Peyton Manning to retire after 18 NFL seasons

Troy E. Renck
Denver Post

Peyton Manning, a two-time Super Bowl champion who rewrote NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns, informed the Broncos on Saturday night that he will retire.

Manning spoke to general manager John Elway and coach Gary Kubiak.

"When you look at everything Peyton has accomplished as a player and person, it's easy to see how fortunate we've been to have him on our team," Elway said in a team statement. "Peyton was everything that we thought he was and even more — not only for the football team, but in the community. I'm very thankful Peyton chose to play for the Denver Broncos, and I congratulate him on his Hall of Fame career."

A league record five-time MVP, Manning walks away after 18 seasons and two Super Bowl victories. His final game wasn't his finest, but it provided an exclamation point to a Hall of Fame career.

Manning helped the underdog Broncos defeat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50, making him the first starting quarterback to win an NFL title with two franchises and the oldest at 39, eclipsing John Elway's record.

Denver Post columnist Woody Paige first reported that Manning would retire and inform the Broncos of his decision by the end of the week. ESPN first reported early Sunday morning that the announcement would come on Monday. Manning will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Monday.

"It was a blessing to coach Peyton Manning. Nobody worked harder at the game and nobody prepared harder," Kubiak said. "His preparation was the best I have ever seen."

Until this past season, Manning defined the team he played on.

Deteriorating skills, advancing age and a torn plantar fascia in his left foot marginalized Manning in his final season. He struggled running a new zone-blocking, run-first, under-center offensive scheme. Despite compiling a 7-2 record, he threw interceptions in his first nine games. He crash landed in a Nov. 15 game against Kansas City in Denver. Coach Gary Kubiak benched Manning in favor of Brock Osweiler after Manning's fourth interception left him with a 0.0 quarterback rating in the loss.

Through patience, rest and rehabilitation, Manning came full circle. Kubiak called on Manning to replace a struggling Osweiler in the regular-season finale against San Diego, and, in arguably his most important contribution this past season, secured home-field advantage by leading the Broncos on three consecutive scoring drives.

Manning went 3-0 in the playoffs, serving as a game manager in a conservative attack designed to play to the team's historically strong defense.

The Super Bowl wins "were certainly different, but it's a special feeling," said Manning, who completed 13-of-23 passes for 141 yards and one interception in Super Bowl 50. "I certainly knew how hard it is to get here. You've got to have some good fortune. It's very special. We had a great football team."

Manning committed three turnovers in the three victories and finished with a 14-13 all-time playoff record. Only one Hall of Fame quarterback won the Super Bowl in his final game: Elway. Manning will join him with that honor in Canton, Ohio, in five years.

"He got to go out the way we all want to go out," said Oakland Raiders safety Charles Woodson of Michigan, like Manning a member of the 1998 draft class who retired after this season. "It's great to see it happen like that for him."

Manning's $19 million salary for 2016 would have become guaranteed Tuesday. Manning deliberated for the past two weeks, weighing his health and options. The Broncos were prepared to move on, attempting to secure Osweiler with a three-year contract offer for about $39 million.

Manning's departure before the fifth season of his deal costs the Broncos $2.5 million as applied to the salary cap. It brings to an end the most tumultuous season of Manning's career, one during which he lost his job, faced insinuations of having used human growth hormone in 2011 through an al-Jazeera report and was cited in a lawsuit filed by a group of women alleging that the University of Tennesseee violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment."

Manning's final season provided a jarring contrast to his first three in Denver, when he padded a stat-heavy resume that made him arguably the greatest free-agent signing in NFL history. Manning posted a 45-12 regular-season record in Denver and guided the Broncos to two Super Bowls. He completed 1,443 of 2,170 passes for 17,112 yards with 140 touchdowns and 53 interceptions.

His 2013 season ranks as the high-water mark of quarterback play. Manning set a single-season record with 55 touchdown passes as the Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points.

"He changed the position forever," said Hall of Famer Joe Namath, alluding to Manning's work ethic and film study. "No one played the position like he did."

There are many memories for Manning to relive: 186 regular-season victories, tied for Brett Favre for most all time; 15 postseason appearances, 539 passing touchdowns and 54 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the last two all-time bests.

Manning leaves a footprint of statistics. But for many, his legacy is rooted in preparation.

"His impact on me goes way beyond watching him," said 14-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez. "It comes from personal conversations we have had on what it takes to be great. I consider him a friend. Listening to him and seeing what his routine of greatness is and asking him questions ... 'What time do you get into the facility?' 'What time do you leave?' And you see the kind of work he puts into it. It kind of takes away a little bit of that mystique, that just because your name is Manning and your dad was Archie that you were destined to be a great player. That has nothing to do with it. He created the blueprint for a lot of these players, and it should be. It's an obsessive-compulsive behavior toward being the greatest of all time."