Peyton Manning during a press conference in preparation for Super Bowl XLVIII at the Hyatt Regency. (John O- USA TODAY Photo)

What Happens if Peyton Manning Retires?

Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Kevin Roberts of FantasyFootballOverdose. You can follow Fantasy Football Overdose on twitter at @NBAandNFLInfo, and for more information on the NFL visit Fantasy Football Overdose – your online source for anything about fantasy football.

Peyton Manning says this isn’t his last NFL season. Even if his Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, the soon to be 38-year old quarterback has every intent to play yet next year.

While “riding off into the sunset” as a champion admittedly has it’s perks, Manning has stated that he still feels good, enjoys playing, and thinks he has something left to give. He specifically cited players like Ray Lewis and John Elway, who had the luxury of playing their final NFL game in a Super Bowl win. They, on the other hand, told Manning they gave all they had in their final game, and couldn’t play anymore.

It sounds good, to be sure, but what if Manning just doesn’t want to dabble in hypotheticals? What if he simply doesn’t want to say “yes” to retirement right now, as he knows he’d be a major distraction. It’s entirely possible.

Even if Manning is being transparent and he does intend to play again in 2014, there’s also still the chance he might not even be able to. His yearly checkup on his twice surgically repaired neck comes this March, and on the off chance he doesn’t pass with flying colors, doctors may suggest he hang up his cleats.

We can’t know for sure at this very moment. All we do know is that a loss for the Broncos this Sunday probably would urge Manning to give it one more go, while a win would give him a little extra incentive to call it a career.

For the sake of being prepared for 2014, when it comes to the Denver Broncos and fantasy football, let’s just say this is it for Manning. Let’s say the Broncos win, and he gallops off, high on his horse into that cliche’ sunset.

What, then?

Let’s break it down from the main angles as we try to ponder life without #18 in the NFL come next year:

Life After Manning in General

Even if Manning doesn’t go, there’s a pretty good chance some other veterans will – namely regressing corner Champ Bailey. He seemed to be on his last leg this year and unless he can and/or would be opening to switching to safety to taking a paycut to play solely nickel back, he might consider leaving.

Suddenly the Broncos’ best veteran presences are gone. Add in free agency water-testers like Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker, and Denver could suddenly be far less imposing in 2014.

Not only would Moreno and Decker (as well as others) be inclined to find a franchise willing to pay them top dollar, but they’d also probably like to keep winning. Without Manning, that’s not nearly as likely in Denver.

And there’s that elephant in the room: who replaces the guy?

First up would have to be former second-round pick, Brock Osweiler. He has amazing size and good arm strength, but wouldn’t come in with any real experience, while pocket presence, consistency, leadership and accuracy would all be major question marks.

In other words, it’s entirely possible this would be the John Elway-to-Brian Griese transition all over again.

Considering Elway jumped on the chance to land Manning and did all he could to cut ties with Tim Tebow a few years ago, my guess is he wouldn’t just sit on Osweiler.

That means Denver would suddenly be in the market for another signal caller, whether it be via trade, free agency, the draft or all of the above.

Michael Vick is the only real passer that is going to be on the open market and he can’t be the answer, so the Broncos would then have to chase a prospect in the draft or swing a trade for a backup who has shown to have some upside.

New York’s Ryan Nassib could be interesting as a guy who is stuck behind Eli Manning, while Kirk Cousins in Washington could also garner some attention.

Ultimately, though, the draft is where it’s at if Manning retires. Denver would have to poke at the would-be middling talent at the bottom of the first round or in the second and third rounds. LSU’s Zach Mettenberger has the size and arm NFL teams look for, and while he’s rehabbing a torn ACL, he arguably would have the most upside of any rookie passer not named Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr or Blake Bortles.

Of course, if this truly was the situation the Broncos were in and Manning had made his retirement official, it’s also not crazy to think Elway puts his eggs in one basket and goes all in on a quarterback he loves in this draft. That could mean trading several picks to land the one guy he covets to replace Manning.

The speculation is fun, but we can all agree the reality for the Denver Broncos in 2014 is a harsh one. To answer the main question – what will happen if Peyton Manning retires? Nothing good.

On a lighter note, let’s analyze how Manning’s potential exit could affect the Broncos from a fantasy football perspective.

Who Takes a Hit in Fantasy Football?

Obviously if Manning is done, the Broncos are done as an elite offensive unit, too. That means it’s possible most of their players won’t be elite fantasy options, either.

Of course, just how much of a regression the players as individuals and the offense as a whole sees would surely depend on Manning’s eventual replacement. Either way, though, I would imagine the running game struggling a bit more, while Wes Welker and Julius Thomas would take significant hits.

The departure of Manning would likely have Moreno and Decker taking the money and running elsewhere, which would mean Welker would be thrust into the #2 receiver role on a full-time basis and Montee Ball would be the team’s top running back.

Ball is an effective inside and short-yardage runner, but he has ball control issues, hands of stone as a receiver, and lacks consistency. I’m not sure being forced into a featured role without Manning to ease the pressure would be a great thing. The offense wouldn’t see the red-zone nearly as often as they do now, either, so fantasy owners really wouldn’t even be able to necessarily rely on his goal-line rushing prowess.

In other words, Ball would walk into 2013 as a RB2 at best, and a shaky one, at that.

Welker would probably still be a solid WR2 as he is now, and might even still be a borderline WR1 in PPR formats. However, with a new quarterback in place, his targets wouldn’t be expected to rise, while his touchdowns would surely drop. He’d be posting mediocre-to-decent numbers.

The sames goes for tight end Julius Thomas. He’d still have a hefty role with Decker out of the picture, but fewer trips inside the 20 would limit his elite red-zone skills. He’d have to rely on creating plays on his own, although his elite athleticism would still allow him to have solid value. He’d probably still be a TE1, but he’d be much more inconsistent without Manning and would almost certainly score fewer touchdowns.

Demaryius Thomas is the only Broncos fantasy weapon I think could still thrive without Manning. He has the size, speed and playmaking ability to take screens the distance, pull down deep balls or win jump ball situations.

Thanks to his athleticism and explosiveness, even a so-so quarterback would be able to make good use of him on screens and intermediate routes, while he’d be easy to trust deep down the field. The conversion rate of his big plays would lessen, but he’d still be a threat to go off on a weekly basis. That would still make him a legit WR1 in fantasy football until the new quarterback showed us otherwise.

With all this said, Manning retiring would be nothing but bad news for the Broncos. He may throw wobbly passes, but his ball placement and execution is still at an elite level. If Manning retires, you’ll have to at least marginally downgrade every Broncos player for fantasy purposes.

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