Is 2015 Peyton Manning's Last Year?

Is 2015 Peyton Manning's last season? MHH Lead Analyst Chad Jensen examines the empirical evidence to conclude that there's no reason to believe Manning will retire after this season.

You don’t have to be a member of Broncos Country to have been exposed to the pontification, whether via social media, radio or on television, that 2015 is going to be quarterback Peyton Manning’s final year. Even many inside the fanbase and local media have surmised, with surety, that this is the Sheriff’s swan song.

I recently received a question via Twitter on this very subject. It was timely, in that I’ve been ruminating on it of late and I feel that it’s time to dispel the notion.

Before I get into this, let’s establish the self-evident truth that nobody has a crystal ball. Whether you’re promulgating the notion that this is Manning’s final year, or not, we can’t know for sure. However, we can empirically analyze the situation—Manning’s health, the state of the franchise, and the direction of the team—to establish a sound conclusion.

When the Indianapolis Colts parted ways with Manning in March of 2012, on the eve of a $28M bonus he was due, many believed that it would usher in his retirement. He was coming off of four neck surgeries, which caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Making the decision easy on the Colts, was the fact that they held the No. 1 overall pick in the draft that featured Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Do You Think 2015 Is Manning's Last Hurrah? SOUND OFF IN THE FORUMS!

For the Colts, who in one short year had become the embarrassment of the NFL, it was a no-brainer to part ways with what was then a four-time league MVP, in favor of the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL Draft since 1998, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Manning’s health. The Colts were not convinced he could ever come close to returning to form.

However, despite the questions surrounding his health and prognosis, Manning had made it clear that he intended to continue to play and he embarked on is whirlwind free agency tour across the fruited plain. Each team he visited put him through the wringer, trying to independently ascertain whether he could perform the functions of a quarterback in the National Football League.

Up close and behind the curtain, NFL suitors quickly realized that although he was far from 100%, Peyton Manning could still throw the football and perhaps more importantly, his intellectual football gifts were as sharp as ever. When the dust settled, Manning signed a five-year, $96M deal with the Denver Broncos.

John Elway was convinced that Manning still had plenty of football left in the tank. But the rest of the NFL wasn’t so sure—neither were the media. At this point in the Manning timeline, he wasn’t too far removed from not even being able to grip a football, let alone try to throw one downfield, into coverage, against NFL defensive backs.

When the 2012 season began in earnest, Manning and the Broncos got off to a 2-3 start. Manning’s victorious comeback was in doubt. But everything changed on October 15th, 2012, when Manning dug the Broncos out of a 24-0 halftime deficit, and stormed back to beat the San Diego Chargers, the team’s biggest divisional threat, on Monday Night Football 35-24.

Something changed in the Sheriff after that night. That improbable victory seemed to reignite his self-confidence and the belief that he could still compete at the highest levels of competition in the NFL. The Broncos coalesced around him and ended up going 13-3, winning the AFC West and the AFC’s No. 1 seed.

Manning finished the season with 4,659 passing yards and 37 touchdowns—to just 11 interceptions. His 68.6 completion percentage was the second-highest of his career, as were his 37 touchdowns. Although he was named the Comeback Player of the Year, to be frank, he should have won his fifth league MVP award then—an honor that went instead to Minnesota Vikings 2,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson.

Manning and the Broncos 2012 season ended in disappointment, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. But by that point, there was no doubting that Peyton Manning was back.

Of course, because of the loss to the Ravens, the Manning postseason narrative reared its ugly head again. But it’s a school of thought that Manning likely won’t ever be able to dispel, even if he leads the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship. But that’s not the purpose of this piece.

The last three seasons have been the most productive of Manning’s career. As a Bronco, he’s passed for 14,863 yards and 131 touchdowns. No quarterback in the history of the game has had as prolific of a three-year stretch. Manning’s accomplished it all on the brink of turning 40, with four neck surgeries under his belt.

