In 2012, it was a pretty big deal for Denver Broncos general manager John Elway to dump Tim Tebow as the team’s starting quarterback.
Tebow’s fans have always been … “passionate,” let’s say. My guess is I’ll get a few long emails, tweets and comments outlining the conspiracy that is keeping Tebow out of the NFL, because I get those messages every time I write about Tebow. And that’s in 2016. Early in 2012, the Broncos had just won the AFC West and a playoff game with Tebow at quarterback (no, Tebow didn’t “win” the division and Tebow didn’t “win” the playoff game. Those are team accomplishments).
In the offseason of 2012, Elway seemed like he’d have to stick with Tebow or face a ton of angry fans. Unless …
“Because Tebow had such a fan base behind him — there was probably only one guy that we could have replaced him with that people would understand,” Elway told the Denver Post’s Nicki Jhabvala in an in-depth piece looking at Elway’s first five seasons as a GM. “And that was Peyton Manning.”
Elway landed Manning, one of the greatest free-agent signings of all time. Although I’d still hear from Tebow fans in 2013, telling me it was a mistake because Tebow had won a playoff game as a Bronco and Manning hadn’t (I know, I know), history ended up being pretty kind to Elway’s decision. Manning threw for 17,112 yards and 140 touchdowns in four Broncos seasons, won an MVP award and four division titles, and was the team’s starting quarterback in a Super Bowl 50 win. Tebow, who was traded to the New York Jets that offseason, threw eight more NFL passes for 39 yards and no touchdowns. He hasn’t played in a regular-season game since 2012.
Manning had other options in free agency that offseason, and it’s fascinating to think about what would have happened had he chosen the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans or someone else. Would Manning have had the same amazing second chapter to his career? Would Tebow have remained Denver’s quarterback, and for how long? Could the Broncos have continued to build a roster around him and sustain that 2011 run? If not, and the Broncos wouldn’t have gone on to the same level of success they had with Manning, would Elway be the revered GM he is today, with practically a lifetime of job security in Denver?
NFL history changed when Manning signed in Denver. So did the trajectory of Tebow’s career. Had Elway not landed Manning, it sounds like Elway knew he’d be ripped for dumping Tebow or simply would have felt pressured to go with him for another season. And then who knows how Tebow’s NFL story would have changed?
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