Peyton Manning was cleared for the 2014 season when he passed his physical Monday. Is this a big deal? Maybe not, but the Denver Broncos are now on hook for $20 million in salary this year, but are likely glad to do it. Apparently, fans can finally put behind them the struggles Manning had with his neck that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. It also officially turns the page for Manning and the Denver Broncos after a disastrous Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The question for both Manning and his boss, John Elway, is where they will from here. It has now been one month since Manning and Elway woke up from a historic blowout in New York; on Groundhog Day, to be exact. The task now for the current quarterback and former quarterback is to make sure they do not repeat Groundhog Day a la Bill Murray and Harold Ramis.
Elway’s team was criticized for being too soft after the blowout. The guess is that Elway does not ignore that criticism. For a player that Howie Long once called the toughest, he had ever played against, that particular criticism has to sting. To be fair, they were beaten up on the defensive side of the ball. They definitely had their more than their share of injuries but what team doesn’t anymore. Very few teams escape the season without much injury.
The Seahawks were on of those teams but that’s not the reason the Broncos lost the Super Bowl.
Elway knows this. As free agency hits and the draft comes the number one task for Elway will be to shore up the defense and pray that Von Miller comes back healthy and in the right frame of mind. If Miller is right that helps considerably. That is a big if considering Miller suffered a six game drug suspension in 2013 and a laundry list of minor transgressions that has to make Elway nervous.
Manning also knows the Broncos didn’t fall because of injuries. There’s work to do but Manning being cleared to play in 2014 is the first thing he needed in redirecting his attention to what he can do to making his team better. His teams have always been weighted towards the passing game and that is one of two criticisms that are pointed Manning’s way at the moment.
He faces any number of questions in the coming year. Can the Broncos run the ball better in 2014? Do they need to be more physical? Can Manning, the unquestioned and leader and perhaps architect of this offense, run an offense that features running the ball anymore? More to the point, will he allow it?
The other question with Manning has to do with his play during the Super Bowl. It’s the second straight Super Bowl he has played in where his play has been less that stellar. It’s hard to blame him on this one. The Seahawks pinned their ears back and came after him from the first play. Manning didn’t stand a chance against that defense if they couldn’t get their feet set and step up in the pocket. He was allowed to do neither.
A good running game would help fix that though. Elway knows this better than anyone as he won two Super Bowls only after Terrell Davis and the Broncos established a running game to take the heat off of their quarterback. Elway is the guy to help Manning understand this. If he can’t who else could?
All of these questions may be important for the Broncos to address in the next six months. The first matter of business is over. Peyton Manning is cleared for the 2014 season. Time to turn the page.
Commentary by Mick Varner
The Denver Post