Peyton Manning will turn 35 in March. By NFL standards that’s old.
He will also become the NFL’s highest-paid player according to Colts’ owner Jim Irsay. I’ll go out on a limb and say Manning won’t turn that down.
Over the past two decades many top-tier quarterbacks have played into their late 30s and beyond with mixed results. Here are a few that fared well and a few that didn’t.
John Elway – Elway is the shining example of what a quarterback can accomplish in his twilight years. He led the Broncos to Super Bowl wins in his final two seasons at age 37 and 38. In his two previous Super Bowl losses – at age 27 and 29 – he threw for a combined one touchdown and five interceptions while completing just 37.5 percent of his passes.
Rich Gannon – Gannon peaked in his mid to late 30s with his best season coming at the age of 37 when he threw for 4,689 yards, 26 TDs, and 10 INTs to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl.
Brett Favre – No it didn’t end pretty, but Favre put together two of his best seasons in his latter years, leading the Packers to the NFC title game when he was 37 and the Vikings there when he was 40. He finished the 2009 regular season with 4,202 yards, 33 TDs, and seven INTs at the age of 40, which is unheard of.
Joe Montana – Putting Montana on a bad list of any kind seems sacrilegious, but his late 30s didn’t treat him well – not by his standards anyway. Injuries allowed him just one start during the 1991 and 1992 seasons (when he was 35 and 36) and the following two seasons with the Chiefs – which were his last – he threw for a combined 29 TDs and 16 INTs … hardly Montana-like.
Dan Marino – Marino also had a rough ending to his career in Miami. In 1997 – at 36 – he threw for just 16 TDs and 11 INTs and was horrendous in a playoff loss to the Patriots. It got no better his final season in 1999. He threw 12 TDs and 17 INTs and had another forgettable playoff performance in a 62-7 loss to the Jaguars.
Jim Kelly – Kelly decided to give it one last shot with the Bills in 1996 at the age of 36. He probably wishes he didn’t. Kelly threw for just 2,810 yards with 14 TDs and 19 INTs. He was also sacked 37 times, the most since his rookie season.
Some factors suggest Manning will do well as he approaches 40.
He hasn’t suffered a serious injury and has yet to miss a start. He has plenty of weapons around him. Much of Manning’s game is mental, which likely won’t slip off as he ages.
Other factors indicate a decline is in store for Manning.
Manning essentially calls the plays and runs the offense. As his physical skills decline, there might be too much on his plate.
If Manning’s contract is worth as much as it’s expected to be, what kind of supporting cast will Polian be able to put around him as many of the team’s key players get older? By the end of next season Jeff Saturday will be 36; Reggie Wayne will be 33; Ryan Diem and Dallas Clark will be 32; and Gary Brackett and Dwight Freeney will be 31.
Old age can cripple an NFL quarterback, even the great ones. Over the next few years we’ll see how Manning holds up. Whether it’s good or bad it’s safe to say that Manning will be handsomely rewarded for his efforts.