Had Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos lost to the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, you could understand why the soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback could contemplate a return in 2016. As everyone knows, the Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10 and Manning won the second Lombardi Trophy of his career.
So after becoming the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Manning knows what he needs to do. He can take his time to decide, but he probably already knows in his mind it is time for the 18-year veteran to retire.
If anyone watched the Super Bowl, you saw how far away he is from the player that he was in 2013 when he threw for 55 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. To say Manning's Super Bowl stats were mediocre would be putting it mildly, as he had 13 completions on 23 attempts for 141 passing yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
Father time started to pay Manning late in 2014 when he threw 11 touchdowns against eight touchdowns in his final eight starts (including playoffs). Many pointed to his late-season injury as the reason for his decline, but that was the beginning of the end for Manning.
After being beaten up, booed and even benched in 2015, it is hard to see any scenario where Manning should continue playing.
Sure, Manning would have a select few choices of suitors should he want to play one more season. The Los Angeles Rams, Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns all need help at the quarterback position but are any of those teams just a quarterback away from contending?
Manning should have a similar ending as his boss, Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway, did in 1998. After starting his career 0-3 in Super Bowls, Elway and the Broncos won two straight Super Bowls. Elway took some time before announcing his decision in May 1999.
Manning won't likely take as long as Elway did as the Broncos would likely need to know his decision before the beginning of the new league year on March 9. After Sunday's satisfying victory against the Panthers, Manning said he got some advice about his future from a familiar source.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Manning said. “I talked to (former Indianapolis coach) Tony Dungy last week and he said that he got some good advice from Dick Vermeil and I think maybe Bill Cowher as well about not making an emotional decision one way or the other. So I think that was good advice to kind of let this sink in. It’s been an emotional week, emotional night, and the night is just beginning. I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family and I think I’ll take some time after that. Like I said, I am going to enjoy the night, take it one step at a time.”
Manning's place in history is secure. He is arguably one of the top three quarterbacks ever to play the game. When talking about the best quarterbacks of all time Joe Montana and Tom Brady are likely the top two choices on most lists.
Without a second Super Bowl championship. there possibly would have been a question about Manning's place on the list but there's hardly any debate now.
No one would want Manning to have a sad ending for another team much like Johnny Unitas with the San Diego Chargers or Joe Namath with the Rams.
After holding a number of NFL passing records and becoming now the only quarterback to win the Super Bowl for two different teams, there's isn't any reason for Manning to return in 2016.
Manning's father, Archie, doesn't know what his son is going to do, but he believes his son has played his last game in Denver.
"I think Peyton's done in Denver," Archie Manning told NFL Network after Denver's win. "I think Peyton's done in Denver. He may be done everywhere. I don't know that. But that's my guess."
Not many players have had a chance to go out on top after winning a championship. Manning should retire as a two-time Super Bowl champion and an all-time great and never look back.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)