I've been holding this in since the day after the Debacle in Denver two weeks ago, but it's time to break my silence. My question to all of you is simple, "Should Peyton Manning come back?" Note that I didn't say "will Peyton come back" or "Can Peyton come back?" I'm talking about SHOULD Peyton Manning come back. Let's discuss shall we?
Well, my worst dreams came true, Peyton Manning looked old. We could all see the 38 years of wear and tear on his body. Worse yet, he's been injured the last two seasons. But is that an excuse for his play? Afterall, the notion goes that if you can lace them up on Sunday, then you aren't hurt enough for it to be an excuse. Everyone in the playoffs is hurt. You can either play through it or you can't. That is why his quad(s) just don't cut it as an excuse for his poor performance. If he was hurt that bad, then why did he play against the Raiders and the Bengals? If he was hurt that bad, why didn't he bench himself in a blowout victory against Oakland? If he was that hurt, why didn't Brock see some action in the playoffs, especially once the route was on?
What I'm trying to do here is frame the picture about his injury and why it shouldn't be used as an excuse for his poor play. Aside from that, he's going to be yet another year older. Let me tell you a brief history lesson about Father Time: You see, Father Time is the ultimate competitor and champion. In trillions of matches, he's never been defeated. What are the two "guarantees" in life again? Oh yeah, it's death and taxes. Well, Father Time is responsible for the death part. But that's far too morbid for this conversation, so let's rewind the death part by 50 or so years.
Where does that leave us? Ah yes, that leaves us with a football player who started showing signs of breaking down physically when he was 34 years old while playing in a sport that is built for 24 year olds. Yes my friends, that 34 year old QB had to have four neck surgeries. The next year at age 35, he took the year off while trying to retool his game and get to where he was able to even throw a football again. The next three years went as such:
- 2012 at the age of 36 and coming off a full year's rest (i.e. not taking any sort of punishment to his aging body), Peyton Manning played amazingly. He didn't get hurt, he didn't get injured, and he didn't disappoint in the stats department. Yes, 2012 was my favorite "Peyton Manning Season for Denver." I said it this year and I said it last year that the 2012 squad would have beaten both 2013 and 2014's team, and I still stand behind that. Just remember that Peyton made it through that entire season completely healthy and our dominance because of that was unquestioned.
- 2013 saw Peyton shatter single season records, but he was also a year older (37) and he was coming off a year in which he took a full season's worth of poundings. See, unlike in 2012 when he had an entire year of rest and relaxation, Peyton now only had a few months to recover, and it showed. In week 6, he got hurt playing against the Jaguars. His output for the next month was far below the ridiculous pace he set. Yes, Peyton still broke records, but Father Time was creeping up on him.
- 2014 again saw Peyton with limited time to recover from the pounding he took the previous season. And yes, my calendar said that he turned yet another year older. He is now 38 and coming off of a physical butt kicking from an extremely long season. Instead of his season ending in early January, his season ended in early February, thus giving his old and tired body one less month to heal. Well, much like in 2013, he got hurt in 2014. This time, thanks to an even older body, his injury was worse and it took longer to heal. Heck, it still isn't healed. His play suffered mightily because of his injury. Heck, because of how poorly he played, he was a middle of the pack QB instead of an elite QB. I'm not saying he can't return to his elite status, but that is sure how he finished the season.
Now for the real heartache: Father Time is undefeated. Let me give you a few facts about ageing:
Fact: As you get older, you get more prone to injury, not less prone to injury.
Fact: As you get older, your injuries get more severe, not less severe.
Fact: As you get older, your injuries impact you more, not less.
Fact: As you get older, your mind and body slow down, they don't stay the same or get better.
Why am I saying this? Easy, it's because of the question of SHOULD Peyton come back.
You see, if Peyton comes back, you would be foolish to think that he will make it an entire season injury free. If Peyton comes back, you'd be foolish to believe that whatever injury he will almost certainly suffer won't impact him as much if not greater than his quad(s). If Peyton comes back, you'd be foolish to believe that his arm will get any better. Remember, he doesn't have much zip on his passes right now, much less after another year has passed. His intelligence can only take him so far. Sooner or later, he's going to have to throw the ball, and the amount of throws he's capable of making are dwindling by the week.
Simply put, I don't trust Peyton throwing sideline passes. He doesn't have enough zip on the balls, so those passes are particularly susceptible to deflection or interceptions. Anticipation and intelligence can only take him so far. Unfortunately for Peyton, his brain isn't throwing the ball, his arm is, and that arm is getting weaker and weaker. His sideline passes have no zip on them. You simply can't give cornerbacks that much time to close in on an out route without them having a better than 50% chance of knocking it away or picking it off. If you have a quarterback who physically can't make all the throws, then you really need to start asking yourself if he SHOULD come back.
Another aspect of the "should" he come back question is his salary. The Broncos have a ton of free agents this season. Demaryius Thomas, Nate Irving, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, and Virgil Green are but a few of the more prominent names on that list. Why do I mention them? Simple: It's because Peyton Manning is not playing like a $20 million dollar quarterback. Was he playing like a super elite quarterback in 2012 and 2013? Abso-freaking-lutely, but he currently isn't. He is nowhere near that $20 million dollar salary he's going to be owed.
