The news that Peyton Manning is coming back to the Denver Broncos is not really news, and the idea that he has taken a $4 million pay cut to do it should not be a surprise.
There’s a precedent for elite, veteran quarterbacks giving back money, and Manning can look across country at buddy/rival Tom Brady for happily doing that so his team could upgrade at other positions.
When Manning or Brady say it’s not about the money, they are telling the truth, unlike so many other professional athletes.
There is every chance that when Manning reports to training camp at the end of July with his $15 million salary, he is going to be in much better shape than he was at the end of last season when a series of nagging injuries – including a thigh problem — robbed him of much of the zip on his fastball.
There’s little doubt that Manning will follow the proper medical and training protocols to be in the best shape he can be when the season gets underway in September. The likelihood is that the Broncos will be considered one of the top teams in the AFC, and that they will be ranked with the Patriots and Baltimore Ravens as the likely championship contenders in the conference.
Assuming there are no major injury disasters in the offseason and training camp, it seems likely that the Broncos will get off to the same kind of 6-1 start that the Broncos got off to last season when they looked like the best team in football through much of September and October.
But that’s not good enough, and the Broncos have a lot of work to do in the offseason because regular-season football is a four-month operation, and the most critical month occurs in January.
The big problem for the Broncos is sustaining their play in November, December and January, and that brings us back to Manning.
General manager John Elway appears to have most of the angles of building a winning/championship team under control. However, there’s one problem that hurt the Broncos badly in 2014, and if the issue is not addressed, it will cause a lot of worry in 2015 as well.
Manning will turn 39-years-old before the end of the month, and he may be the second-best quarterback in the history of the game – behind Joe Montana – but he is not Superman. In addition to his nagging injuries that short-circuited the Denver offense in the final weeks of the season, Manning had a serious cervical issue and subsequent neck surgery that caused him to miss the 2011 season.
Nobody stays healthy playing football, and the end of the line is in sight for Manning. He had to legitimately think about the end of his career in 2011, and again at the end of last season. While it’s clear he loves the game, he is not going to outrun Father Time for much longer.
This is the part that Elway does not appear to have addressed. Where is new head coach Gary Kubiak going to be able to turn when and if Manning needs a break or goes down? What if Manning suffers a major injury and misses half the season or more? What if he has nagging injuries that limit his overall effectiveness?
We know almost nothing about backup Brock Osweiler, and whether he can play effectively at the NFL level. Big and strong at 6-8 and 240 pounds, Osweiler has thrown 30 passes in three years, and that’s not even enough to work up a strong opinion.
We haven’t even touched on the new offense the Broncos will run under Kubiak. It is likely the Broncos will be much more run-oriented than they have been in the past.
Manning may see the logic to that in the offseason, but old habits die hard once the season begins in earnest. Manning has been in full control since his early days with the Colts, and he is going to have a difficult time ceding authority to anyone else, including his new head coach.
Manning is smart, logical and he may be of a mind to make it work, but the aging process and a lifetime of playing the position in a certain way is going to trump a “new beginning” in the offseason.
The Broncos have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and look like a real threat to the Patriots once again. But there are major problems around the corner, and many of them involve their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.
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