CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The New York Giants benched Eli Manning on Tuesday, a move so jarring it knocked glasses off shelves in Denver.
Anyone who has watched the Broncos knows the team's top priority this offseason remains finding a starting quarterback. The last time the Broncos chased a franchise arm they landed Peyton Manning. All he did was string together the four greatest passing seasons in Broncos' history, claim four straight AFC West titles, reach the Super Bowl twice, and win it once.
So why not revisit the Manning connection? Um, because Eli is not Peyton. The Broncos chased Peyton Manning full-throttle with admittedly no Plan B. In talking to multiple NFL sources, the Broncos do not view Eli in the same fashion. Obviously, Denver will keep all options open, but don't assume the Broncos will pursue Eli.
The reality is Manning has struggled since winning two Super Bowls. When the Broncos landed Peyton, the concern centered on his recovery from multiple neck surgeries, not performance. He belongs in the debate as the greatest of all-time. Eli is 11 games under .500 with 78 interceptions over the past five seasons. He makes a lot more sense in Jacksonville, where his former coach Tom Coughlin is running the show, than Denver, which has multiple holes to fill.
Given how competitive Broncos general manager John Elway is, I expect him to chase a free agent even if the Broncos have a top five pick in the draft. Kirk Cousins tops most lists. Will Washington allow him to walk, sign him to a longterm deal or franchise tag him for a third-consecutive season? Cousins, 29, brings elite arm talent and is seven years younger than Eli Manning. There remains the suspicion Cousins will end up in San Francisco, reuniting with former Washington coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In that scenario, Jimmy Garoppolo becomes trade bait, and yes I would assume the Broncos would have interest.
Drew Brees would represent a more similar signing to Peyton Manning than Eli. He is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's hard to imagine him finishing his career anywhere but New Orleans. He is the Saints. Hypothetically, if the season veers off track and coach Sean Payton exits, there is a slim possibility Brees could become a free agent. But he's 39.
Kansas City's Alex Smith is becoming a more realistic target for teams. Along with his team, Smith is mired in a slump. He appears to have lost his confidence throwing down field, resorting to check downs that defined his career and helped submarine Kansas City in the playoffs.
There figures to be other options as well, like Buffalo's Tyrod Taylor and Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.
The draft is appealing because of USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and Wyoming's Josh Allen, among others. However, if the Broncos draft a quarterback in the first round it almost screams patience required. That would be a script flip for this franchise which never uses the 'P' word.
Let's be clear, the Broncos' problems extend beyond quarterback. They must find a right or left tackle and inside linebacker help.The band-aid, second-tier free agent approach at right tackle failed with Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson. I would chase left tackle Nate Solder, a former University of Colorado star, who grew up in the state. Securing a player of his ilk would require moving rookie Garett Bolles to the right side, but would represent a chance for significant improvement.
As the Broncos look to execute a rebound, it starts with landing a franchise quarterback and solidifying the tackle position. It does not necessarily involve the pursuit of Eli Manning.