In case you haven’t noticed, Peyton Manning has plenty of gas left in his tank.
Excelling in his latest role as the starting QB for the Broncos, the four-time league MVP’s still-imposing presence on the football field cannot be denied — especially with it being on display on a prime-time national stage two of the past three weeks in heavyweight matchups against the division-rival Chargers on Monday night in Week Six and the Drew Brees-led Saints on Sunday night in Week Eight.
But while owning up to the fact that Manning is no doubt fully focused at present on leading the Broncos to a division title in the AFC West, it’s hard not to at least picture him in another context.
Is it actually possible, we wonder, that Manning could be carrying around business cards 5-10 years down the road identifying himself as a member of the NFL’s high-profile ownership fraternity?
It’s a question that became a lot more intriguing in our minds last Friday when Manning signed a deal to own 21 Papa John’s pizza stores in the Denver area, the same day the pizza maker announced it had signed a multiyear deal to continue as the official pizza of the NFL and the Super Bowl.
“He’s the kind of partner we’re looking for, not only in marketing but in business,” said Papa John’s chief marketing officer Andrew Varga, who, according to many of the league observers that PFW talked to last week, could be echoing the sentiments of the majority of NFL owners should Manning become a serious candidate to join their exclusive club some day.
“Peyton is such a football junkie, even more than (Broncos executive vice president of football operations and former Broncos star QB John) Elway, that I can absolutely see it,” a regular on the Broncos beat in Denver told PFW.
“Peyton is so aware of his surroundings, so smart, it would make sense.”
Veteran WR Brandon Stokley, who toiled for a long time with Manning in Indianapolis before being reunited with him in Denver this season, would tend to agree.
“I think whatever he does, he would be successful just because he’s so competitive,” Stokley told PFW. “Whatever he does, he works really hard at it. He’s not going to not succeed at it. That’s kind of what he does. He puts everything into what he’s doing. I think he would be a very successful NFL owner or whatever he decides to do.”
There have been rumblings in league circles that Manning has had his sights set on being a league owner for a while now.
“I heard that Peyton and a heavyweight guy with FedEx almost bought the Titans a couple years ago from Bud Adams,” a top league executive told PFW. “It would have been (Peyton’s father and former Saints QB Archie Manning) and this guy in the ownership group until Peyton was done playing, and then he would have bought in for ‘X’ amount when he was done.
“That is the reason Bud felt so confident he could get Peyton to Tennessee.”
It’s also worth noting that Manning’s wife, Ashley, a native of Memphis, is part of a group purchasing the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies that also includes former NBA player Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Justin Timberlake.
“I am proud of Ashley as she pursues this opportunity with the Memphis Grizzlies,” Peyton Manning said. “While my focus is on playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos, I look forward to watching her become involved with her hometown team.”
The way we hear it, the more Manning becomes personally involved with Elway, who established himself as a very successful Denver-area businessman before becoming Broncos owner Pat Bowlen’s No. 1 football man, the more likely it becomes that Manning will stay in pro football after he retires — in a heavyweight front-office capacity, at the very least.
“Peyton has to be involved in football,” said a source on the scene in Denver. “I could see him doing what Elway does.”
A league insider took it a step further.
“He will be a part of an ownership group at some point,” the insider said. “He definitely felt very comfortable with Elway because of the direction (Elway) has taken in his career. … The new Browns owner (Jimmy Haslam) is a Tennessee alum and is close with Peyton.”
Nobody we talked to questions Manning’s credentials. One league talent evaluator compared him to Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome.
“Ozzie Newsome was a great player and is a great GM, but he worked at it in Cleveland and learned it from the ground up,” the evaluator said. “That’s what it takes, and too many stars don’t have the humility to do it that way. They let their egos get in the way.
“I think Peyton will put on his hard hat and chip away. He’s always working on putting that foundation in place for when he is done playing — and that’s why the Broncos were able to land him.”
In the meantime, Manning continues taking care of business — on and off the field, pitching pigskins, pizzas and assorted other products with equal aplomb.
Said Manning of his latest Papa John’s purchases: “It’s a smart investment now and will be long after I’m done playing football.”
But the way we hear it, it won’t be all that long after he retires from football before Manning makes his commanding presence felt full time in a different way for the game he loves.
“Peyton is so competitive, calculated and intense and focused in his preparation,” a league executive told PFW. “Those traits will take him a long way in business. Once he sets his mind to accomplish a task, there is little that will stop him. A big part of the reason he went to Denver is because he related so well to Elway and admired what he has done in his career, as a quarterback who won championships late in his career and as an owner and personnel man.
“I think the personnel stuff really intrigues Peyton. He’s always been a film junkie, so you know he has the patience to sit through it and really study the game like so few owners are willing or know how to do.”