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Manning inks record deal

2012-03-21 14:50
Peyton Manning (File)
New York - Superstar quarterback Peyton Manning made his first appearance as a member of the Denver Broncos on Tuesday after signing an NFL quarterback record five-year deal worth $96 million with the club.

Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player who led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl crown in 2007, smiled as he spoke at the Broncos team headquarters just two weeks after an emotional departure from Indianapolis after 14 seasons.

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my playing career," Manning said. "I can tell this organization is committed to winning. This is a great place to be.

"In the end, I felt the Broncos were just a great fit. I'm thrilled to be here, looking forward to meeting my new teammates and hopefully leading the Broncos to more Super Bowls."

Broncos vice-president John Elway, a retired two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback for Denver, said he was confident after seeing Manning in a workout that his skills were near their peak.

"I believe he has got a lot of great football left in him," Elway said. "We are thrilled he has elected to play for the Denver Broncos.

"My goal is to make Peyton Manning the best quarterback who ever played the game. He has that opportunity with the ability he has left in him."

Manning, whose $19.2 million annual average salary is the most for an NFL quarterback, will wear the same jersey number, 18, that he used with the Colts after Frank Tripucka, the 84-year-old first quarterback of the Broncos in the 1960s, approved the team un-retiring his old number.

"He really wants me to wear his number. It was a very humbling conversation," Manning said. "It truly is an honour for me. I'm truly following his wishes."

The Broncos add the third-best quarterback in NFL history behind Brett Favre and Dan Marino with 4 682 completions for 54 828 yards and 399 touchdowns.

"Peyton gives us a chance to win another world championship," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "Peyton is one of the best ever to play this game and I feel very fortunate to have him here."

Manning, who will turn 36 on Saturday, was released by the Colts on March 7 after the team decided not to pay him a $28 million bonus to pick up the final four years on his contract.

Manning missed the entire 2011 regular season after a fourth neck surgery but has been medically cleared to return to the gridiron by doctors.

The Colts, however, did not want to risk health issues from Manning when they owned the first pick in next month's NFL Draft after a 2-14 season and were set to select star college quarterback Andrew Luck.

Manning passed physicals for several teams but said he still feels he can improve arm strength and endurance related to nerve regeneration in his neck.

"I'm not where I want to be," Manning said. "I want to be where I was before I was injured. I needed the training staff to help me get where I want to be.

"I have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be from a health standpoint and in learning the offense."

Manning's contract requires him to pass a physical in 2013 to make $20 million guaranteed money next year and in 2014 and pass physicals to earn his salary in 2015 and 2016, a safety clause in case Manning's neck injury limits his ability.

"I told him, 'I don't want him to risk his life and I can't risk the Denver Broncos,'" Elway said. "Having been in his shoes, I know what I'd want from his side. Peyton was OK with everything. That was rather simple."

Added Manning: "If neither side was comfortable, I was afraid winning wouldn't follow."

Manning met twice with Elway while a free agent pondering offers from several clubs before taking his time in deciding to trade one horse-named NFL team for another.

"I hate that it put other teams in bad positions. It was the only way I knew to do the process to find out what made the most sense," Manning said.

"It was hard. It was so public. At times I said pick one to get it over with. I was waiting for that gut feeling and I was glad I did when it hit me.

"I felt very comfortable here. It's up to me and the people around me here to make this the right decision."

Despite only going 8-8, the Broncos reached the playoffs last season behind quarterback phenomenon Tim Tebow, who has enticed trade talk from several clubs.

"If he is here next season I will be the best teammate I can be," Manning said. "If other opportunities present themselves to him I will wish him the best. He's going to be a great player wherever he is.

"I'm a fan of his too. He's a great guy. I have a great respect for what he accomplished last year."

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