Rob Lowe didn’t know anything about Peyton Manning, it turns out. And though the speculation on the Colt’s fate will build in the coming weeks, it's quite likely we won’t know anything for a while, either. So let’s all take a Twitter break and examine the factors at play:
It all hinges on his health. If the future Hall of Famer continues to have trouble with his neck, on which he had three surgeries this year, then yes, he might call it quits, capping a career that includes eight Pro Bowl appearances, four NFL MVP awards, a Super Bowl ring, and a guest voice appearance on “The Simpsons.”
It’s a career that leaves little to be desired, and if Manning walked away now, he’d be quitting on top.
His exit from the pros, too, would be perversely welcome news for the Colts organization. The team is in the middle of an expansive reorganization. In the wake of Manning’s season-canceling neck trouble, the Colts failed to find an adequate replacement at quarterback and finished the season 2-14. In the past few weeks, Vice Chairman Bill Polian (the man responsible for picking Manning first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft), General Manager Chris Polian, and head coach Jim Caldwell have all been sacked.
The prevailing wisdom suggests that Manning will probably be next. His exit would make room for the Colts to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the most highly coveted quarterback prospect in years.
Ironically, Manning’s injury, and the Colts’ subsequent bumbling season, unmasked flaws in the team that his masterful play and management had been covering up for years. And those flaws will probably cost him his job.
Manning’s retirement would save the Colts front office the inevitable backlash of forcing out the greatest player in their history. It would also save them the $27 million due to Manning by March, if they don’t cut him loose. Furthermore, they’d be spared the awkwardness (and potential embarrassment) of facing him as a quarterback for another team.
Manning is 35 years old – well into elder statesman territory in the NFL. But he’s still an elite quarterback, and likely one with a few good years left in him. For one, he’s a pocket passer who takes relatively few hits. If his neck issues clear up, he has a lower chance of getting injured than your average player (he played 208 consecutive games over 12 years before his injury, second only to Brett Favre). Even at 35, he’d be a prize at quarterback for a slew of NFL teams. The New York Jets and Washington Redskins have already expressed interest.
Furthermore, 35 isn’t so old for NFL quarterback these days, especially pocket guys like Manning. Brett Favre played until he was literally a grandpa, at 41. Kurt Warner led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl at age 37, and Steve Young played until 38. The NFL Hall of Fame website list dozens of players who remained active well into their forties. The oldest? George Blanda, the Raiders quarterback/kicker who played until the ripe old age of 48.
Yes, he’d be well past his peak. But a past-peak Peyton Manning is still incredibly dangerous. Indianapolis can’t afford to keep him, especially if they need to rebuild. But other teams may not be able to afford to pass him up.