Broncos trade Manning's backup

Adam Weber isn't ready to carry Peyton Manning's cleats, or his clipboard, writes Len Pasquarelli, who says a backup quarterback better be a leading priority in Denver.

Having successfully completed the heavy lifting of securing the services of four-time most valuable player Peyton Manning, some weighty quarterback issues still remain for Denver Broncos officials.

Like finding a backup.

No matter the manner of resolution, Tim Tebow is gone. Long before landing Manning, the Broncos' brass had concluded that Tebow wasn't a viable starter for them, despite the flimsy public support offered him.

The team had agreed to parameters of a trade with the Jets on Wednesday, knowing the presence of a demoted Tebow would be a distraction, and keeping him would be a disservice both to the team and the quarterback. Their feelings for Tebow as a player aside, Broncos officials still respect him as a person, and will attempt to do right by him, even if he doesn't land with the Jets in the end.

And, more important, do the right thing for the team.

Part of the right thing is bolstering a depth chart that, not counting Manning and the soon-to-depart Tebow, includes only one other quarterback under contract. That would be Adam Weber, who spent 2011 on the Denver practice squad, and then was signed to a "futures" contract after the season. Weber started a Big Ten-record 50 games at the University of Minnesota, and threw for nearly 11,000 yards in his career, only the fifth player in the conference's fabled history to reach five figures in passing yards.

But to suggest that Weber is ready to take on the No. 2 role would be blasphemous.

Even though the Denver medical staff has cleared Manning, who has undergone four neck surgeries including a disc fusion procedure, this isn't the same No. 18 who didn't miss a start in his first 13 NFL seasons. Hey, here's hoping that Manning is completely healed from the four procedures, and that he makes all 16 starts for the Broncos in 2012. But the task of starting all 16 games, even for the healthiest of quarterbacks, has become a daunting one. Last season, less than half the passers in the league, just 14, accomplished the feat.

For sure, Manning is one of the most prideful people in the game, and his makeup includes a healthy dose of I'll-show-them. Still, Manning will be 36 in three days, hasn't faced a pass rush in over 13 months, and, doctors reports notwithstanding, has to be viewed with some skepticism until he gets behind center in a regular-season game, starts flapping his arms to signal the direction of the pressure, then steps into the pocket and delivers a laser.

And so for executive vice president John Elway, coach John Fox, and the merry band of evaluator/lieutenants who traipsed after them during the Manning auditions, the work isn't complete yet. First, there is the messy matter of disposing of Tebow, then the critical decision about a No. 2 quarterback.

Heaven forbid the Broncos jettison Tebow, then Manning suffers a setback in his rehabilitation or is injured during a game.

In Manning's first 13 seasons, before the injury, his backups averaged 16.1 attempts per season. Probably half or more of those 209 passes came in late-season games in which Manning was yanked early, because Indianapolis' playoff berth was secured. Just once in the13 years did a Colts' backup register more than 40 attempts. There is a chance, given Manning's physical woes, that some Denver caddy might be required to throw that many passes in a game in 2012. Denver officials have begun their due diligence, inviting free agents Billy Volek and Caleb Hanie for visits and meeting with Hanie on Wednesday. But the 35-year-old Volek, recently released by San Diego, hasn't started a game since 2005, and has logged only 132 attempts in the six seasons since.

Hanie threw 14 passes his first three seasons in the league, with Chicago, but was 0-4 when forced to replace an injured Jay Cutler last year, and then was replaced by a guy -- Josh McCown -- the Bears signed off the street for the final two contests.

The Broncos are thought to be somewhat enamored of Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, but he's 28 years old, having knocked around the minor leagues for five years while chasing a baseball career.

As of Wednesday morning, 13 franchises in the league had made offseason moves that will affect, and in most cases upgrade, the backup quarterback spot. Denver is likely to follow suit at some point. Now that the Broncos brass can congratulate itself on the recruitment of Manning, and take a day or two to exhale, it's time to start holding its breath once again.

Time was when the identity of Manning's backup didn't much matter. But that was then and this is now.

The first part of the task has been successfully completed. The second part of the quarterback equation for the Broncos isn't quite so critical, but it's still important.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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