When Peyton Manning was asked at the end of last season if he was coming back, he didn’t hesitate and his answer was completely unambiguous. This season, things have changed and when asked the inevitable question about the 2015 season, Manning wasn’t all that clear. "I can't answer every what-if circumstance. What if you're not as healthy? What if certain coaches leave? I can't answer every what-if situation. I think I'll have to take some time to see how I feel, see how I feel physically." Sadly, it’s time for this legend to end his career and consider other pursuits.
After last year’s Super Bowl debacle, many began to question whether Peyton had another year or two left in him. He silenced his critics during the early part of this season, posting 36 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in his first 12 games. Over his final five games of the season however, Peyton would throw for only four touchdowns and six interceptions. Peyton’s critics silenced him.
Manning is arguably the most popular player in the NFL today and is definitely in the conversation for most well-liked and respected player in the history of the NFL. In retirement and off the field, he could accomplish so much. He could engage in further philanthropic endeavors, pursue a career in business, or maybe even land a position in Denver’s front office. But Peyton’s time on the field is coming to an end and he should take a lesson from Brett Favre’s seemingly, never-ending retirement saga and call it quits with his head held high. Manning has simply nothing left to prove.
As Jim Buzinski recently wrote, “He has played for two horse teams during his career, so it's time for Peyton Manning to saddle up a colt or a bronco and ride off into the sunset.”
10 New Coach, New Strategy
In some startling off-season moves, the Broncos saw the departure of their offensive coordinator Adam Gase and their head coach John Fox, both of whom went to the Chicago Bears. In just four years, Fox led Denver to four division titles and a Super Bowl appearance, which just wasn’t good enough apparently. With a new system being devised by current head coach Gary Kubiak, does Peyton really want to subject himself to acquiring such a wealth of new knowledge? His game preparation is the stuff of legend, but even for Manning this may be too drastic of a change. Even if the current, long-term game plan remains relatively untouched (which is a big “if” given that a new OC hasn’t even been hired yet), will Denver coaches try to get it done next year or will this be a two or three plan to get back to the top? Peyton doesn’t know and he shouldn’t have to find out.
9 Commercial & Business Opportunities
We’ve all seen those awful commercials of Manning slinging pizza, but retirement would present Peyton with a whole host of new opportunities. With millions to his name and a sterling reputation across the United States, companies will be lining up to associate Manning with their brand. With ample time on his hands, Manning could invest both his time and money in exciting new business opportunities, whether related to sports or not. Specifically, he could focus on broadening the scope of Manning Passing Academy, which has grown since its inception in 1996. I’m not Peyton’s business manager or accountant, but I imagine both are excited by the prospect of Manning’s looming retirement.
8 Brett Favre
Brett Favre was one of the greatest quarterbacks to play in the NFL, but his legacy was tarnished when he just couldn’t let go of the game and left his friends, family, fans and foes alike dangling with his every ambiguous press conference. It was one thing for Favre to come out of retirement, it was quite another for him to leave Green Bay for divisional rival Minnesota. There is undoubtedly still some lingering bitterness amongst Packer fans, who had to watch Favre return to Lambeau in the purple and gold after 16 seasons in Green Bay. Manning should take a lesson from Favre, who returned to the field one too many times and just didn’t know when it was time to hang up the cleats.
7 Broncos' Future
If Peyton is to be remembered favourably by the Broncos’ faithful, he must recognize that it would be unfair to the team to come back next season, which would likely be his last. With a new coach and offensive coordinator in Denver, let Kubiak and his team devise an all-encompassing plan for how to get back to the top that doesn’t have to center around Peyton. Moreover, by retiring, Manning would clear some much-needed salary cap space that would allow Denver to either bring in a new, proven quarterback or shore up its secondary. The best thing Manning could do for Denver fans in 2015 would be to take a step back and wait for his call to the Hall.