Dear Peyton: Simple choice is no easy answer
Football seasons are long, and playing for a championship is no guarantee. The decision to play another year is not about getting another Lombardi, avenging a loss, or ending on a high note. It has nothing to do with the coaching staff, the fans or the team. It's all about a genuine desire to compete - not just play - for one more season. And to do it without fear.
Peyton Manning is currently an $8-10 million dollar a year quarterback. Yes, I said it. Anyone who says otherwise is tricking themselves into thinking 2014/2015 Peyton is 2008/2009 Peyton. He's different. He's older, slower, more physically limited. He's also more injury prone with said injuries getting worse and worse and impacting his game more and more. Sorry, but even the best of the best (and Peyton is historically the best of the best) eventually lose their Midas touch. Again, Father Time is undefeated, and if he hasn't already hit Peyton with a knockout punch, he sure is winding his arm up to deliver the blow.
Taking that into account, I hope we can all see that the extra $10-20 million in savings by having Manning either a) restructure to reflect his current value, or b) retire, can and will go a long way to signing the free agents worth playing on the Broncos, and/or attacking free agency like Elway has since he's been here. But make no mistake about it, Peyton's play is not worth $20 million dollars. Not anymore. Not for a QB who can't make all the required throws anymore.
At this point, I'm going to assume that most of you remember my Instant Reactions after the playoff loss. Yes, I said I wanted to move on from Peyton. Yes, I offered to drive him to the airport. Was I being overly harsh? Well, that's still up for debate. But now that cooler heads have prevailed, let me give you my short list of what it would take for me to reverse my statements and welcome him back with open arms.
First, Kubiak will need to put Peyton on a pitch count. While a Kubiak offense will naturally limit how many times Peyton drops back to pass, I'm talking more about sitting Peyton for stretches of games instead of limiting his attempts in games. Nobody will ever convince me that Brock couldn't have defeated the Raiders in week 17. Heck, Brock threw the only TD of that game, not Peyton!
I say that to say this: It is now fact that this older version of Peyton Manning starts the season off on fire and then slows down to a crawl as the season wears on. That isn't up for debate any more than water being wet is up for debate. "It is what it is" at this point. My solution? Rest Peyton for 2-3 weeks somewhere near mid season and again for 2-3 weeks towards the end of the season. Try to correlate his "benching" with games that Brock should easilly win such as Raider games or the Browns and maybe Vikings games if possible. Even if that means we lose a few more games than we otherwise would, it's the only way to assure that come January, Peyton would be able to play like he did earlier in the year (i.e. fully healthy and rested). Not only will this give Peyton rest, but it will also give the Broncos a chance to see what Brock looks like in meaningful NFL games from start to finish and with a full week's worth of reps.
Secondly, the Broncos need to shore up the offensive line. I've had about enough of this garbage line play. Does Peyton progress through his reads? No he doesn't, but I only place half of the blame on Peyton. If he rightfully has no confidence in his line to provide him time to progress through his reads, then you'll see him throwing to his first read like he does. The offensive line needs to be fixed and fixed asap for him to play better and stay healthy.
Third on my list is Peyton's desire to play within Kubiak's system (i.e. a small box like I wanted him to play inside against the Colts). Peyton needs to be able to adapt to a more balanced offense. He needs to know that Kubiak still scripts the first 15 plays. He might not like it, but if he wants to come back, he needs to accept this new role and style. Again, he isn't 28 years old anymore. He can't make all the throws that I'm sure his brain is telling him that he can make. Timing patterns only work if the QB can get the ball there in time and with enough velocity that the CB can't step in front of it. The pure and simple fact that he is incapable of that is enough evidence to hopefully get him to agree and change.
I'll wrap this all up with my daily dose of Prozac for all the people who think that Manning's departure will spell doom and gloom for the Broncos. Remember, this team won the division, made the playoffs, and won their home playoff game with a lesser quarterback. Whatever your opinion on this unnamed quarterback is, there's no denying that that team, with lesser talent, won the division and a playoff game immediately before Peyton arrived, so it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that this team can win again immediately after Peyton leaves. That quarterback won thanks to a great defense and pure desire from the quarterback. Well, this team again has a great defense, but now has amazing offensive weapons for a quarterback with better mechanics to work with. Again, this team won before Peyton, and they can win after Peyton. My ideal situation would be for Peyton to come back but rest for 4-6 weeks of the season so we can get a great evaluation of Brock while allowing Peyton to stay rested and healthy so he can attack January and February with the same vigor that he attacks September and October.
Make no mistake, Peyton is arguably the best QB to ever play the game. There's no denying that, but the Peyton today is no longer the Peyton that will go down in history as the best of the best. He is no longer that player which is why I'm asking you this question.
What do you say Broncos Country? SHOULD Peyton come back? Or SHOULD he retire? Let's hear it.