Peyton Manning turns 36 years young on Saturday.
The Denver Broncos haven't asked our advice on this (or anything, for that matter), but we've gone ahead and drummed up five highly rational gift ideas for their star quarterback (and no, Mr. Bowlen, the $18 million guaranteed you just parted with does not count).
Bottom line: All Manning wants is redemption. Another Super Bowl. Another two. Not some turtleneck wrapped in a dumb box.
With this in mind, you want to find something for Peyton that he really needs. We suggest the following, which should make everyone at Dove Valley happy as pie:
1. A bona fide, electrifying No. 1 wideout: During Manning's run with the Colts, the team re-stocked this position annually and Denver would be wise to follow suit. No crying over Reggie Wayne re-signing with Indy. He's past his prime and wasn't going to outshine Demaryius Thomas or even Eric Decker. Both are serviceable wideouts who rarely stretched their legs in Denver's read-option experiment behind Tim Tebow. They'll be pushed by Peyton. Eddie Royal's gone and Andre Caldwell's on board, but there's nothing sexy about that transaction. Either Thomas becomes the wideout the team has hoped for, or Denver needs to add a difference-maker to this group. Manning will improve everyone around him, but a true dominator to turn up the volume will turn some of the Broncos hype into substance.
2. A human clone of Jeff Saturday: Maybe even a robot one, but find something. Saturday was in Denver this week for a visit, and what seemed like a foregone conclusion -- reuniting with Manning -- was a nonstarter. Saturday joined the Packers on Friday and that leaves Denver with a weakness to address. J.D. Walton has failed to deliver in his first two seasons and received the second-worst mark among starting centers last season from ProFootballFocus.com. Samson Satele has shown strength as a run blocker, but Denver's interior line remains half-baked. Former Patriots center Dan Koppen is 33 but available and Jeff Faine, cut loose by the Buccaneers, is another name out there (granted, neither will make anyone forget about Saturday). The draft offers talent at this position, with Wisconsin's Peter Konz widely considered a first- or second-round pick. Baylor's Philip Blake might be the next-best option for the Broncos' man-power blocking scheme. Somebody needs to step up to build some Saturday-like chemistry with Manning.
3. A monster defensive tackle(s): Yup, this one's more a Broncos need than a Manning one, but it directly impacts time of possession. The Broncos' attacking 4-3 defense is in trouble if it fails to acquire talent at the position. Brodrick Bunkley skipped town to join the Saints and Marcus Thomas is a free agent. There's little depth left in their wake. One bright spot was re-signing middle linebacker Joe Mays, but the team must find bodies up front. The draft, lucky for Denver, offers one of the best defensive tackle classes in years, and it would be wise for the Broncos to shore this up, or there will be blood.
4. A backup quarterback: Adam Weber. Ever heard of the guy? Keep the name in mind, because if anything happens to Manning, this is all that's behind him at quarterback. Elway wasn't kidding, there's no Plan B here. A reliable veteran might be the best bet. Someone Manning can relate to (and someone who's played more snaps than, say, Adam Weber, who spent last season hidden on the practice squad). Like Manning, Billy Volek is 36, and a trustworthy hire. Other options: Dennis Dixon, Vince Young, and how about Matt Leinart? Want to align every planet in our galaxy, Foxy? Curtis Painter is pounding the pavement, looking for work, and if you don't grab him, CVS will.
5. A heavy dose of John Elway's late-career magic: Before he was the Broncos' vice president of football operations, Elway carved out his place in history as a legend in Denver. After falling short (way short) in three Super Bowls during his youth, he returned to the game's biggest stage to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies after turning 37. Chalk it up as one reason Manning expressed feeling comfortable with Elway and Pat Bowlen, one owner who's grown to trust what quarterbacks nearing 40 can mean to the old trophy case.
Happy birthday, Peyton. May all your dreams come true (Raiders fans: you pipe down).