O’Boyle: Manning’s time has come
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, January 22, 2015
You may have almost missed it among all the tedious stories about deflated footballs, but on Wednesday, a piece of NFL news that actually matters came out: Peyton Manning plans to return to the Denver Broncos in 2015.
Manning, 39 years old and coming off a quad injury that seriously affected his form late in the season, will have to undergo a physical before the Denver Broncos decide to keep him on for another year, but sources close to the quarterback claim he hopes to come back.
At first, I was elated. I love to watch Peyton Manning play, and I’m usually a huge fan of watching older players continue on even if their best is behind them. Every time a team’s starting QB goes down, I kind of hope Brett Favre will get a phonecall. I’d still like to see Terrell Owens return to the league for one last obnoxious celebration. When a 52-year-old Herschel Walker said he could still play in the NFL last year, I hoped to see him try. But for Manning, the time has come to say goodbye.
Sure, Peyton’s stats over the course of the season would still put him firmly among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. Before he strained his quad in week 14, he was arguably in the top 5. And sure, great players sometimes just have a blip in form: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers both had shaky starts, and both turned it around. And sure, maybe you don’t want your last memory of Peyton on a football field being the disappointing, overthrow-ridden performance he put in against the Colts, but for the sake of Manning, the Broncos and NFL fans everywhere, it is best if his team decides to go on without him.
First, Manning is owed $20 million next year if he isn’t cut by March 9th, compared to just $5 million in dead money if the Broncos move on. Even with the way quarterback contracts have grown recently, that’s a lot of money. With 17 contracts set to expire at the end of the season, including both Julius and Demaryius Thomas, John Elway could do with freeing up that kind of cap space to lock down the younger players on his team long-term.
But can the Broncos replace Manning? It’s obviously an important question to ask. Not every team moves from Hall-of-Famer to Hall-of-Famer like the Packers did. Denver fans can’t have forgotten that three years ago their quarterback was Tim Tebow, and no one wants to go back to that. But what the Broncos do have is a young player with incredible raw talent and one of the best nicknames in football in Brock “Brock Lobster” Osweiler.
Osweiler will be entering his fourth year in the league and for the sake of the Broncos’ future, it’s time they know what they have in him. A 6’8” monster with a huge arm, Osweiler could be lethal with the right coaching, but the Broncos need to find out before his contract’s up and make a huge decision. Denver will need a quarterback soon whether Manning stays or goes — it needs to start the search now.
Regardless of whether or not Osweiler works out, if the Broncos care about winning a Superbowl, they should move on from Manning because ultimately he’ll never win another. “Peyton can’t do it in the playoffs” has been said for years, but now it’s undoubtedly true, and not because he’s “not clutch”. Manning simply doesn’t have the body for 19 games. He can start a season well, like he did this year, but between his neck surgeries and the rest of his aging body he just can’t keep it up. He was already in a decline before his quad strain this year, and if he comes back, he’ll find it even harder to keep his early-season form up next year.
And let’s not forget the long-term effects of Peyton’s health. His neck remains a risk, not just to his hopes of playing pro football, but to his quality of life in the future: one bad hit could cause serious harm. You can’t ignore the effect of concussions in the modern game either — Manning singing advertising jingles to his chicken parm may soon be depressingly close to reality.
At this point, it’s inevitable he’ll go soon. You just have to come to terms with Peyton exiting the league: with 4.6 yards per attempt in a 24-13 playoff defeat. Maybe it’s not perfect, but if he has to retire on a bad note, at least it was against Indianapolis. Let Peyton’s last pass be the torch to Andrew Luck, who can lead the Colts and dominate the NFL the way Manning once did.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.