Will Sunday be the last we see of Peyton Manning?

Posted Jan 22, 2016

Will this Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots be the last Peyton Manning ever plays? The question of whether we are witnessing the final act of one of the all-time great quarterbacking careers has been hanging in the air ever since this year’s playoffs began.

At 39 years old, Manning’s talent has appeared to be in steep decline. A throwing arm that showed signs of deterioration over the past two seasons has grown so weak that passes routinely nosedive short of their intended targets. He threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (nine) for the first time since his rookie year, and his 6.8 yards per attempt are his lowest mark since then, too.

To those of us watching from the sidelines, it looks very much like the time has come to call it quits. But Manning himself has made no statement on his future, insisting that he is focused only on preparing for each game ahead.

On the surface, this is simply the same approach he has taken in each of the past three years. Since arriving in Denver on the back of major neck surgery in 2012, Manning has always waited until after the season to undergo a series of physical assessments before making an official decision on whether he would carry on playing.

But he might not need a doctor’s opinion to know he is finished this time around. One man who could empathise with his current situation is his own boss, John Elway the Broncos’ executive vice-president who himself retired from playing at 38 after winning consecutive Super Bowls for the team. Speaking to the press on Thursday, Elway said he knew that his body was done after the second.

Crucially, though, he also acknowledged that it was easier for him to walk away, because: “I obtained my goal”. If the Broncos were to lose on Sunday, Manning would be denied the opportunity for a similarly happy ending.

“When you have to take that final step, it's always hard to do because you're admitting the fact that you can't really play the game that you were so successful and played well for a long, long time,” continued Elway. “It is hard, and it is harder the older you get. And it is harder to see all of a sudden, to make that adjustment and start relying on other people when you relied on yourself for so long.”

Elway was at pains to stress that he was only speaking for himself and not Manning. But Lindsay H Jones, writing in USA Today, noted financial indicators that might suggest that No18’s time was up.

“Manning accepted a $4 million salary cut in 2015,” she wrote, “though he could earn that money back in incentives over the next two weeks. A $2 million bonus would kick in with a win against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and he could earn another $2 million for a Super Bowl title.

“But the very fact that Elway cut his salary at all this year was a sign that Manning’s time with the team could be coming to an end … The 2015 Broncos, under head coach Gary Kubiak, have relied on the running game and the league’s No. 1-ranked defense. Elway said Thursday that he likes that formula. To keep it in 2016, that could require dumping Manning and his hefty salary.”

Two more things you might have missed

- When ESPN The Magazine go deep on a football topic, it’s usually worth reading, and this feature on Tom Brady is no exception

- Not everyone in Los Angeles is happy about the Rams’ imminent move. USC basketball players Malik Martin and Chimezie Metu fear the NFL team will bring worse traffic and greater competition for the attention of young ladies in the city

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