It is starting to look like Peyton Manning may never step onto the field as a starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos again. Personally, I was on the fence with this line of thinking holding out hope Manning would somehow erase the last year and return to form. However, by moving to Brock Osweiler, it's becoming clear that coming back to Manning isn't likely.
An excellent insider piece on ESPN written by Mike Sando hammered this point home with several interviews from NFL executives and evaluators around the league, which paints a portrait of where John Elway's mindset is during this season.
Manning has been set up to succeed, not fail
The Broncos tried to set Manning up for the orange and blue championship ride into the sunset, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback and arguably the best QB to ever play the game just couldn't seal the deal.
First, for the "win from now on" ethos Elway lives by, he has to commit to Osweiler now. Said one evaluator, "You have to commit to Osweiler. If you play him, you have to go with what he wants to do. Brock would have to really play bad for them to go back. He is a free agent at the end of the year. If he plays well enough, that could be an interesting situation. They can find out if he is a guy for the future. There is a lot going on there."
And by bad, we're talking as bad as Manning has been through nine games this season. It's probably not going to happen, as Bucky Brooks over at NFL.com noted in a recent piece, Osweiler has progressively gotten better each preseason since being drafted. Not only that, he has really taken to Gary Kubiak's offensive philosophy. It does appear that the Broncos could be ready to take off offensively for the first time all season.
Ultimately, this likely permanent move away from Manning came from Elway himself as one personnel director noted, "If anybody is going to make the change like that, the person who is going to do it is Elway. No one else would do that in the middle of the season with possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. If stuff does not perk up, there will be a mystery injury and there will be no coming back."
From that same ESPN Insider article came this tidbit, that underscores the belief that this quarterback change is quite likely permanent.
The 0.0 passer rating and 0.1 Total QBR score Manning posted against Kansas City on Sunday removed the mystery from this decision. He has nine touchdown passes with 17 interceptions this season after throwing 131 and 36, respectively, in his previous three years in Denver. Manning does appear to be hurt, but Kubiak cast Manning's injuries as bumps and bruises associated with the normal grind of an NFL season. The timing of this benching was politically comfortable.
"And, oh, by the way, you let Peyton break the all-time yardage record first," a longtime NFL executive observed. "You did right by him but are not doing any more."
In a way, the stars aligned perfectly for the Broncos to gracefully bring the Peyton Manning era to end in Denver. It's sad, because Manning brought Denver its second greatest three-year run in the franchises history.
As a Broncos fan, Manning went from reviled and hated by me for all of the pain he caused my team over the years he was with the Colts to completely revered by me. I never took the chance to study the man who caused my team misery, so I am grateful to have been able to cheer him on in a Broncos uniform. And I am sad that he has likely played his final snap in one as well.
If this truly is the end for Peyton Manning, then I can only leave with the best tribute I've ever found online of Manning in a Broncos uniform.