over the last six months, endlessly reviewing the simple fact that he's absolutely at the mercy of Tim Tebow's legacy. To stand firm in his convictions and replace Tebow would result in immediate and endless vilification for Elway from Broncos fans, but to stay the course with him would almost single handedly prevent Denver from getting back to the Super Bowl during Elway's stay in the front office.

And then, like a bolt from the blue, Peyton Manning hit the open market.

Just so we're clear, that's four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning. If Tebow is Ringo Starr, Manning is Paul McCartney--an incredibly gifted, meticulous individual who also happens to be a bit of a control freak. Unlike Starr, McCartney was essentially a vital organ for the band, and Manning likewise represents the most vital of organs in today's NFL--a true franchise quarterback. When that franchise quarterback is a legend of Manning's (and Elway's) caliber, you're talking about a player whose arrival could actually wipe out Tebowmania in Denver in one fell swoop. You can almost hear Elway laughing diabolically at the thought of this idea. Peyton Manning represents Elway's one and only chance to kick Tebow to the curb and take minimal heat for the effort, and no one is more aware of this fact than John Elway. He has one shot in this situation, so expect him to shoot to kill. Several reports suggested that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wanted Peyton Manning. John Elway, in his mind, needs Peyton Manning. Big difference.

And talk is now circulating that Manning could become a Denver Bronco sometime within the next few days. If so, no longer would Elway have to smile through his teeth while on the sidelines during games. No longer would Elway have to answer questions about Tim Tebow. No longer would Elway's front office position be tied to Tim Tebow. This scenario would have Elway all smiles, just like he was during those Super Bowl years in Denver.