On the morning of March 19th, 2012, Peyton Manning called the Denver Broncos to inform them that he had decided to make Denver his final football home. The announcement was also the end of "Tebow-mania" in the NFL. Just a day later, March 20th, 2012, the Broncos and Manning put the finishing touches on a 5-year, $96M deal that would allow the quarterback to finish his career in Denver, while potentially putting him in position to win multiple championships.
Fast forward three years, 38 wins and three playoff disappointments later, the Broncos have been unable to return to the pinnacle of the sport as Super Bowl champions. The playoff failures of the past three seasons are not solely on Manning, but he played far below his regular season excellence in each loss.
Broncos fans were left with the question--to what extent should Manning shoulder the blame?
The first playoff loss came as a heart-breaker at the hands of destiny's team, the Baltimore Ravens. Rahim Moore is largely considered as the primary perpetrator who blew that game, yet largely forgotten is the interception Manning threw in overtime in Denver territory--the interception that led to the game-ending field goal.
The second playoff loss and arguably the worst Super Bowl defeat in NFL history, was an embarrassing beat-down at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8. The Broncos simply did not show up for the Super Bowl, as they were out-matched and out-prepared. The general consensus was that the coaching staff was largely responsible for the team's performance and culture--as John Elway put it, failing to go down "kicking and screaming" in the biggest game of the season.
Just last month, the Broncos were the only top-2 seeded team in the playoffs that failed to reach their respective conference championship game. Again the team failed to go down "kicking and screaming" against the Indianapolis Colts. This time around, Manning shouldered the majority of the blame, after playing arguably the worst game of his career as a Bronco--that is, until a report surfaced revealing that he played the game with a torn quadriceps, an injury suffered in week 15 against the San Diego Chargers.
In those three playoff losses, Manning completed 88-of-138 passes (63.8 completion percentage), for 781 yards (260.3 YPG), 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions--all adding up to a 78.8 passer rating. All of these numbers are far below the norm for Manning during his time in Denver.
None of this is to say that the Manning has failed to live up to his contract--far from it. In three years, Manning has jumped to No. 2 in passing touchdowns in franchise history, behind only John Elway. If this were a different situation; if Manning was 10 years younger, or even 5 years younger, this conversation would not even be a topic. But Manning is 38 years old, soon to be 39 and coming off of a season where he regressed down the stretch. The regression I refer to is not in his numbers, but in his performance, which was obvious in his inability to complete passes that have been routine for him in the recent past.
Something I have heard often is that Manning's issues were a direct result of his much publicized quad issue. Granted, his play dropped off even more following the injury, but he was regressing prior to suffering the injury. During the first seven games of the season, Manning completed 174-of-252 passes (69 completion percentage), for 2,134 yards (304.8 YPG), and 22 touchdowns, against only 3 interceptions.
Over the next 6 games, prior to suffering his quad injury, Manning completed 158-of-244 passes (64.75 completion percentage), for 1,776 yards (296 YPG), and 14 touchdowns, against 8 interceptions--a six-game stretch where Manning had a -4.8 grade in the passing gaming according to Pro Football Focus. Manning suffered the quad injury against the Chargers, and in the four games following (including the Charger game), he completed 89-of-147 passes (60.5 completion percentage), for 1,028 yards (257 YPG), and 4 touchdowns, against 4 interceptions.
While Manning's performance dropped off tremendously following his injury, it is important to note that his performance had already diminished prior to his quad injury, as evidenced by his numbers, as well as his PFF rating.
What does this all mean for Peyton Manning and his contract situation, of which he has two years remaining at $38M, with $5M in pro-rated signing bonuses, and a cap hit each year of $21.5M? By comparison, Tom Brady signed a 5-year deal in 2013 with the New England Patriots worth $70.6M, with a cap hit no larger than $15M for a season.
This debate is not whether Manning deserves $20M per season, because he clearly does. The debate is whether he should agree to take a pay-cut for the good of the team and to help add a personnel piece or two, in order to become a viable Super Bowl contender. From Manning's perspective, he owes the Broncos nothing.
Since he came to Denver, he has given the team three seasons of elite quarterback play. On the other hand, Manning has made more money during his football playing career than any other player in the history of the sport, so sacrificing between $6-9M this season to give himself the best chance to win another Super Bowl is a prospect that he should not frown upon.
For the upcoming season, Brady is scheduled to make $8M in base salary, with an additional $6M in pro-rated signing bonuses. Manning would have to take a $7.5M pay-cut to match Brady's salary in 2015. In the NFL, $7.5M represents a lot of cap space and at the very least, two solid starters from the free agent market.
When Peyton Manning decided Denver would be his new home, he reportedly instructed his agent Tom Condon to negotiate a contract that would pay him one dollar less than what Tom Brady was making in New England. As his agent, Condon did what was best for himself and for Manning by negotiating a contract that would pay Manning what he was worth.
Three years later, it is in Manning's best interest to approach Condon and the Broncos and employ the same idea--take one dollar less than Tom Brady and gear up for one more Super Bowl run.
Khalid and Brandon Perna are sharing a brain on this issue, as you can see from the video below.