One key question that's lingered ever since Peyton Manning opted to sign with the Denver Broncos is exactly how long he plans to play. While an imminent retirement would force Denver into complete win-now mode, it doesn't sound like that's the case.
The legendary quarterback stopped by the Late Show with David Letterman this week to talk about everything from the Super Bowl loss to his now famous "Omaha" calls. When asked about his future, he didn't provide a clear timetable, but said he still enjoyed the work.
Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post passed along his remarks, which also included what would need to happen for him to consider hanging up the cleats for the final time:
I have been rejuvenated these past two years after sitting a year out. When you get back out there, boy, I've just been so grateful to get back out there with my teammates putting in the hard work.
I still enjoy what I'm doing, the preparation part, and I still think I can help the team. If the Broncos say, 'Hey we don't need you any more,' that'll probably be the end of it. And as soon as I don't feel like I can do the same things I've been doing that's when I'll stop playing.
In reality, that could happen after next season or five years down the road. It's impossible to know. It would seem closer to the latter given the fact that Manning is coming off a season where he broke the NFL records for passing touchdowns and passing yards in a single season.
Even if you take into consideration the disastrous performance in the Super Bowl, it was one of the greatest seasons in league history. The Seattle Seahawks' defense simply got more pressure on him than he faced at any point in the first 18 games and things snowballed after a slow start.
Beyond continuing to enjoy the game, Manning still has some records to break. Next up on the list is probably the all-time passing touchdown mark, which is held by Brett Favre. NFL on ESPN notes he's less than 20 away from setting the new standard:
Ultimately, it's all good news for the Broncos. Not only can they feel confident they are going to get elite quarterback play for at least a few more years, but it also gives the front office more flexibility heading into the draft this week.
If Manning had announced this would be his last season, the Broncos would have had little choice but to focus completely on filling holes with the most NFL-ready players the could find.
Unfortunately, that type of strategy often forces a team to reach for certain prospects. At the same time, they are passing on high-upside players capable of making a far bigger impact over time.
Heading into the draft, the Broncos' biggest needs are cornerback and linebacker. They could also use depth on the offensive side at the skill positions, especially running back with Knowshon Moreno now a member of the Miami Dolphins.
If Manning was getting set to step away, there's a very strong chance the team's first pick at No. 31 overall would have been the most NFL-ready cornerback or linebacker available.
Though that could still end up being the case, now they have the option to go in another direction. More specifically, if one of the wide receivers in the second wave after Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans is available, the Broncos can take one of them.
Whether it's Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks or Marqise Lee, they might not see a ton of snaps as a rookie, but they would provide immediate depth and provide great long-term value.
The trend will continue throughout the draft. The Broncos are free to take some chances on players who won't be impact performers right away, but can help the cause two or three years from now. In other words, the draft class might not look anything like the predraft projections.
Of course, it also helps to have a roster capable of making the Super Bowl regardless of the draft class. The Broncos are one of the top AFC contenders as things stand. Any contributions from first-year players will be a bonus.
All told, don't be surprised if Denver ends up going a little off script with its opening pick to maximize the value.
The front office can then target a cornerback and a linebacker in the next few rounds. Finally the focus will shift toward boom-or-bust type prospects starting in Round 4 since the late-round selections aren't likely to find playing time on such a strong team anyway.
It's flexibility allowed by the knowledge that Manning isn't showing any signs of stepping away in the near future. And it will pay dividends over the next few years without the Broncos having to sacrifice their shot at a championship this season.
That's how the foundation for long-term success is built.
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