Since Peyton Manning arrived in the Mile High City, the Denver Broncos have produced back-to-back 13-3 seasons. However, both of those efforts fell short of the ultimate goal; a Super Bowl Championship.
Manning’s numbers have been amazing, after sitting out a full year, due to multiple neck surgeries, although not being able to figure out the formula to win it all is wearing thin on Broncos fans.
In 2012, Manning threw for 4,659 yards, 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He found seven different players in the endzone. The Broncos running game was successful, with multiple runners collectively totaling 1,832 rushing yards and 12 TDs for the team.
These numbers were only good enough to gain the top seed in the AFC and lose the team's first playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens, at home. That game featured some very questionable play calls at the end regulation and in overtime.
In 2013, the Broncos drafted Montee Ball in the 2nd round, with high hopes. This led to the parting of ways with running back, Willis McGahee. The coaches expected ball to provide Manning with the consistent, tough running the Broncos fell short with the year before.
Knowshon Moreno, not Ball, ended up stepping up to the challenge and led the Broncos in rushing, notching his first career 1,000-yard season. He added the toughness to the running game the Broncos were missing, and had a great connection with Manning out of the backfield.
Moreno was critical to Manning’s stratospheric numbers last year. Breaking multiple records, including TD passes in a year (55) and most passing yards (5,477), the Broncos made enough progress to get to the Super Bowl.
A blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII had many fans and media believing that Manning is the "best regular season quarterback" of all time, but the accolades stop there.
To be fair to Manning, not all of the Broncos failures in the post-season can be laid at his feet, but he can definitely own up to and admit to his lack of poise and being able handle the added pressure of the postseason.
This off-season, John Elway knew his team needed to boost their physicality, going on a defensive free agent spending spree, signing (DE) DeMarcus Ware, (S) T.J. Ward and (CB) Aqib Talib. In addition, the Broncos also went out and looked for an upgrade to Eric Decker, and found Emmanuel Sanders, who has been an extraordinary addition.
After Sunday’s disappointing loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Broncos sit at 7-3 and looks to be in a dogfight to win the AFC West and earn the AFC's top seed going into the playoffs. Time will tell what this year will bring, but the way this season unravels could play a big role in what Manning plans to do in the near future.
Not knowing what the future holds for Manning, only delays the resolution of who will replace him and when. Brock Osweiler doesn’t have enough playing time under his belt yet to determine what he can or can’t do.
Selecting him with such a high draft pick adds pressure to Elway and his draft decisions, especially when you factor in the other successful QBs he passed on to get Osweiler. Namely, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles.
Following this season, Manning will have 2 years left on his contract, with a full payout of his 2015 $19M base salary, if he is on the roster at the end of the 2014 league year. It is conceivable that if the Broncos win the Super bowl this season, Manning might not be back next year.
Leaving on a high note, riding off into the sunset, like his boss did, almost 16 years ago, would save the Broncos approximately $40M and determine a lot faster what to do at the QB position.
This can also have a major effect on the Broncos free agents and the potential of re-signing them. Chris Harris Jr, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Terrance Knighton and many others will be looking to either re-sign or go where the money is.
If Manning retired, it could quite possibly have a negative effect on the Broncos franchise for years to come. The top two offensive play-makers could choose to leave, along with one of the league's top young cornerbacks, and a top run-stuffer.
If the Broncos either go to the Super Bowl and lose, or don’t make it to the Super Bowl, Manning will likely be back for one last go at another Super Bowl ring. This also can have an effect on the future of the franchise.
Re-signing multiple top free agents to long-term contracts, only to have Manning leave just one year later, could definitely cause them to want to leave, if rebuilding is in their future. This will also depend on who is left with the keys to the castle (Osweiler).
Then again, if the Broncos win it all this year, Manning could choose to come back, again like his boss did, and defend his title, hoping to retire as a back-to-back league champion.
One thing is for sure; the Broncos can make things a lot less stressful by winning the Super Bowl, which will make such decisions much easier. Only time will tell us where the Broncos fate lies.