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Peyton Manning’s Cast is Off: How Soon Should He Play?

December 5, 2015 • Joe Messineo • AFC West, Denver Broncos, Features, Front Page

Peyton Manning has been dealing with a torn plantar fascia in his foot for some time now, but word has come out that Peyton has said goodbye to his walking cast. That’s good news for Broncos fans––or is it?

Manning’s return seems likely to happen at some point, but there will be real concern about his quality of play this year. If Manning rushes back from injury, we could see a repeat of the dismal game against the Kansas City Chiefs that got the future Hall of Famer benched in favor of backup QB Brock Osweiler. Besides, Osweiler is holding down the fort pretty well lately. So how long should Manning sit out?

Manning’s Injury Recovery Timeline

One thing that makes this question so intriguing is the unique nature of plantar fascia injuries. For the most part, Manning is just resting right now – and the primary factor determining when he’ll be able to play again is his own comfort. As soon as Manning says he’s comfortable enough to play, he’ll be cleared to do so by the medical staff.

Should Manning Be Starting As Soon As He’s Ready?

Manning may soon say that he’s ready to come back. But should Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak let him do it?

Let’s get this out of the way first: Peyton Manning is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and if he’s fully healthy, he helps the Broncos. If the Broncos play in Super Bowl 50, they should put Peyton Manning, not Brock Osweiler, out on the field. It’s true that Osweiler’s arm strength adds a new dimension to the Broncos offense, but Manning proved last year and the year before that, when healthy, he’s still an elite quarterback.

But how will the Broncos get to the Super Bowl if they keep letting Manning call his own shots and play through his injuries? That’s how they got that Chiefs game, in which Manning threw nearly as many interceptions as he did completions.

Manning should be the Broncos starter – but not just as soon as he’s ready.

Give It a Rest

Manning is better than Osweiler, but only when he’s healthy––we’ve seen that caveat proved this year. So the wise decision would be to err on the side of using Osweiler in the Broncos’ remaining regular season games. That would maximize Peyton Manning’s rest days, even if it could risk the Broncos’ first-round bye.

This week’s game against the Chargers is a no-brainer: Osweiler will start. Osweiler should also start the following game against the Oakland Raiders, who are a solid team at 5-6 but should be nothing that the Wizard of Os can’t handle.

The next two games – at Pittsburgh and versus Cincinnati – are the ones to circle. Those are the most competitive games left on Denver’s schedule. If Manning is healthy for those, he’ll want to play. But we don’t think he should.

Instead, the Broncos could use Osweiler and make Manning available off the bench in case of disaster. The Broncos could close the regular season with Osweiler taking on the Chargers, and then switch back to Manning for the playoffs.

Why This Will Work

The primary goal of resting Manning for the rest of the regular season is preserving his strength and letting him heal. But this idea will work well for Osweiler, too.

By giving Osweiler more starts, the Broncos will groom him for potential postseason starts. Even with the extra rest, there’s no guarantee that Manning won’t go down in the offseason. A proven Osweiler gives the Broncos more license to mix and match their quarterbacks if Manning appears to be playing hurt.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter who the Broncos “starter” is. What matters is winning the Super Bowl, by any means possible. Resting Manning for longer than he claims to need is the way to do that.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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