By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If this is indeed the end for Peyton Manning, it may be even uglier than we thought.
While the product on the field has been difficult to watch (nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions), it has apparently extended off the field, too.
According to NFL Network’s James Palmer, with Manning not playing this week due to what the team is calling a left foot injury, the future Hall of Famer has not even been near his team or coaching staff this week.
Manning “hasn’t attended any practices or meetings this week and hasn’t had a single conversation about Sunday’s game plan with Brock Osweiler,” according to Palmer. Mark Haas at CBS Denver has reported the same.
“His focus is 100 percent on treatment and getting healthy,” Palmer said.
Osweiler, of course, will be the Broncos’ starting quarterback on Sunday, going up against John Fox — a coach on whom Manning would likely have quite a bit of intel, having played for Fox for the three seasons prior to this one. And it stands to reason, surely, that one could “focus” on a foot healing while still being able to sit in a meeting room and speak, does it not?
Osweiler’s in his fourth NFL season, but he’s never started a game, and he only has 54 pass attempts in his career. Nearly half of those came just last week, when he threw his first passes of the season.
Surely, an inexperienced quarterback could use the guidance of a future Hall of Famer who has been in the NFL since Osweiler was 7 years old and has thrown more than 10,000 passes as a professional. Whether it’s what to expect from the defense on certain plays, when to change a call at the line, what to look for when a first or second read breaks down, or even just some advice on handling the mental and emotional challenges of being a starting quarterback, the impact Manning could have on helping Osweiler is immense.
And by reportedly not being around to help, Manning opens himself up to critics who might suggest he’s putting his own interests above what’s best for the Broncos. And if anyone started to question whether Manning wants his team to win without him, they really wouldn’t be out of bounds.
In Manning’s heart of hearts, does he want to see Osweiler struggle, so that Manning can get his job back as soon as possible? It’s probably not the case, but pulling a disappearing act when he could provide invaluable advice to a teammate who needs it will automatically make minds wonder.
Manning’s explanation for not being around for Osweiler essentially amounts to Manning saying that there will be enough people offering advice, so his is not needed.
“No, I’m not a coach for one thing. And as I shared with him, he’s probably going to have a lot of coaches this week, some that aren’t coaches either, that are going to be offering him tips or advice,” Manning said. “So I told him that I am here for him as a resource if he needs me, but I’m not going to be one of those extra voices in his ear.”
What Manning didn’t say is that none of those coaches have even a fraction of the experience and knowledge of Manning himself. Quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison may be fine coaches, but they could never help Osweiler the way Manning could.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak also said Monday that Manning didn’t really agree with the coach’s decision to go with Osweiler, a wrinkle that didn’t go unnoticed. Manning’s belief is that the best thing for the Broncos would be for him to play instead of rest, according to Kubiak.
“I’ve never met a player who agreed with that. No,” Kubiak said. “He wants to go and wants to do everything that he can for his football team. I knew that. I expected that. We spent a good hour together up there. I know that, but I tried to express to him my concern for getting him back to himself and feeling better. I think he understands the position that I’m in and I sure as hell understand the type of person that he is and the player he is.”
He wants to go and do everything he can for his football team … but only, apparently, on his own terms.
Now, here in Boston, the comparison will inevitably be made to Tom Brady. And while it may seem like common sense to say “Brady would be in Jimmy Garoppolo’s ear all week because all Brady wants to do is win!” … that may not actually be the case. Back in 2008, Brady played just seven minutes before tearing his knee. As the inexperienced Matt Cassel went through his ups and downs after being thrust into the starting role, Brady took a lot of heat on talk radio for not showing his face on the sideline. The same logic applied — surely, Brady would be able to offer some helpful advice to Cassel, who at times desperately needed it.
Granted, an NFL sideline is not an ideal place for a person to stand when he’s undergone surgery to reconstruct his knee, considering giant men could come flying through at any moment. Plus, a report early in that season said that Brady talked to Cassel to help him prepare for his first start, just days after Brady suffered the injury. Cassel has also spoken specifically about times that Brady helped him along as an NFL quarterback, even before the injury.
“I got to learn from one of the best in the game to ever play the game in Tom, and he was such a great mentor to me,” Cassel said last year. “I just remember when I was probably in my first or second year, I forgot a motion, and [Brady] got after me on it, and he was like, ‘You can’t make mistakes like that because you can’t be the guy who’s the leader in the huddle and trying to tell other people that they need to be in the right spot when you’re making mistakes.’ That has always stuck with me as I’ve gone forward in my career.”
While it seems Brady was certainly a good teammate to Cassel, Brady is and always has been known as someone unwilling to give up even one snap in a practice rep if he can help it. Brady got his job by unseating the face of the franchise, and he has seemingly spent his career doing whatever he could to make sure the same fate didn’t await him.
So given that there’s no apples-to-apples comparison — Brady was gone for the entire year in 2008 and was in the prime of his career, whereas Manning is expected to be able to play again this year, in the twilight of his career — it can’t be stated as gospel that Brady would be in Garoppolo’s ear all week if he were in the same position as Manning.
There have been some examples just this season, though, that don’t make Manning look very good. Tony Romo, recovering from a broken collarbone, has been on the Cowboys’ sideline. Ben Roethlisberger donned a headset and became a de facto assistant coach while he missed time with a knee injury. Manning, meanwhile, won’t be around to help Osweiler on Sunday, because he thinks he won’t be of any help.
Yet beyond any comparison with any other quarterback, Manning being away from the team to deal with a foot injury in the middle of the season — again, a season in which he’s expected to return — is certainly curious. The evolving situation taking place, with the Hall of Famer getting benched for an unproven player in the midst of an otherwise highly successful season for a team with Super Bowl aspirations, could get a whole lot more interesting in the coming months. By the end of the season, all of those wobbly interceptions may not be the ugliest thing we see from Peyton Manning.