Peyton Manning to the Broncos: Do Late-Career Trades Ever Work?

Without question, the biggest move of the NFL offseason was the Denver Broncos' signing of Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96 million deal.  Manning, who had spent his entire 14-year career with the Indianapolis Colts, sat out last season while recovering from neck surgery and was the odd man out when the club made Andrew Luck the top pick in the NFL Draft. 

While he probably could have stayed on in Indy as Luck's mentor (and at a significantly reduced salary), the 36-year old Manning instead opted for another chance at the Super Bowl with a team that won the AFC West a year ago.

But does it ever work when a playoff team makes a trade for a veteran gunslinger in the twilight of his career?

It most certainly can.

There have been a total of 54 quarterbacks that have made at least one start in the Super Bowl.  Eleven of those did so after establishing themselves as a starter with another team earlier in their careers: 

Player

Team Change

Year

Fran Tarkenton

NYG/MN

1972

Craig Morton

NYG/DEN

1977

Jim Plunkett

SF/OAK

1978

Doug Williams

USFL/WAS

1986

Chris Chandler

HOU/ATL

1997

Trent Dilfer

TB/BAL

2000

Kerry Collins

NO/NYG

1999

Brad Johnson

WAS/TAM

2001

Rich Gannon

KAN/OAK

1999

Kurt Warner

NYG/ARI

2005

Drew Brees

SD/NO

2006

Some Observations:

1. Quarterbacks can certainly win a Super Bowl with their new team. 

Five of the quarterbacks on this list wound up winning the championship:  Plunkett (twice), Williams, Dilfer, Johnson, and Brees. 

2. Level of dominance does not appear to be a factor when it comes to this list. 

While all of these quarterbacks reached the pinnacle of their profession, it is hardly a list of all-time greats.  Tarkenton is the only one of those quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, though Warner and possibly Brees are future candidates.  Manning, of course, is a future first-ballot selection for the Hall.

Even the individual Super Bowl seasons for the quarterbacks on this list is a mixed bag.  Tarkenton, Gannon, Warner, and Brees were all MVP candidates during their Super Bowl years with their new teams, while Chandler and Johnson were both Pro Bowlers.  Dilfer and Williams, meanwhile, were midseason replacements, and the other three on the list all put up mediocre numbers on the year.

It's safe to say that, in a few of these cases, it was not quarterback play that sent those teams to the Super Bowl.

3. Taking two teams to the Super Bowl is rare.

Manning, who guided the Colts to the Super Bowl in 2006 and 2009, is trying to become just the third quarterback to start in the game for two different franchises.  He would join Craig Morton (Dallas and Denver) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis and Arizona), neither of whom won the game with their new team. 

4. Age and injuries are more of a factor with Manning than any player on this list.

Manning, who turned 36 last March, is two years older than any of the quarterbacks on the list when they joined their new teams.  Only Gannon and Warner (both age 37) were older when they guided those teams to the Super Bowl. 

The most important issue, however, is durability.  A few of those quarterbacks had injury issues in their careers (Chandler and Gannon were notoriously fragile), while a few others missed time because they were trying to regain their starting jobs.  However, none of the quarterbacks listed above had to come back from something as serious as the neck surgery Manning had last September. 

This is what makes the Peyton Manning signing the highest risk/reward move in recent football history.  Manning is one of the all-time greats at the position, but the risk of injury is high and he is unlikely to be the same player who started the first 227 games of his career.  At this stage, Manning may be more a game manager than a gunslinger who can beat teams with his arm.

Then again, with the Broncos' defense, he may not need to be anything else. 

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