The 2012 NFL season not only brought the usual on-field excitement of breathtaking athleticism and bone-crunching hits, but it also gave football fans the enormous amount of controversy that we crave. We began the year with the abomination that was the replacement referee experiment and gradually progressed to the year of the rookie quarterback. Then came the tragedy of Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide. Then we were treated to one of the best NFL Most Valuable Player arguments in a long time.
After tearing both his MCL and ACL last season, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson not only recovered faster than anyone else has before, but also fell just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards. Peterson definitely has a very strong case to become the first non-QB to win the MVP since LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2006. Unfortunately for Peterson, the NFL’s favorite son returned to the field in 2012 and put up the kind of season that gives Peterson the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award, not MVP. That favorite son is Peyton Manning and here are the three reasons why Peyton is adding an unprecedented fifth MVP award to his already cluttered trophy case.
1. The argument starts with pure statistics, which Manning never fails to put up. In 2012, Manning ranked second in passer rating (105.8), tied for first in completion percentage (68.6%), second in yards per attempt (7.99), sixth in passing yards (4,659), third in touchdowns (37) and only threw 11 interceptions, which was less than 20 other QBs. Manning’s completions, completion percentage and passing yards were all higher in 2012 than an any of the four seasons when he won an MVP award. Also, his touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating in 2012 topped all but one of his MVP award seasons. So if history tells us anything, Manning will win his fifth MVP. As a team, the Broncos finished the season as the second-ranked offense in points per game and fourth in yards per game. Furthermore, the Broncos scored 30 or more points eleven times and finished the season on an 11-game win streak.
2. In 2012, Peyton’s first season with the Broncos, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker posted career bests in receptions, yards, touchdowns and first downs. Thomas was fourth in the NFL in receiving yards this season with 1,434 and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns with 10. Decker was second in the NFL in receiving touchdowns with 13 and 17th in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,064. If you combine their statistics, they are undoubtedly one of the game’s best wide receiver duos. All of their success would not have been possible if Thomas and Decker were still trying to catch Tim Tebow’s fluttering footballs. One of the truest measurements of a player’s value is whether or not that player makes the people around him better, and Manning certainly made everyone on the Broncos better.
3. The third and final reason why Peyton Manning is the NFL’s Most Valuable Player is because of his contract. When Manning was forced to sit out the 2011 season because of multiple neck surgeries, everyone thought that his career was over and that if he did come back, he was one nasty hit away from being catastrophically injured. So when he announced that he was going to come back and enter the free agency market, many teams were scared of the risk that he could sign a huge contract and then end up getting hurt on the first play. In order to counter that risk, the Broncos and the very humble Manning agreed to a special contract that provides the Broncos some insurance on their investment. Manning’s five-year, $96 million contract is set up so that he receives a guaranteed $18 million for the 2012 season and, if he is on the active roster at the end of the league year, he receives a guaranteed $20 million for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. If, at any point during the 2013 season, Manning injures any part of his neck, the Broncos do not have to pay him the $20 million for the 2014 season. Then after the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the Broncos have the option to either cut him or pay him a guaranteed $19 million each season, so if Manning were to have signed this big contract and then injure his neck on the first play of the 2012 season, the Broncos would have only lost $18 million. Lastly, the Broncos have given themselves the ability to protect their huge investment by having the option to cut Manning after the 2014 and 2015 seasons without having to pay him the guaranteed money for the next season. So, the Broncos were able to protect themselves from Manning’s injury risk factor while securing perhaps the greatest statistical passer in NFL history. In comparison, the Chicago Bulls signed point guard Derrick Rose to a five-year, $94 million contract in December of 2011. Four months later he tore up his knee and hasn’t played since, but the Bulls are still paying him a large majority of his contract. What does this mean as far as the MVP race is concerned? It means that Peyton Manning is the most valuable player because if something goes wrong, the Broncos can cut him without having to pay him all of his guaranteed money. It is a general manager’s dream.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of January 23rd, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.