Before we get into whether it's accurate that the Denver Broncos attempted to trade Peyton Manning to the Houston Texans earlier this year, let me first explain how these types of conversations usually happen.
There are several ways that trade talks involving stars can begin. The most common is one general manager or top front-office executive contacting his counterpart on another team—a call will begin with both men swearing secrecy to each other. One general manager walked me through how a conversation like this will go down.
General manager No. 1: "So, say, hypothetically, I had a Hall of Famer, all-time great, available for a trade."
General manager No. 2: "I'm listening."
"Hypothetically, what would you offer for him?"
"Maybe a second- and third-rounder. Hypothetically."
"Can't go to a first and second? Hypothetically?"
"Hypothetically, hell no. We all know the guy is nearing 40."
"OK, can't blame me for trying. Haha."
(Both men roll their eyes.)
"How's the family?"
"Really good, and please remember to keep this between us."
The GMs will then immediately tell members of their respective staffs about the call, swearing them to secrecy. Those staff members will then tell others about the call, swearing them to secrecy. And so on, and so on, and so on...
These hypothetical discussions happen all the time in the NFL, as the general manager explained, and to the teams involved, the use of the "H" word gives them plausible deniability. That's total bull, but that's how they see it.
The risk in having such a conversation is obviously huge, but as the general manager told me—not hypothetically—the two GMs usually will keep their word. They will only talk to one or two people in the organization that they trust. This is considered not telling anyone.
If the talks get out, it's usually because the process has moved along to the point that the agent is told. That doesn't seem to be the case here. Manning's agent, Tom Condon, said that he had not heard of any trade talk.
This is not surprising. If there was trade talk, it was likely in the stage where hypotheticals are being tossed around like stuffed crust pizza, and Condon wouldn't have been brought in that early.
The other way it leaks is that someone in the know will tell someone on another team, not involved in the talks, and then—boom—it's leaked to a journalist. Team officials I speak to believe this is what happened with Manning. The Broncos had one of those hypothetical discussions with the Texans. It went nowhere. But, slowly, word leaked out. First it leaked from former scout Daniel Jeremiah, then from Denver radio host Benjamin Allbright, then from CBS in Houston.
It's hard to believe that three separate entities at three separate times all would report the same thing and there would be nothing to it, though it does make you pause that one of the best NFL writers of all time, John McClain, who covers the Texans for the Houston Chronicle, said his sources stated there was no truth to the story.
Across the league, people I speak to do believe these reports, believe that some type of discussion did happen and that the Broncos are using the hypothetical stage act as cover.
It's not crazy to think the Broncos would put out hypothetical feelers hypothetically to see if a team was hypothetically dumb enough to give up some crazy hypothetical ransom for Manning.
As the general manager said, "The Broncos would be stupid not to talk to teams about trading Manning."
(Not that such a trade ever had a chance of happening. I'm told by a source close to Manning that he would have retired before going to Houston. That, I certainly believe.)
So why are we discussing this? Why is a hypothetical conversation filled with hypotheticals that led to nothing important?
Because all of this talk means one certain thing: We are at the end of Manning's career. Possibly, the very end, where he plays just one more season.
|Peyton Manning career stats|
When Manning is eligible, he will enter the Hall of Fame on a chariot, carried by Jim Irsay, Bill Polian and the cast of Saturday Night Live. He's one of the best to ever do it. That's not in question. What is in question is just how much Manning has left.
Manning is 39 years old. He has been superhuman, but he's just like the rest of us in that he hasn't found a cure for aging. He's clearly slowing. The window on his career is almost shut tight. He knows all this. There's a reason he negotiated a no-trade clause into his contract extension back in March.
The Colts moved on from Manning because they wanted to go younger, much younger, with Andrew Luck. It was the right move. I think the Broncos are at the same point with young backup quarterback Brock Osweiler. They are just about ready for the Osweiler regime to begin. I know, it sounds crazy. It feels funny just writing it.
Team officials I speak to believe the possibility of exploratory talks about trading Manning shows the Broncos may strongly be considering that Osweiler is ready sooner than later.
Here's what I believe: The Broncos did talk Manning trade, in a very preliminary way, because they know it's basically over for him. And for a brief moment, they were enthralled with visions of Osweiler dancing in their head.
Hypothetically speaking, of course.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.