My initial reaction was the same as most everybody else’s on Sunday evening.
That underwhelming 24-13 loss to the Colts was it for Peyton Manning. Time to hang them up, let it go and move on to what will undoubtedly be a hugely successful career as a front office executive, part owner, broadcaster, coach, businessman, dad, anything else or some combination of all the above.
Based on some of his comments after the game, that may be the route he goes. If he does, good for him. He’s earned the right to choose how and when he leaves the game, and if he doesn’t feel like he has enough left to come back and be the player he wants to be, then it is time.
But, selfishly, that’s not how I want it to go down.
Though I don’t expect Peyton or the Broncos to call me anytime soon to ask my opinion, I do feel that I’ve seen his career from all angles. I grew up in Tennessee watching and admiring him play for the Vols, I saw him as an on-the-field villain as he regularly shredded my hometown Titans as I grew older and then have grown to admire and respect him as a person and a player in the last few years.
Though I’m not a Broncos fan, I am a fan of greatness, and when we see the rare combination of it on and off the field from an athlete, that’s always worth watching.
And I’m not ready for that greatness to go quite yet. It doesn’t feel like we as sports fans in general got a chance to pay it the proper respect. That’s why I’d like to see him come back for one more year. Make it official – announce it before the 2015 season. This will be it, the last go-around, the final season of what will go down as one of the greatest careers of all-time.
It makes sense on several levels. For one, the Broncos invested so many resources in this team to try to get a championship out of it. I don’t know if they’ll get there, but why not give it one more try? A lot of the pieces are in place. The run game showed some promise, the defensive spending spree of the 2014 offseason paid some dividends and, though both Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas are both free agents, go ahead and franchise one of them and re-sign the other. With some maneuvering, the Broncos have the cap space to do it.
Is that roster enough to overcome the likes of the Patriots, Packers, Colts, Seahawks and others next year? I don’t know and it’s fair to say probably not based on how it fizzled at the end of 2014. But in a league where the championship window can slam shut and not return for several years, it makes sense to give it another run.
While we can conclusively say that Manning is slowing down and Father Time is catching up with him, we don’t know how much the reported quad issue had to do with that at the end of the 2014 season. We do know that just weeks before his late-season swoon, he was still playing at an elite level. He led the Broncos to a division title, a playoff bye and was a top-5 passer during the NFL regular season. It’s not like Manning has been on a downward spiral for years now.
The new Broncos coach needs to handle Manning differently if he comes back. Manning needs to know his own limitations as well. While the quad issue might’ve played into his struggles, it’s safe to say that overall fatigue did as well. Take a page from the San Antonio Spurs next year and put Manning on somewhat of a veteran maintenance plan.
Don’t let him take one hit in the preseason. Maybe give him 70% of snaps instead of virtually all of them in the regular season. Rely on the run game more and more. Take him out every game the second that the outcome is realistically decided (no more of this).
We already know that Manning, as a player, is one of the best offensive coordinators in the game. Let him manage a different type of offense and help out with the play calls from the sideline from time to time while you keep him fresh and healthy. Give him a shot to have some juice left if there is one more playoff run to be made.
More than anything though, I want to see him get his proper farewell – think along the lines of what Derek Jeter just experienced. I imagine almost every team on the schedule would have some kind of tribute to a legend that had such a profound impact on the game and the NFL community.
I can see the Chicago Bears, the team he beat in the Super Bowl, still paying homage to him. Same in Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego, Pittsburgh and other cities that he’s scheduled to appear in during the 2015 season. Though he can be a polarizing figure among fans, have no doubt that he’s respected by almost every person directly associated with the NFL.
And it’s fitting that he has an away game scheduled in Indianapolis next year. Few other places felt his impact more than the home of the Colts, where he played from 1998-2011. That’s the tribute I really want to see. Because like Denver, Knoxville and everywhere else Peyton’s been, they get it.
So it’s just one man’s opinion, but I hope we haven’t seen the last of Manning as a player. You’ll have to switch some of the words in this video, but I think you’ll get the idea. I’d like to hear him say one more time that he’s coming back: