The retirement speculation surrounding Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning won't have many clear answers, mostly because Manning himself doesn't seem to know. He's not thinking about it.
Manning knows it's coming, but all that means is he's not ignorant. His "light at the tunnel" comment near the end of last season got a lot of attention, but it meant nothing. All it meant was he's aware that at 38, he won't play much longer. No kidding.
It's obvious why there's speculation. He's one of the greatest players in NFL history and at his age, he should be slowing down. Yet, he just had perhaps the best single season in NFL history and won another MVP award.
In an interview with the Associated Press' Arnie Stapleton, he didn't sound like he has set a date on how long he wants to play.
"Sometimes I sort of kick back and I pause and I think what sorts of things would I miss the most if I wasn't playing," Manning told the AP.
He had an interesting answer to what he'd miss most.
"Being in the huddle," Manning said. "That's what I missed most when I was injured, I'll say that. I mean, there's no other type of unity or bond that I think any other job can provide. I know there are meetings, there are video conferences. But that huddle, because of where it takes place: it's often on the road, in the middle of the field, in front of 80,000 people, it's unique.
"When you don't play football anymore, you can broadcast, you can coach, you can be in management, whatever, but you are not allowed to go into the huddle anymore," Manning said. "That huddle is just for players. You can go into the locker room after the game and you can speak to the team, but I think any retired player would probably tell you they miss the huddle."
Manning has said that he still enjoys the preparation, which for him is a famously significant undertaking. His production is better than ever. He doesn't want to retire, and there's no reason for him to make a plan for it.
The most common guess is that he won't go past 2016. That's when his contract expires. He'll turn 41 before the 2017 season. The number of quarterbacks who have played at age 41 and beyond is very small: George Blanda, Steve DeBerg, Warren Moon, Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie, Earl Morrall, Mark Brunell and Brett Favre. Most of them had almost no success after 40. Favre turned 40 during his great 2009 season and wasn't very good after he turned 41, most of the rest were backups, leaving Moon's Pro Bowl season in 1997 with Seattle as by far the best among any quarterback that age or older. It's really the only good season for a 41-year-old quarterback. Manning continuing past 2016 would be incredibly rare, and playing at a high level at that age and beyond would be almost unprecedented. Then again, he just he set NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns in a season, and 2017 is just three years away. Maybe it's not so crazy.
For now, it seems like Manning will continue to enjoy the ride and figure out retirement as he goes. Everyone else will continue to guess when that might happen.
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