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Manning eager to start next chapter with Broncos

By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - Four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning has a new football home, calling Denver a great fit for the next chapter in his illustrious career after announcing on Tuesday he had signed to play with the Broncos.

Terms of the deal for the 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback were not disclosed but a report on the National Football League's website said it was for five years and $96 million, a deal that would give Manning the league's top average annual salary.

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my playing career for the Denver Broncos," Manning told a news conference at team headquarters in Denver.

"This organization is committed to winning. This truly is a special football environment ... in the end I thought the Broncos were just a great fit."

The deal came two weeks after Manning, who missed the entire 2011 NFL season after multiple neck surgeries, was cut by the Indianapolis Colts, where he won a Super Bowl and broke all of the franchise's major career passing records in his 14 seasons.

The Broncos, with Tim Tebow playing quarterback, overcame a slow start last season but won their division with an 8-8 record and went on to stun the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime in the playoffs before falling to the New England Patriots.

"Peyton is one of the best ever to play this game and I feel very fortunate to have him here," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "Our goal has always been to win Super Bowls and Peyton gives us a chance to win another world championship."

Manning will wear No. 18 on his jersey, just as he did in Indianapolis, after getting the blessing of Frank Tripucka, the Bronco's initial quarterback whose jersey number had been retired by Denver.

WOOED BY ELWAY

After the Colts cut Manning following a 2-14 record in his absence to embark on a rebuilding process rather than pay him a contracted $28 million bonus, a slew of teams expressed interest in the NFL's most coveted free agent ever.

Manning narrowed down the contenders to the Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans before ultimately calling Denver this week to inform them of his decision.

The 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback was wooed to the Broncos by Denver's chief of football operations John Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who led the team to five AFC titles and two Super Bowl victories, including the club's last triumph in 1999.

"I believe that we're so fortunate that he's picked the Denver Broncos. I believe he's got a lot of great football left in him," said Elway. "We're going to do everything we can to compete for world championships."

Manning indicated that Elway helped sway his decision.

"I have always had a great deal of respect for John Elway," said Manning, who turns 36 this month. "He's one of the best quarterbacks ever to play this game, and his knowledge and respect for the game is evident in everything that he does.

"Talking football with John and coach (John) Fox and his staff helped me realize that this is a great place to be."

Manning, who threw for the three finalist teams in the bidding and underwent physical exams, said he felt good enough that he could play this coming Sunday if he had to.

CHALLENGE AHEAD

The quarterback dodged questions about whether former Colts team mates who are free agents might join the Broncos, and whether Tebow would likely remain with the team or be traded.

"I am not going to be the offensive coordinator, I am not going to be involved in personnel decisions, not even the least bit," he said. "I am here simply to be a team mate ... to do whatever I can to help this team win."

Manning said he still had work to do to get stronger but that he was eager to get started on his future with the Broncos after a season lost due to neck injuries.

"I know what a challenge I'm in for, there's no question about it," he said. "In some ways I feel my body will be rested, will be fresher in some ways.

"There's no question you'd rather not have taken a year off, but hopefully I can turn that into a positive and be fresher and have certain other parts of my body be healthier and more rested not having taken a bunch of hits this year."

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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