6 Playoff Losses to Indianapolis & Seattle
It isn’t just that Denver lost its two most recent playoff games; it’s how they lost them. Last year’s Super Bowl was never even close and seemed a foregone conclusion from the very first play- an embarrassing safety after Peyton mishandled the opening snap. This could have been forgiven and forgotten given the dominance of Seattle’s defense over the past two seasons. However, Denver looked just as listless and pathetic in its home game against Indianapolis. After putting up a touchdown on their opening drive, the Broncos' offense only scored a dismal six points. Denver would go on to suffer its worst home playoff loss in franchise history. Not all of the blame should be attributed to Manning, but a lot of it should. Compare that to how the Patriots easily handled that Colts' defense the following week.
5 Charity Opportunities
In January, one of the NFL’s most esteemed awards was bestowed upon Peyton Manning: the Bart Starr Award, which honours and recognizes the contributions and character of NFL players off the field.
Peyton received the award for the work of his charity, the Peyback Foundation, which “has provided more than $10 million of impact to at risk youth in Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana and Tennessee through its grants and programs since its inception in 1999. In addition to funding life-enhancing initiatives, Peyton gives his time, leadership and presence to a broad range of worthy causes including the St. Vincent’s Children’s Hospital (Indianapolis), which in 2007 was renamed the “Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.”
In retirement, Peyton could multiply his philanthropic efforts and continue to help enhance and improve the lives of so many people in his community.
4 Coaching, General Manager and Ownership Possibilities
Mr. “Omaha!” is renowned throughout the football world for his legendary playmaking skills and his ability to adapt and change play calls at the line of scrimmage. He is the undisputed king of the audible. He is a beast in the film room. His dedication to his craft and those around him is unparalleled. These talents would translate beautifully into a head coaching role or even a general manager position.
Attention to detail is perhaps the most crucial skill a coach or a GM can possess in this game of inches (as was proven on the last drive of the most recent Super Bowl). Peyton is well respected by those around him and would inspire loyalty and devotion amongst his players, as he does now. Don’t be surprised to see coach Peyton in Denver or Indianapolis in the next five years. There's even speculation floating around that Manning would be interested in owning a franchise, with the Tennessee Titans rumored as his target due to his history in the state.
3 Health & Age
Football is a dangerous sport; no one (not even anyone in the league’s front offices) are denying that anymore. Long-term injury risks continue to amplify as a player ages and Peyton will be 39 in March. No quarterback has ever even played in a Super Bowl past the age of 37, with the exceptions of John Elway, who became the oldest quarterback to ever win a ring at the age of 38, and Tom Brady most recently. Manning has already missed an entire season due to grievous neck injury and he played with a torn quad for a large portion of this season. The risks to Manning are simply too great and this man owes it to himself and his family not to take chances with his long-term health.
2 Denver is Done
Denver’s shot at another ring has passed and there’s simply no way that Manning will host the Lombardi Trophy again. He’s a one and done type of guy. Sure, under the tutelage of Kubiak, Manning and company may be able to lead Denver to another divisional title in a less-than-stellar AFC West. And they may squeak out a wild card or even a divisional round win. But there is very little chance that Denver could go into Foxborough or Pittsburgh and escape with an AFC Championship banner. Even if they could, Seattle or Green Bay would likely embarrass them again. Denver’s window of opportunity has unfortunately closed for the foreseeable future. Deep down, in his heart of hearts, Manning must know this.
1 Nothing Left to Prove
I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves:
Super Bowl Rings: 1
Career TDs: 509
Single Season TD Record: 55
Career Playoff Games: 24
Most passing yards in a season: 5,477
Most TDs in a single game: 7
Manning has proven that he is the greatest regular season quarterback in the history of the NFL. That is undeniable. What has also been proven is that Manning simply can’t get it done consistently in the playoffs. He has appeared in the playoffs 14 times, including a stunning nine one-and-done’s while posting a mediocre 11-13 record. We all know Peyton can light it up in Week 4 against the Raiders and Titans of the league. But if he gets knocked out again in another playoff home game, it will merely serve as a reminder that while you may always want him on your fantasy team, you’d never want him when a playoff game is on the line in the fourth quarter.