Could a 2011 Work Stoppage Affect Manning’s Historic Chase, Part I

Since his historic 2004 season, when he set new records in quarterback rating and touchdown passes for a season, it has seemed fait accompli that Peyton Manning would go on to rewrite the record books.   Though the person whom he is chasing has changed — in 2004 it was Dan Marino, and now, in 2010, it is Brett Favre — the statistical goal remains the same:  become the most prolific passer in NFL history.

This task would be difficult even under normal circumstances, but Brett Favre’s durability, narcissism, and skill have combined to raise the bar so high that in order to capture all of his records, Peyton Manning will have to play at an extremely high level until the age of 40.   Those that have watched and, for the most part, enjoyed his masterful play, not only think that is possible, but almost expect it of the quarterback.

Work ethic, desire, and skill can only take you so far, however, as it seems that forces outside his control are conspiring to rob not only Manning, but football fans and players everywhere, of at least a year of NFL football.   What would such a work stoppage mean for Manning’s pursuit of history?   What kind of decline might we expect from a quarterback as he passes the age of 35?   And what are the general injury concerns that face quarterbacks, and NFL players in general, as they approach 40 years of age.

In the following two parts of this series we will explore those issues.  We will examine the play of quarterbacks that have played into their late 30s, comparing the pre-prime, prime, and post-prime portions of their careers, searching for any noticeable drop-off relating to age.  We will take a look at the medical side of the equation, where we ask the questions:  Is the risk of injury greater after sitting out an entire year?  And are injuries more likely to occur as a player approaches the age of 40, and if so, what kind of injuries should we expect?

Finally in Part IV, just in time for the regular season, we will draw our conclusions.  What kind of numbers will we expect a relatively healthy Manning to put up post-lockout, how many years would he have to play at that level to break Favre’s records, and do we think it is possible?  We will also explore the possibility of the 18-game season and look at its effects on Manning’s chase.

Below are three tables showing you where Manning stands with regards to the three most prestigious records he is chasing: passing yards, passing touchdowns, and consecutive games played.  The bottom row of each table will show you Manning’s yearly average in that category, and the number of years he would have to play at that average to catch Brett Favre, assuming Favre eventually retires.

Player Name Career Passing Yards
1. Brett Favre 69,329
2. Dan Marino 61, 361
3. John Elway 51,475
4. Peyton Manning 50,128
Manning’s Career Average: 4,177 yards/year Seasons needed to pass Favre: 4 full seasons + 10 games

Player Name Career Passing Touchdowns
1. Brett Favre 497
2. Dan Marino 420
3. Peyton Manning 366
Manning’s Career Average: 31 touchdowns/year Seasons needed to pass Favre: 4 full seasons + 3 games

Player Name Consecutive Games Played
1. Brett Favre 287
2. Peyton Manning 192
Seasons needed for Manning to pass Favre: 5 full seasons plus 15 games

As you can see, assuming Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have similar seasons in 2010 and assuming that 2010 is Brett Favre’s final season (a pretty big assumption), Manning would need approximately six years to break Favre’s records. This means that, even without any labor issues, Manning would need to play to just before his 41st birthday to surpass Favre.

To put that in perspective, only 17 quarterbacks in NFL history have taken a snap after their 40th birthday. Will Manning be number 18? And if he is, will he still be able to do so at a level close to that which we’ve come to expect from him? Join us next week as we analyze the play of quarterbacks as they age and see what could be in store for Manning as he starts his journey over the hill.

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