Add to that the fact that he earned his fifth league MVP award, set a new single-season passing record for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477), led the Broncos to their seventh Super Bowl appearance and won three-straight division titles, and the picture begins to take shape that there’s no reason to believe that 2015 is Peyton Manning’s last season.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, it bears mentioning that although Manning’s 2014 season was statistically one of the best of his career, he did falter down the stretch, with a 10:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the last seven games, wherein the Broncos went 5-2. I reiterate—the Broncos went 5-2!

Manning didn’t look like himself over that seven-week span. In the moment, it seemed that Father Time had finally caught up to him. Nevermind that the Broncos coaching staff had made the decision to change their offensive identity—pounding the rock with C.J. Anderson—instead of Manning throwing the ball 40-plus times a game.

Following the Broncos Divisional Round playoff loss to the Colts this past January, we found out what had precipitated Manning’s statistical decline. He had a significant tear in his quadriceps. For a guy like Manning, who had to completely re-tool his mechanics following four neck surgeries, having a compromised throwing foundation threw his entire process out of whack.

Once we knew about Manning’s quad, the dominoes fell into place. He was injured. Even still, a compromised Peyton Manning is better than 90% of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet, people wondered if he would call it a career, after yet another disappointing postseason loss. Forget that he had announced on Christmas Eve that he planned to return for the 2015 season, if the Broncos would have him.

But that loss to the Colts had a trickle-down effect on the entire Broncos organization. Head Coach John Fox was dismissed, along with most of his assistants, which triggered a wait-and-see response from Manning in the aftermath. Even though he had already stated that he planned to return, now the question became did the Broncos want him back?

Manning still had two years left on his five-year deal but John Elway was in the process of searching for a new head coach to lead the team. The Broncos had spent a 2012 second round pick on Brock Osweiler and many surmised that perhaps Elway was ready to kill the Manning era. Plus, there was no guarantee that the new head coach would embrace Manning as the face of the franchise.

Exacerbating the issue was Manning’s salary. He was due to make $19M, per his contract, in 2015, but via various "leaks", Elway was giving the impression through the media that he might want his 39-year-old quarterback to take a pay-cut, in order to free up salary cap space to help the team acquire players that could get them get over the postseason hump.

Manning had never taken a pay-cut before. And many took the issue to mean that the Broncos had devalued Manning’s impact on the team, throwing into question whether this was a real issue—that Elway needed more cap space—or if the pay-cut was being used publicly as an excuse to part ways with the five-time league MVP.

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When Gary Kubiak was hired as the new head coach, he made it clear, on more than one occasion, that he wanted Manning back with the Broncos in 2015, which echoed Elway’s words at the Combine. Ultimately, the Broncos and Manning agreed to restructure his 2015 salary. He would make $15M, instead of $19M, but he would have the opportunity to make the $4M back by winning the Super Bowl.

On the outside looking in, the entire process gave the impression that Manning, however temporarily, contemplated retirement. But the reality was that he was waiting for the dust to settle after Fox was fired, to see where he fit in to the Broncos new organizational paradigm. The resounding answer is that Peyton Manning is as important to Elway, Kubiak and the Broncos, as he’s ever been.

Is 2015 Manning’s last season? I don’t believe that it is. As mentioned above, his contract with the Broncos takes him through the 2016 season. At 39, he weathered another heartbreaking postseason loss and overcame the uncertainty of a new coaching regime, to make the decision to return.

Don’t mistake the Broncos asking him to take a pay-cut as evidence that they don’t want him around. The Broncos had their chance, if they really wanted it, to part ways with Manning cleanly. Instead, they re-upped, doubled down, and pushed all of their chips into the pot.

At the end of the day, John Elway wants to bring another Lombardi Trophy to the Mile High City. He’s a smart, savvy guy. He understands that his best opportunity to accomplish that feat is with Peyton Manning at quarterback, not Brock Osweiler, who has yet to play a meaningful down in the NFL.

As long as Manning is reasonably healthy and still has a passion for the game—even the little things, like practice, meetings and film study—he’ll continue to suit up on Sunday. He has at least 32 more gamedays to look forward to with the Denver Broncos.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen and on Google+.

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets.

