Now that Peyton Manning has decided to continue his playing career with John Elway and the Denver Broncos, the next step is analyzing the impact Manning will have and how far he can take the Broncos next season.
As we discussed previously on this blog, of the three finalists in the Manning sweepstakes, the 49ers were the team most ready to win now, followed by the Broncos and Titans.
The Broncos were not a great team last year but they found a way to go 8-8, win the AFC West and upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild card round of the playoffs.
Yet, in the end the Broncos proved to be pretenders as they were thrashed 45-10 by Tom Brady and the Patriots in the divisional playoff.
That loss sent a clear message to John Elway that the team simply wasn’t ready for prime time and neither was quarterback Tim Tebow.
Thus, when a sure-fire hall of fame quarterback became available, Elway jumped at the chance to acquire him and found a way to sign the best offensive free agent in the history of the National Football League.
However, getting Manning is just the first step, in the process of building the Broncos into a contender, now the real work begins.
The question being asked by everyone is how good can the Broncos be with Manning? The answer? Pretty good.
It’s not like the Broncos are without talent, in fact the offense boasts plenty led by talented receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. The ground game is led by Willis McGahee, who rushed for 1,199 yards, while averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry and arguably the best offensive line in football.
However, pieces need do need to be added. A tight end is needed (Calling Dallas Clark!), a complement at running back to team with McGahee is also needed, as well as a slot receiver. Elway knows it takes balance to win the Super Bowl, remember he had Terrell Davis to hand off to, when Denver won back-to-back Super Bowls, in the twilight of Elway’s career. So look for another back or two to be added in free agency or the draft.
Clark would fit extremely well with the team, giving Manning a familiar target, other former Colts such as pro bowl center Jeff Saturday and running back Joseph Addai have also been rumored to be jointing the Broncos, which would help ease Manning’s transition.
The defense on the other hand was an average unit that specializes in pressuring the quarterback with linebacker/rush end Vaughn Miller, who won the defensive rookie of the year award in 2012 and Elvis Dumervil, a disruptive player who rushes on the opposite side of Miller to give Denver one of the best pass rush duos in pro football.
The team also boasts playmaking corner Champ Bailey, veteran safety Brian Dawkins and D.J. Williams, a standout inside linebacker who will miss the first six games due to suspension. 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers also started to show some rush potential as a down lineman at the end of the year, registering two sacks against the Steelers in the playoffs.
So as you can see, there are some building blocks in place. Offensively, the Broncos have the pieces to be pretty good with Manning at quarterback, especially if they can add Clark and another solid wide receiver to the mix.
Thomas and Decker both have tons of potential, they simply found themselves in an offense geared toward running the ball and playing with a quarterback, who is more of a runner than a passer.
But even in a run-based offense, Decker finished the year with eight receiving touchdowns and Thomas, who missed part of the year due to injury, really came on down the stretch, in the last seven games including playoffs, he averaged 106.4 yards per game and scored four touchdowns.
Now they will be the main targets of one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, who has a tremendous track record when it comes to aiding the development of young receivers, so expect big things from Thomas and Decker in 2012.
At this point, the ability of the Broncos to contend in 2012 has yet to be determined. We have no idea what free agents they will sign, though a plan is said to be in place once Manning signs, nor do we know who they will draft in April or if those picks will even work out.
What we do know is that on Sunday night the team didn’t have an elite quarterback, and now they do. That’s a dramatic transformation and the kind that normally doesn’t happen overnight.
Having an elite quarterback is the first and most important step to take when building a Super Bowl champion and no matter what players the Broncos do or don’t have, they now have Peyton Manning, one of the great quarterbacks of all-time, meaning the answer, to the question are the Broncos Super Bowl contenders is a resounding yes. So watch out NFL because the sheriff (according to John Gruden) is back in town.