In the end, though, Manning decided he wanted to trade in his Colts horseshoe helmet for one adorned by a Bronco. The move would allow him to stay in the AFC, a conference he knows well and one considered weaker than the NFC at the moment, and would re-establish the tantalizing prospect of playing against his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli, in a Super Bowl. They already have three titles in the family.
Manning-to-Denver also creates a fascinating dynamic with Tebow, only months after the former Heisman Trophy winner was the focus of the NFL regular season and perhaps the most talked-about athlete in sports, a polarizing figure both because of his style of play — as far as possible from a classic, dropback passer — and his outspoken religious beliefs.
After taking over a struggling team, Tebow led the Broncos to comeback victory after comeback victory, struggling for three quarters before starring in the fourth quarter and overtime. With an offense transformed into a spread option attack built on Tebow's running, and a strong defense that kept games close, the Broncos won the AFC West title.
Tebowmania reached its apex in the playoffs, when he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the very first play of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next week, though, Tebow was smothered by the New England Patriots, who easily eliminated the Broncos 45-10.
A little more than two months later, Tebow could be on the trading block.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chimed in, saying he hoped Tebow wasn't going anywhere.
"He's a young man, right? And a year or two of working under John Elway and Peyton Manning, you know, I'm not sure any other quarterbacks around the country get that opportunity," Hickenlooper said.
Tebow isn't the only domino which could fall now that the offseason's biggest free agency question is seemingly settled.
San Francisco could decide to keep its own free-agent QB, Alex Smith, who went to Miami for a visit with the Dolphins after the 49ers' flirtation with Manning became public. If Smith does go back to the Niners, perhaps Miami will look to trade for Tebow, who played in college at Florida. The Titans, meanwhile, probably will stick with grooming Jake Locker, who was a first-round draft pick a year ago.
Denver, meanwhile, could try to give Manning some new targets, because they still have millions of dollars in salary-cap space available. The Broncos did not exactly have a wealth of wideouts last season, other than Thomas, and they lost Eddie Royal to the San Diego Chargers as a free agent.
Eric Decker struggled to catch Tebow's erratic passes, and was plagued with drops, but would seem a perfect fit for Manning's precise passing game.
Ayers said he hoped the Broncos would be able to convince other free agents to join the Broncos, such as Manning's former Colts teammates Jeff Saturday and Dallas Clark.
Running back Willis McGahee tweeted: "To all my free agents across the nfl, I think u know what time it is."
Former teammates of Elway's were just as excited, with Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe tweeting: "I think (at)Terrell_Davis and I should round up the old gang and make a comeback."
"I got my cleats," Davis fired right back, "I'll meet u (at) Dove Valley!"
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
Reach out to AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Facebook and http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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