Next Story:

All 22: Brandon Marshall Well-Suited For 3-4 ILB


Mile High Huddle Top Stories

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Before I get into this, let’s establish the self-evident truth that nobody has a crystal ball. Whether you’re promulgating the notion that this is Manning’s final year, or not, we can’t know for sure. However, we can empirically analyze the situation—Manning’s health, the state of the franchise, and the direction of the team—to establish a sound conclusion. \r\n

When the Indianapolis Colts parted ways with Manning in March of 2012, on the eve of a $28M bonus he was due, many believed that it would usher in his retirement. He was coming off of four neck surgeries, which caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Making the decision easy on the Colts, was the fact that they held the No. 1 overall pick in the draft that featured Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. \r\n\r\n\r\n

\r\n [MEDIA:1415092]Do You Think 2015 Is Manning's Last Hurrah? SOUND OFF IN THE FORUMS!\r\n

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For the Colts, who in one short year had become the embarrassment of the NFL, it was a no-brainer to part ways with what was then a four-time league MVP, in favor of the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL Draft since 1998, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding Manning’s health. The Colts were not convinced he could ever come close to returning to form. \r\n

However, despite the questions surrounding his health and prognosis, Manning had made it clear that he intended to continue to play and he embarked on is whirlwind free agency tour across the fruited plain. Each team he visited put him through the wringer, trying to independently ascertain whether he could perform the functions of a quarterback in the National Football League. \r\n

Up close and behind the curtain, NFL suitors quickly realized that although he was far from 100%, Peyton Manning could still throw the football and perhaps more importantly, his intellectual football gifts were as sharp as ever. When the dust settled, Manning signed a five-year, $96M deal with the Denver Broncos. \r\n

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John Elway was convinced that Manning still had plenty of football left in the tank. But the rest of the NFL wasn’t so sure—neither were the media. At this point in the Manning timeline, he wasn’t too far removed from not even being able to grip a football, let alone try to throw one downfield, into coverage, against NFL defensive backs. \r\n

When the 2012 season began in earnest, Manning and the Broncos got off to a 2-3 start. Manning’s victorious comeback was in doubt. But everything changed on October 15th, 2012, when Manning dug the Broncos out of a 24-0 halftime deficit, and stormed back to beat the San Diego Chargers, the team’s biggest divisional threat, on Monday Night Football 35-24. \r\n

Something changed in the Sheriff after that night. That improbable victory seemed to reignite his self-confidence and the belief that he could still compete at the highest levels of competition in the NFL. The Broncos coalesced around him and ended up going 13-3, winning the AFC West and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. \r\n

Manning finished the season with 4,659 passing yards and 37 touchdowns—to just 11 interceptions. His 68.6 completion percentage was the second-highest of his career, as were his 37 touchdowns. Although he was named the Comeback Player of the Year, to be frank, he should have won his fifth league MVP award then—an honor that went instead to Minnesota Vikings 2,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson. \r\n

Manning and the Broncos 2012 season ended in disappointment, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. But by that point, there was no doubting that Peyton Manning was back. \r\n

Of course, because of the loss to the Ravens, the Manning postseason narrative reared its ugly head again. But it’s a school of thought that Manning likely won’t ever be able to dispel, even if he leads the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship. But that’s not the purpose of this piece. \r\n

The last three seasons have been the most productive of Manning’s career. As a Bronco, he’s passed for 14,863 yards and 131 touchdowns. No quarterback in the history of the game has had as prolific of a three-year stretch. Manning’s accomplished it all on the brink of turning 40, with four neck surgeries under his belt. \r\n

Add to that the fact that he earned his fifth league MVP award, set a new single-season passing record for touchdowns (55) and yards (5,477), led the Broncos to their seventh Super Bowl appearance and won three-straight division titles, and the picture begins to take shape that there’s no reason to believe that 2015 is Peyton Manning’s last season. \r\n

Playing Devil’s Advocate, it bears mentioning that although Manning’s 2014 season was statistically one of the best of his career, he did falter down the stretch, with a 10:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the last seven games, wherein the Broncos went 5-2. I reiterate—the Broncos went 5-2! \r\n

