New challenges for Peyton Manning entering 18th NFL season

It’s probably safe to say that Peyton Manning didn’t think he would be brought into the “Deflategate” scandal.

But that’s what unexpectedly happened this summer, when the NFL Players Association, teaming with Tom Brady to fight the NFL in federal court over Brady’s four-game suspension (that ultimately was nullified), filed documents that included the New England Patriots quarterback’s emails.

In one email from November, Brady wrote, “Manning needs things to be perfect to succeed, weather, his system, etc.”

In another email referencing the Denver Broncos quarterback, Brady wrote, “I’ve got another 7 or 8 years. He has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on.”

While it may be interesting that even Brady has weighed in on Manning’s future, that question is out there: How many years does Manning, who is entering his 18th NFL season as age 39, have left? That’s unclear, but Manning told CNN’s Rachel Nichols that he feels lucky to still be playing and doesn’t take it for granted.

It’s different now than when he was just a few years into his career. Manning said that he altered his training and made some diet changes to put him in better shape for this season. He said he’s leaner than he has been in years past and that he feels good, is moving well and has come out of training camp healthy.

But when asked about how many years he has left, Manning said it’s hard to say.

“I’m not able to predict the future,” Manning said. “I’m looking forward to playing this season. Hopefully I can play at a high level and help my team win. That’s what I’m focused on this season. Like always, I think you have to kind of assess things at the end of the season. But I certainly hope to be playing next year as well.

“I still enjoy working out, I enjoy competing, and I think as long as you can compete, you can help a team, and you’re healthy enough to help a team, I think everybody wants to keep doing it. And if you can do it into your 40s, all the better. … But right now, I feel good. I want to keep playing as long as I do feel good, as long as I can still help the team.”

At times last year, Manning showed his customary brilliance. He was in MVP form in the first half of the season, throwing for 24 touchdowns and five interceptions, but in the second half his numbers dropped dramatically: 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Manning was underwhelming with a quarterback rating of 75, throwing for one touchdown.

There were also questions about his arm and durability at the end of the season. And he recently told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he can no longer feel his fingertips.

Manning explained to Nichols that King originally had asked Manning about that four years ago, when Manning had lost sensation following neck surgery in 2011.

“It’s just been part of the transition of adjusting to a new physical state, overcoming some strength issues, overcoming some loss of sensation issues,” Manning said. “It’s just been part of the adjustment. It’s why I have to wear a glove every now and then due to the grip of the ball in certain climates or whatever you will. I’ve tried to adjust to it the best I can, but it’s just kind of part of this new chapter of coming out to Denver to play and kind of play in a new physical state.”

Does the Broncos quarterback have at least one good season left in him? His mind is still sharp as ever. His drive to win is still there. And the grind is still fun.

“Here, in season 18, I’m still enjoying it,” Manning said. “Coming out of training camp, you still enjoy the rookie skits, of course the great competition, seeing the smile on a rookie’s face finding out that he’s made the team, that his life is basically going to change. Those are things that just don’t change in the NFL. The competition, the camaraderie, it’s something I still enjoy, still fortunate to still be doing it.”

And as for Brady’s not-so-flattering emails? It doesn’t seem like a big deal to Manning, referencing in training camp that everyone has speculated on that for a long time. He told Nichols that he didn’t read them and that Brady texted him an apology.

“He apologized that my name was kind of brought up into this,” Manning said. “It was no harm, no foul. It was an unnecessary apology. Tom and I have had a good friendship throughout our careers, and we’ll continue to have a good friendship long after we play. I really didn’t give it a whole lot of attention.”

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