The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project—unveiled every Wednesday, from May through July—detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
In 1993, the NFL birthed unrestricted free agency. And two decades apart, the two biggest fish were landed: Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White by the Packers in 1993, and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning by the Broncos in 2012 (note his signed contract with club football czar John Elway).
No one ever thought Manning wouldn’t retire a Colt—until four neck surgeries made him a liability, and the Colts could draft wunderkind Andrew Luck. Manning a free agent? Bizarre. The specter of Manning flying from city to city for teams to woo him was a great modern-media/TMZ-like spectacle, but Elway won him the old-fashioned way: no pressure. “There’s got to be a dagger in your gut right now,’’ Elway said to Manning on his recruiting visit to Denver. “Take your time. Be thorough. Make the right decision, whether it’s us or someone else.’’ It was one legend treating another the way he’d want to be treated, and it worked. Two seasons for Manning in Denver, two top AFC playoff seeds, but no Super Bowl championship. Yet.
Free agency worked for White and Manning, but it’s been mostly hit-and-miss with other get-rich-quick stars who didn’t pan out as famously.