Yesterday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported that Peyton Manning has made it known that he won’t be happy as the Broncos’ backup—that is, if Manning gets healthy and ready to play, he wants to reclaim the starting job. After Denver’s 34-27 loss to Pittsburgh, which will require them to beat the Bengals next week to have any hope of a playoff bye, Manning derided the report in the strongest of terms.
“It’s a flat-out lie. It’s insulting. And it’s distracting.” Manning said. He spoke calmly but refuted the report in the strongest terms. “That’s 100 percent bullshit. No. 1, it is bullshit. And No. 2, it’s insulting.”
The initial report was, if anything, unsurprising. What career starter, what surefire hall-of-famer who’s finally having to stare down his own football mortality, would be fine with finishing out his career on the bench? But the noteworthiness of this report may be in the vehemence of its denials. It took less than an hour after Rapoport’s report for John Elway to weigh in.
Here’s the thing, though: Rapoport never said Manning had come to his coach or GM with any requests or ultimatums. You can read the transcript of Rapoport’s report here. The wording is loose, but it’s things like Peyton “is not inclined to be Brock Osweiler’s backup” or “does not want to be the backup.” Nothing about any sort of demand, even if that might be implied.
It’s a tough situation for the Broncos. Osweiler’s been competent since taking over, but not so great that he invariably keeps the job over a healthy Peyton Manning—but there’s no guarantee that this version of Manning will be anywhere near even last year’s version.
It may all be moot. Manning, who was finally cleared to practice last week, suffered a setback on Friday. That means he’ll almost certainly be held out of Week 16. If the Broncos want to know what Manning has left—if they haven’t already made the decision to ride Osweiler—they’re running out of games in which to find out.