Manning didn’t look like himself over that seven-week span. In the moment, it seemed that Father Time had finally caught up to him. Nevermind that the Broncos coaching staff had made the decision to change their offensive identity—pounding the rock with C.J. Anderson—instead of Manning throwing the ball 40-plus times a game. \r\n

Following the Broncos Divisional Round playoff loss to the Colts this past January, we found out what had precipitated Manning’s statistical decline. He had a significant tear in his quadriceps. For a guy like Manning, who had to completely re-tool his mechanics following four neck surgeries, having a compromised throwing foundation threw his entire process out of whack. \r\n

Once we knew about Manning’s quad, the dominoes fell into place. He was injured. Even still, a compromised Peyton Manning is better than 90% of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Yet, people wondered if he would call it a career, after yet another disappointing postseason loss. Forget that he had announced on Christmas Eve that he planned to return for the 2015 season, if the Broncos would have him. \r\n

[MEDIA:1464483]

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But that loss to the Colts had a trickle-down effect on the entire Broncos organization. Head Coach John Fox was dismissed, along with most of his assistants, which triggered a wait-and-see response from Manning in the aftermath. Even though he had already stated that he planned to return, now the question became did the Broncos want him back? \r\n

Manning still had two years left on his five-year deal but John Elway was in the process of searching for a new head coach to lead the team. The Broncos had spent a 2012 second round pick on Brock Osweiler and many surmised that perhaps Elway was ready to kill the Manning era. Plus, there was no guarantee that the new head coach would embrace Manning as the face of the franchise.\r\n

Exacerbating the issue was Manning’s salary. He was due to make $19M, per his contract, in 2015, but via various \"leaks\", Elway was giving the impression through the media that he might want his 39-year-old quarterback to take a pay-cut, in order to free up salary cap space to help the team acquire players that could get them get over the postseason hump. \r\n

Manning had never taken a pay-cut before. And many took the issue to mean that the Broncos had devalued Manning’s impact on the team, throwing into question whether this was a real issue—that Elway needed more cap space—or if the pay-cut was being used publicly as an excuse to part ways with the five-time league MVP. \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

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More Broncos Stories
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When Gary Kubiak was hired as the new head coach, he made it clear, on more than one occasion, that he wanted Manning back with the Broncos in 2015, which echoed Elway’s words at the Combine. Ultimately, the Broncos and Manning agreed to restructure his 2015 salary. He would make $15M, instead of $19M, but he would have the opportunity to make the $4M back by winning the Super Bowl. \r\n

On the outside looking in, the entire process gave the impression that Manning, however temporarily, contemplated retirement. But the reality was that he was waiting for the dust to settle after Fox was fired, to see where he fit in to the Broncos new organizational paradigm. The resounding answer is that Peyton Manning is as important to Elway, Kubiak and the Broncos, as he’s ever been. \r\n

Is 2015 Manning’s last season? I don’t believe that it is. As mentioned above, his contract with the Broncos takes him through the 2016 season. At 39, he weathered another heartbreaking postseason loss and overcame the uncertainty of a new coaching regime, to make the decision to return. \r\n

Don’t mistake the Broncos asking him to take a pay-cut as evidence that they don’t want him around. The Broncos had their chance, if they really wanted it, to part ways with Manning cleanly. Instead, they re-upped, doubled down, and pushed all of their chips into the pot. \r\n

At the end of the day, John Elway wants to bring another Lombardi Trophy to the Mile High City. He’s a smart, savvy guy. He understands that his best opportunity to accomplish that feat is with Peyton Manning at quarterback, not Brock Osweiler, who has yet to play a meaningful down in the NFL. \r\n

As long as Manning is reasonably healthy and still has a passion for the game—even the little things, like practice, meetings and film study—he’ll continue to suit up on Sunday. He has at least 32 more gamedays to look forward to with the Denver Broncos. \r\n

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Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen and on Google+.\r\n\r\n

Follow MileHighHuddle on Twitter @MileHighHuddle and become a subscriber to receive access to premium content and discounted Broncos tickets.\r\n

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Join the Conversation On The MHH Forums and Discuss This Article With Broncos Fans

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All 22: Brandon Marshall Well-Suited For 3-4 ILB
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