Does Peyton Manning have enough left for another championship run?
Peyton Manning has been called plenty of things during his NFL career.
An underdog isn't one of them.
Yet for the first time in his storied run, that's exactly what Manning should be considered entering what will be his 18th NFL season.
Any remaining doubts about Manning's return to the Denver Broncos ended Wednesday when ESPN reported that he had reached agreement on a restructured contract. Manning will have his base salary reduced from $19 million to $15 million, but, as FOX Sports NFL insider Mike Garafolo reported, he could earn the $4 million back through incentives.
Not that the money should matter too much to Manning, especially if the Broncos use the extra cap space created to keep some of their potential free agents from leaving. According to Forbes Magazine, Manning has earned an NFL-record $230 million in football salary alone, excluding his multiple endorsement deals.
That's a lot of chicken parm.
Admittedly, I'm not sure what the Broncos would have done if Manning had refused a contract adjustment. It's clear that Brock Osweiler, a 2012 second-round draft choice as Denver's quarterback of the future, hasn't impressed team management in practice enough to cut ties with Manning as Green Bay did in 2007 with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. There also isn't a passer available via trade or in free agency of the same caliber as No. 18.
As for Manning, he realizes none of the other teams in need of a quarterback this offseason is in better position to contend for a Super Bowl than Denver. And at age 39, Manning may not have wanted to start over in unfamiliar surroundings no matter how much he was being paid, even though he now has to work with a new head coach and offensive coordinator. In turn, Gary Kubiak will now have to tailor his system to accommodate a quarterback whose strength is playing in the shotgun rather than taking snaps from under center.
What the offense will look like remains a mystery, but there is a bigger question that must be answered: Does Manning have enough left in his right arm to surpass Broncos general manager John Elway as the oldest starting quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl?
Though all the NFL passing records he has set are part of his legacy -- Favre's all-time yardage mark is the next milestone within reach -- Lombardi Trophies are the standard by which a player as elite as Manning is judged. As grossly as unfair as this may be in a team sport, Manning has continually set the bar so high that anything short of a Super Bowl title is considered a failure by some fans and media. Critics point to the fact Manning has "only" one championship along with an 11-13 playoff record when they claim he isn't the greatest quarterback ever.
Doubts abound about whether Manning still has enough skill to win another title. His arm strength, which has diminished since he underwent multiple neck surgeries earlier this decade, never seemed shakier than in the second half of the 2014 season even as he finished with the type of statistics -- 4,727 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 66.2 percent completion rate -- that would make most of his peers envious. Quadriceps injuries suffered late in the season took even more steam off Manning's throws as he struggled to step into his passes and contributed to his subpar performance during a 24-13 opening-round home playoff loss to Indianapolis.
Overall, Manning looked like the type of player who could survive a 16-game season but didn't have the juice to make it the distance in the postseason.
The fact Manning is willing to try again makes him a sentimental favorite entering what may very well be his final go-around.
Manning's willingness to dedicate himself to offseason training already -- he reportedly began workouts last month in New Orleans -- could make him stronger than last season and help him keep Father Time at bay for a little bit longer. Broncos management can do its part by making a bigger offseason investment in the offensive line than in 2014, when the main focus was on three big-ticket defensive upgrades (DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib). There may be replacements needed as well with tight end Julius Thomas and wide receiver Wes Welker set to become unrestricted free agents.
Nobody can relate to Manning's golden years better than Elway himself. He was 38 years old with an arthritic knee during the 1998 season but was still talented enough to guide Denver to a second straight Super Bowl championship thanks to a running back (Terrell Davis) that carried the load, an outstanding offensive line, a strong receiving corps and a defense that made big plays when it mattered most. Elway was fortunate enough to end his playing days with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XXXIII and got the chance to ride off into the sunset with the Lombardi Trophy in tow.
Elway obviously believes Manning can do the same even though the history of older quarterbacks reflects otherwise.