Published March 20, 2012
DENVER – All that's needed is Peyton Manning's autograph.
The Denver Broncos have tentatively scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon, ostensibly to introduce the four-time MVP. There was no announcement that a deal was finally completed, but the last details were expected to be a formality.
After being pursued by teams around the NFL, the quarterback with four MVP awards is headed to the land of John Elway and Tim Tebow, agreeing to a contract with Denver that could make the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender. It could also send one of the NFL's most intriguing young players packing.
So much for Tebowmania.
Manning called Elway on Monday and told the Broncos executive that he had chosen Denver over the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers in the wildest free-agent chase of the offseason.
The Broncos and Manning's agent then hashed out details of a deal that's expected to be worth about $95 million over five years.
Manning was wooed to Denver by Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Broncos to two Super Bowl titles in the late 1990s and now serves as their vice president of football operations. Elway never sounded all that convinced Tebow was the answer at the league's most important position, and could trade the hugely popular quarterback who energized the Broncos in a run to the playoffs last season but was plagued by erratic play.
Manning turns 36 on Saturday and missed the 2011 season because of multiple neck operations, which made him expendable to the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts. They cut him March 7 rather than pay a $28 million bonus.
But Manning's success in the past made him a prize that teams from San Francisco to Miami felt they couldn't pass up.
"There's a lot to be excited about," Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers said outside the team's complex. "Just being on his team is going to make you want to play better."
By luring Manning to Denver, Elway has delivered his biggest victory for the Broncos since he led them to their second straight Super Bowl title in 1999. He retired shortly after that 34-19 win over Atlanta and the Broncos have won just two playoff games since.
Manning won the NFL championship in 2007. No starting quarterback has earned a Super Bowl ring for two different teams,. But when Manning when he arrives at the Broncos' headquarters to sign his new deal, he at least can see the two Lombardi Trophies in the lobby that Elway won when he was 37 and 38.
Elway returned to the Broncos last year after the franchise hit rock bottom amid scandal — the team was caught videotaping a 49ers practice — and a four-win season that cost coach Josh McDaniels his job. It was McDaniels who drafted Tebow with the 25th pick of the 2010 draft.
The big question now facing Elway is what to do about Tebow, who has three years left on his contract.
Tebow took over a 1-4 team from Kyle Orton last year and led the Broncos to an 8-8 finish and the AFC West crown with a series of stirring comebacks that captured the attention of the NFL and beyond.
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 routed the Broncos, 45-10.
Afterward, Elway declared Tebow was the Broncos' starting quarterback heading into training camp this summer but said the left-hander would have to improve his flawed mechanics and footwork to win the job heading into the season.
He also said he'd spent time tutoring Tebow himself and would add more quarterback competition through the draft and free agency.
Several Broncos predicted the free agency floodgates will swing wide open once Manning officially joins the team.
"I think we'll sign some guys, probably a few guys, like Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, guys waiting to see what Peyton was going to do," Ayers said. "Defensive guys want to play with a lead, and I'm pretty sure guys are going to assume Peyton will put up points in this offense, we have some weapons."
With Manning joining the Broncos, oddsmakers in Las Vegas immediately made Denver one of the top choices to win the Super Bowl next season, which will be played in Manning's hometown of New Orleans.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Facebook and http://twitter.com/arniestapleton