Dear Peyton -
Last year at this time, I wrote you a very different letter. I still stand by every single word of it, and should your legacy come into question this season - or any other - I will exploit that post all over again.
But right now we need to have a heart-to-heart while you are considering what to do next year.
"Peyton doesn't need to know if we want him or not. He's needs to decide what he wants to do." - Elway on Manning's decision to retire— Laurie Volkmann (@docllv) January 20, 2015
This decision isn't about what you've done or what you have left to do. It's not even about what you are able to do (because despite the critics, that is still a lot).
It's about what you want to do.
And I'm not talking about do you want to win. That's a given.
Or if you want to put in the work. I know deep down you still want the grind, the long hours, even the aches and pains that go along with an NFL career. Studying film, reading a defense, sitting in the ice bath, celebrating a win and even commiserating a loss...that's what you come to work for - to experience the journey and work with your teammates.
It's the second-best part of the game, and it will be the last thing you want to give up.
No, this is about whether you genuinely want to play football ... and I mean really play it even if the chips fall right or if they all fall wrong.
It's a long season, and your head has to be in the game, even more so than your body.
It's about having the mental energy to compete and fight for another year even if the team falters, the W-L record collapses, the season ends too early and there's no glorious trophy to hoist. Or having to fight because the team is on the hunt and the season is on the line.
Mostly it's about not being afraid - to be disappointed or overjoyed.
It's not easy to answer, but it is a simple choice - commit to playing without fear or don't commit to playing.
What many of your young teammates have yet to discover is the perspective shift that happens when they grow older in their pro football careers. As the years go by, they'll stop making goals on all the things they look forward to accomplishing, but rather on what they need to do before they can feel good about putting the uniform away.
It's subtle. In most cases it isn't even realized by the player. But it's powerful. It changes the game from playing to win to playing not to lose.
John Elway knows that fear. And he conquered it (if it ever really existed). So can you.
"The older you get, sometimes you lose why you are playing the game," Broncos GM John Elway said Tuesday. "You start thinking of the end goal before you get there and then you're not enjoying football."
Elway knows it isn't about just going out on the field and enjoying football. It's about ignoring the pressure that you may not win the Super Bowl before your career is over. You may not win the AFC Championship. You may not even win the division or make the playoffs.
But you have to love playing and competing - even going down kicking and screaming - in spite of that knowledge.
You're used to putting pressure on yourself to be a smart quarterback, complete a great throw, not make a bad decision and generally maneuver a way to score. But pressure that once was a motivator can easily become an obstacle without the proper target.
In my amateur sports psychology opinion, this explains your less-than-stellar performance the second half of the season - a perspective shift from playing to win to playing not to lose.
And I believe it happened Feb. 3, 2014. Nobody took that Super Bowl loss harder than you. And we failed to understand that.
In our zealous pursuit for a revenge tour this season, we were just rallying behind our Broncos, getting excited about our "tougher, meaner, nastier defense" and relishing in our obscene offensive power from 2013 that surely could repeat (even as absurd a notion as that was).
But when neither of those panned out as we had scripted in our minds, we blamed you. We know you aren't solely responsible for those losses any more than you could be the lone hero for all the wins in 2013.
But we didn't make it easy for you to keep the proper perspective of competing for the love of winning versus the fear of losing.
You are an elite quarterback. You are among a very few Greatest Of All Time QBs in the NFL. There have been a good many players who had your immeasurable skills, your knowledge of the game, your will to win and your humility under the spotlight.
Yet none has had all of those, or for so long, or to such a high degree.
You are a true gift to the Broncos, just as you were to the Colts and definitely to the entire NFL.
But a decision to play another year can't be about any of those things. It can't be about whether you can help the Broncos win a Super Bowl, whether you can help us through the playoffs, whether you can break another record, adopt another offense or can still engineer amazing come-from-behind wins.
I believe you can do all of those things still. I know you can. (And to all the critics, Peyton and I both have a message for you).
Let your injury heal, give the offense another offseason to click, bank on a better O-Line (that, by the way, will be your favorite thing about Gary Kubiak) - and you will be as good as we need you to be for a championship run.
Your decision also can't be about what fans want - or don't want. I know you would never let fans make up your mind, but just to be clear...many of us are finicky and selfish and have short memories regarding wins but long grudges over losses (For example, we still hate the 49ers, Giants and Redskins for the 80s Super Bowl losses, as well as the Jaguars and Ravens for early exits in the playoffs, and of course the Seahawks and Patriots). Basically, most of us are ridiculous. Ignore us.
Your decision only comes down to being able to give it your all - your unfettered, no-fear commitment to compete no matter the outcome.
Because that is the first-best part of playing the game.