Editor sees Manning’s retirement on the horizon

Austin Hamm Sports Editor


Following the Denver Broncos divisional round playoff loss at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning faced questions about his future, and answered with the least clarity he ever had since the neck surgery that forced him to miss the 2011 season and ultimately led to the dissolution of his relationship with the Colts.

When asked, straight up in his post-game press conference, whether he would return to the Broncos next year, Manning said “Uh, yeah, I guess I just can’t give that simple answer. I’m processing it. I can’t say that. I could not say that.’’

As Manning mulls over his future, just about every person with any interest in the sport of professional football will be giving their opinion about what one of the best to ever play the quarterback position should do. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly say that I believe it is time for Peyton to hang up the cleats and ride off into the sunset.

My belief is not founded in the statistics. When you examine Manning’s numbers from this year and compare them to his career numbers, it would seem he put up what could be considered, at least for him, a slightly above average year. If you’re looking for numerical data to show that Manning showed any form of regression this year, you would be confined to the advance metrics tracked by ESPN Stats & Info or the Elias Sports Bureau.

My uninvited opinion is instead based purely on the often criticized “eye test.” When I watched Manning this year, particularly in the latter half of the season, I saw what looked to me to be a shell of the dominant quarterback I remembered. Peyton seemed to have difficulty driving the ball downfield on his throws, settling for check downs and screens, leading to numbers that represent a kind of faux efficiency. He leaned on his running game more and more as the year went on, with many of the Broncos’ most dominating performances coming in games when their rushing attack seemed unstoppable.

I know that many winning teams in history have been built on the principle of powerful defense, a solid running game, and a game manager quarterback. It seems that this is what the Broncos evolved into as this season went on. I have no issue with that happening this season, as the in-season goal is to make the adjustments necessary to win games, but Peyton Manning is not a game manager. His is, at least, one of the five best quarterbacks to ever play. Playing out his final years as a glorified game manager would only sully the outstanding resume he has built.

Those who feel Manning should stay will point out that Manning reportedly played the last several weeks of the year with a torn quad and that he has two years and $38 million left on his contract. First off, at this stage, it’s not about the money for Peyton. He’s made his money and has enough to live well for the rest of his life. In regards to the injury, Peyton will turn 39 this March. A torn quad is an injury that full recovery can feasibly be expected from, but at this stage it seems more like something that could just put a lower ceiling on his level of play going forward and just another thing that could hurt his life after football.

Walking away from football after this type of a career would be an incredibly challenging decision, but I think that when Peyton examines his legacy, he will find that walking away now will be the most honorable way to end his legendary time in this league. The only thing that may haunt him is his 11-13 record in the playoffs. Indeed, that may be the greatest thing standing between him and the title of Greatest of All Time, but two years of physical abuse as the aforementioned glorified game manager will not likely change that.

I know Peyton could return and be an All-Pro QB for two years—he could get healthy this offseason and make another run at 60 touchdown passes next year. But the evolution of this year’s Broncos, the underwhelming performance against the Colts and the exit of John Fox make this feel like the end of an era in Denver. That loss to the Colts felt almost like a torch passing ceremony to Andrew Luck. It feels like it is time Peyton. Walk away with your head held high, for you played this game at a level that very few will ever achieve.