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Manning opts for the Broncos

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / March 20, 2012
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He’s traded the blue horseshoe for a white horse, but the result is the same: Peyton Manning will come gunning for the Patriots in 2012, this time as a member of the Broncos.

The NFL’s only four-time MVP informed the team he was directing his agent, Tom Condon, to commence contract discussions with Denver.

The Broncos will travel to Gillette Stadium to face quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots - Manning’s longtime rivals - this season. The schedule will be released in mid-April.

A contract shouldn’t take very long. Manning’s suitors, which included the finalist 49ers and Titans, knew it would take a deal that would pay Manning in the range of $90 million over five seasons.

Manning, who will turn 36 Saturday, has yet to speak publicly on his decision.

By picking the Broncos, whose efforts were headed by Hall of Fame quarterback and executive vice president of football operations John Elway, Manning passed up the chance to play for the 49ers, who are the closest to Super Bowl contenders.

The 49ers went to the NFC Championship Game with a much lesser quarterback, Alex Smith, have one of the league’s best defenses, and they recently added receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to go with a good offensive line and standout running back Frank Gore.

Manning might not have wanted to go into a situation in which there would be “Super Bowl or bust’’ pressure, which San Francisco surely would bring.

Two factors thought to be at the forefront of Manning’s decision had to do with family. Manning and his wife, Ashley, have twins that will turn 1 next month. A cross-country move might have been difficult.

By remaining in the familiar AFC, Manning keeps hope alive for a possible Super Bowl matchup with his younger brother, Eli, who just led the Giants to a title over the Patriots.

That didn’t eliminate the Titans, but the prospect of a pressure-filled return to Tennessee - where Manning starred in college - probably did. And the Titans are also further away from title contention, and Manning would have had to face his former team and fans from the Colts twice a season in the AFC South. Manning spared Colts fans of having to go through the same drama Packers fans did when Brett Favre returned with the hated Vikings.

“I want to thank the whole organization for their efforts in trying to sign Peyton and also to Peyton for the time he put into the process,’’ Titans owner Bud Adams said. “Peyton called me this morning to inform me of his decision and obviously I am disappointed, because I thought we would be a perfect fit.’’

Manning’s decision is good news for Norfolk native and former Boston College star Matt Hasselbeck. He’ll get to lead the Titans again next season, along with 2010 first-round pick Jake Locker.

The Broncos made a surprising postseason run last season, including a home upset win over the Steelers, before Denver was destroyed, 45-10, by the Patriots at Gillette.

The Broncos will have to improve their defense and add more offensive weapons to make a Super Bowl run next season.

Manning has faced the Patriots 19 times, including three postseason meetings, dating to his rookie season of 1998, when the Colts and Patriots were together in the AFC East. Manning is 7-12 against the Patriots, but has won five of the past seven. Manning and the Colts won the last playoff matchup between the teams, the 2006 AFC Championship Game, 38-34, in Indianapolis.

Manning’s decision puts one of the NFL’s most popular players, quarterback Tim Tebow, on the trading block.

New England is rumored to be a possible landing spot because offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels surprisingly made Tebow a first-round pick in 2010 when he was coach of the Broncos. Patriots coach Bill Belichick also hosted Tebow on a visit before that draft.

The Patriots have two promising backups to Brady in Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. But if the price is right, the Patriots can’t be discounted in the Tebow discussions. While he needs work as a quarterback, he could get time to develop behind Brady. Tebow is a good football player who is versatile, two things that make Belichick very happy.

Manning’s decision ends months of speculation concerning his future.

Two recent neck surgeries knocked him out for the 2011 season and put his place in the game in doubt, but all three finalists passed him on their physicals.

The Colts, who made Manning the first overall pick in 1998, released him March 7 so they didn’t have to pay a $28 million roster bonus. Manning led the Colts to a Super Bowl title in the 2006 season.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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