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Peyton Manning's decision: How will Manning decide to retire or return?

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Peyton Manning is not expected to make a decision about his potential return to the Denver Broncos until after his physical in early March. But how will he make that decision?

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Peyton Manning has a big decision in front of him. Hang up the football helmet after a disappointing playoff loss and retire, or embrace another year as the Broncos top QB after almost a clean sweep of the Broncos coaching staff.

Will he return? Will he retire?

The short answer to this question right now is simple:

Only Manning knows.

And it's likely even he isn't sure right now. After all, there still is a bit of uncertainty about what injury/injuries Manning was even dealing with the second half of the season (quad strain, tear, one thigh, two thighs, etc).

Manning has always been fairly consistent when asked about his retirement. He wants to keep playing as long as he enjoys "the work and preparation." I don't doubt for a second that Manning wants to come back next season. I don't think there are any signs that Manning enjoys preparing for games any less than he did at this point last year. But there are a lot of other things to consider for Peyton Manning.

Here are some of the topics I'm guessing must make the dinner table discussion at the Manning household.

Injury

If Peyton Manning doesn't pass his physical in March the decision will be taken out of his hands. I'm no doctor, but who wouldn't be surprised if something showed up on Manning's physical that caused concern for his long-term health. That's what four neck surgeries and getting tackled to the ground repeatedly can do to a person.

Manning is also recovering from a quad injury. While I'm sure he'll recover from this injury, if it takes longer than expected for Manning to feel back to his regular self, it might be a bit of wake up call. It takes longer to recover from any injury when you are 38 and 10-15 years older than a lot of your teammates. It just does.

Manning has to think about several things injury-wise. Will his legs fully recover? As many have said before, Manning's throws depend almost more on the health of his legs than his arm. Can he retain the arm strength he has another year? Even if he is fully recovered from his quad injury by the summer, is it realistic that he will make it a whole season without an injury that will greatly affect his play? And will Manning be willing to potentially spend more time on the bench to keep him healthy for the entire season, which hopefully includes a long playoff run? (Assuming that's what the coaches want him to do.)

Does he feel wanted/ will he fit in with the new system?

John Elway was very clear in his recent press conference. He wants Manning to come back for another year. But he has to say that, right? It's the classy thing to say after all.

John Elway went one step further in the press conference however that makes the above statement seem more truthful to me. Elway said that Manning would be consulted during the head coach search. Elway clearly didn't need to say this. But he did. I feel like this is a signal that 1) Elway really does want Manning back and 2) he's most likely not going to hire a new coach who also wouldn't want Manning back.

As to the question of whether Manning would fit into Kubiak's system I think this is a bit of a non-issue. If Manning and Kubiak want to make it work, they will. If there is any tension between Manning and Kubiak, or if Manning considered Adam Gase's exit from the team a deal breaker, Manning has a pretty easy out if he wants to take it.

Money

Peyton Manning is certainly not hurting in the money department no matter what he decides to do about his career in the NFL. However, it would be hard for anyone to turn down the $19 million he will get if he passes his physical in March. Depending on what Manning's plans are after he retires, that $19 million may or may not be a big decision point.

Speaking of Manning's future plans . . .

There has been a lot of speculation about what Peyton Manning will do with himself after he retires. Coach, GM, part-owner of an NFL team have all been thrown around as possible post-QB careers for Manning.

There are rumors of Manning becoming a part-owner of the Tennessee Titans and rumors that Manning's friend and owner of the Cleveland Browns is "saving" a job in the front office there for Manning when he retires. These rumors are just that, rumors. But you've got to believe Manning has his eye on his post-QB future.

While it appears Manning enjoys living in Denver, I would doubt he stays here long-term after he retires. I see Manning possibly moving back home to New Orleans, Tennessee (where his wife's family currently lives and where he went to college), or even Indianapolis after he retires. Fun fact: Peyton's wife Ashley Manning is part-owner of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

Most if not all of these potential plans would be options for Manning whenever he retires. And few, if any, of these opportunities would be affected if he came back for one more year but played well below his usual level.  There are some opportunities however that have a clock on them. If there is a new career Manning has his eyes on and it's a now or maybe never type of situation, I can see Manning leaving now to ensure the second half of his career is an successful as the first.

You've got to believe Manning has his eye on his post-QB future.

Manning also has his family to think about

Peyton Manning and his wife Ashley have always been very private about their personal lives. It's as rare to see their twins in a photo as it is common to see their dad on TV. So it's impossible to even really speculate about how his family life will affect his decision (if it affects it at all). If his wife really loves it in Denver (or the opposite) I'm guessing that will affect his decision in some way. Maybe the Mannings want to get settled long term before their twins get much older, or maybe the idea of moving at any time in the future is a non-issue for them. While I imagine personal concerns like this will come into play, I'm also assuming Manning will keep this information private. Good for them.

Going out on top

If Manning retires now his last game will have been a bit of a stinker. No one likes to go out like that. Every NFL player wants to go out on top holding the Lombardi trophy (like somebody whose last name rhymes with Melway), but that's just not realistic for the vast majority of players.

Will Manning's competitiveness (some would say ego) drive him back to the field one more season to make sure his team either wins the Super Bowl or at least goes out kicking and screaming? Or will Manning not want to chance a major decline by playing another year? Manning said earlier in the season he agreed with Tom Brady that he would retire "when he sucked." Is that time now or does Manning have more in the tank?

One thing we do know . . .

Is that we should find out if Manning will return by early March. Since Manning has been a huge draw for free agents it's in everyone's best interest for him to announce his decision as soon as the physical is completed. Certainly the Broncos need to know before the draft whether or not they'll have Manning back for another season.

While Broncos Country appears to be split about whether or not Manning should return, there is one thing I think everyone can agree on. It sure would be nice to see a Manning-led Broncos team take on a Brady-led Patriots team at Mile High Stadium for the first time in a regular season game.