Peyton Manning – What Next?

For the third time in 3 years, the Broncos came up short in the playoffs. This time, they were one and done. Today, they did not look even like they were able to stay with the Colts. By the end of the third quarter. the Broncos looked like a team with little in the way of offensive ideas.
More seriously, Peyton Manning, when he did throw deep, looked horrible. Either he and his receivers had never practiced any deep plays recently, or his accuracy was absent. Balls sailed, floated and wobbled in the air, falling incomplete or landing out of bounds. The only good thing is that none of them were intercepted.
The Broncos loaded up on savvy veteran players at a number of skill positions to complement Manning after they signed him in 2011. The veterans are not getting any younger. The team is in good salary cap shape for 2015 and beyond, but if Peyton does retire, they will probably enter a re-building phase. They may soon be looking for a new offensive co-ordinator. Adam Gase is in demand for head coaching positions at present, so he may be gone from the Broncos soon. (The latest rumour mill is that John Fox may be pre-emptively fired by the Broncos for failure to advance in the playoffs, so that the Broncos can promote Gase to the head coach position to prevent him from leaving). Not only that, but defensive co-ordinator Jack Del Rio is also rumoured to be interviewing for head coaching positions, so if they are unlucky, the Broncos may be looking at a coaching overhaul on both sides of the ball.
Manning’s contract salary in 2015 is $19m, which is top of the line franchise money. The question is whether he can play at that level next season.
People have wondered for years why Manning has such a poor playoff record compared to other top flight quarterbacks. My take on this is that he has a poor record because he commits himself 100% to off-season preparation and work, so that he performs, week in and week out, at an astonishingly high level. The downside is that when you reach the playoffs, Peyton does not suddenly become even better, he is already operating at 100%. Other team QBs raise their game, this is the playoffs, lose and you go home.
The question that only Peyton can answer is whether he can continue to play at a level that meets his own standards next year. If he decides he cannot, I am sure that he will retire. I cannot conceive of an athlete of Manning’s intelligence and integrity phoning it in, hanging around when everybody can see that his skills have diminished.
One aspect that sets most smart athletes apart from the rest is their level of self-awareness. They know when to move on. There is nothing sadder than athletes who suffer from the “one last fight” syndrome that boxers fall into, a script which never ends happily. Not all great athletes are able to let go of course. Jerry Rice played into his 40’s, until he reached the point where Mike Shanahan had to sit him down and inform him that he might not even make the Broncos roster as their #4 wide receiver. Then he finally realized he had to retire. His love for the game overrode any consideration of his level of play. Of course, he might simply have not known what to do after retiring from playing, an affliction that has derailed the lives of many professional athletes. I do not think that Peyton Manning will be short of well-paid things to do after he retires. He is a natural for TV work, and his endorsement portfolio has the revenue stream of a small country.
My $0.02? Sometime in the next 2 months, Peyton Manning will retire from playing.
UPDATE – That was fast…John Fox is leaving as the Broncos head coach, less than 24 hours after the end of the Broncos’ season.…the entire coaching team may be heading in all sorts of different directions over the next few weeks. If coaches suspect that Peyton Manning is retiring, they may not want to wait to see what rebuilding takes place, they may want to stay in control of their destiny and get out ahead of any re-organization.

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