One of the great storylines surrounding Super Bowl 50 is the possibility that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will leave the field for the last time while hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in the air.
There are two things that could get in the way of this storybook ending. One is that the Panthers are favored by about a touchdown and the chances are that they will be the ones handling the Lombardi. The other is that this may not be Manning’s last hurrah.
The signs point to him being at the end. The 39-year-old was sidelined with a left foot injury for seven games and even when healthy he has been a shadow of his old self, his passes lacking zip. After winning the AFC championship game, he told Patriots coach Bill Belichick that “this might be my last rodeo”. It was supposed to be a private remark but NFL films microphones picked up the audio.
At the Super Bowl, Manning has not said anything about retirement one way or the other.
"I've tried to stay in the moment, tried not to look back," Manning said in the opening minutes of his session at the Super Bowl 50 media night. "Just tried to stay in the moment."
Those close to Manning, including his brother Eli and father Archie, claim that Peyton has not told them of his plans one way or the other. John Elway, the current Broncos boss who lived the retire after raising the trophy dream following Super Bowl XXXIII, says that he is in no hurry to find out Manning’s decision.
“He’s got plenty of time, whatever time he needs,” Elway said. “I think it’s never going to be a quick decision. You don’t want it to be. It’s one that’s going to change his life, . . . and it’s always a hard decision. So we’ll give him plenty of time.”
It’s a pretty safe bet, however, the Elway is hoping that a Manning decision will come in a few weeks rather than in a few months. Brock Osweiler, who played well when filling in for Manning this year, is going to be a free agent when the new league year starts on March 9. It would be helpful to know Manning’s plans and how much cap space is available before trying to strike a deal with Osweiler.
One thing to keep in mind is that playing for the Broncos in 2016 and retiring are not necessarily the only two options for Manning. The Rams have had internal discussions about signing Manning to play out his final seasons in Los Angeles.
Manning would have the option to sign with another team if the Broncos decided that they wanted to move on to Osweiler and get rid of Manning’s $19 million salary for next year. Whether he would want to play for the Rams or any other any other team is another matter.
If Manning does decide to retire, he could get a very nice golden parachute on his way out. Manning took a pay cut for 2015 but his new contract gave him a chance to earn the money back. A Broncos win on Sunday would make Manning a $2 million incentive bonus. As far as retirement gifts go, that certainly would beat a gold watch.