EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—The Manning family will continue to have the NFL’s durability leader at quarterback, even with Peyton Manning now sidelined for an extended period and about to miss the first game in his 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
Younger brother Eli Manning is scheduled to make his 104th straight regular season start for the New York Giants in Sunday’s season opener against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. That becomes the longest active streak among quarterbacks, with Peyton Manning’s string about to end at 208 consecutive regular season starts when the Colts take the field Sunday at Houston without him in the lineup.
“I don’t know what my number is,” Eli Manning said here at midweek. “You try to be out there every week and perform and be on the field with your teammates. But it’s not something I’m keeping track of.”
The younger Manning has had some close calls with injuries. He played through a shoulder injury in the 2007 season after it was reported that he could be sidelined for several weeks. He played with an ailing foot in the 2009 season.
“There’s been a few down the road that it’s been a Friday decision or a game-time decision,” he said. “That’s going to happen once in a while. But I always felt that I could go out there and perform at a high level and be the best option for the team.”
With Manning sidelined indefinitely, some now view the Houston Texans as the solid favorites in the AFC South.
The Colts must try to get by with the until-recently-retired Kerry Collins at quarterback. The Jacksonville Jaguars released their starting quarterback, David Garrard, on Tuesday, five days before the season, and handed the job to Luke McCown. The Tennessee Titans are adjusting to life with a new head coach, Mike Munchak, and a new starter at quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck.
“If they don’t win that division relatively easily now,” an executive with one NFL team said Thursday after the news of Manning’s surgery was reported, “something is wrong there.”
This year’s unusual circumstances seemed likely to work against unheralded young players making teams’ season-opening rosters. Undrafted rookies didn’t land with teams until after the lockout, giving them much less time than usual to catch coaches’ eyes and win jobs from veterans.
Yet as of Thursday, there were 58 undrafted rookies on teams’ rosters, according to the league. Barring changes before Sunday’s games, that would be the largest number of undrafted rookies on rosters since the 2003 season, when there were 63. The Chicago Bears had a league-leading five undrafted rookies on their roster as of Thursday. The Colts, Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys had four each.
Devin Thomas will serve as the Giants’ kickoff returner Sunday against the Redskins, his former team.
Thomas, a wide receiver, had only 40 catches in 34 career games for the Redskins after they selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. Thomas was drafted during the tenure of former Redskins coach Jim Zorn and was released last October by the current coach, Mike Shanahan.
“It’s all in my past,” Thomas said as he stood in front of his locker Wednesday at the Giants’ training facility. “I’m so happy and confident with where I’m at right now. It doesn’t faze me any more. But my eyes are gonna get big when I walk in there and get that excitement, that adrenaline rush.”
Shanahan said in a midweek conference call with New York reporters that he wished Thomas well and recalled a conversation in which he’d told Thomas that he had the ability to play well in the league if he applied himself like a true professional. Thomas had kind words this week for the coach who cut him.
“I’ve still got a lot of respect for him,” Thomas said. “I learned from him. He’s always been a coach I wanted to play for. Unfortunately the situation happened. I picked up everything I could from him. I learned from him. I feel like now it’s helping me out.”
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House committee on energy and commerce, became the latest member of Congress to urge the sport’s leaders to begin blood-testing of players for human growth hormone as soon as possible.
In a letter sent Thursday to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, Waxman commended the two sides for agreeing in their labor deal to test players for HGH but expressed concern that the testing has not begun yet.
Waxman wrote he has long believed that “there is little disincentive for players to use HGH” without testing. He also wrote that “there are virtually no questions about the scientific credibility” of HGH blood-testing.
The NFL and the union failed to reach an agreement on a testing protocol to begin blood-testing players for HGH at the outset of the season, as targeted in their new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. But negotiations between the two sides on testing methods continue, and people in the sport leave open the possibility that a deal could be struck for the testing to begin during the season.
The NFL’s annual revenues currently are about $9 billion per year, of which more than $4 billion per season is generated by network television rights fees. Some within the league and some sports business experts predict that the NFL’s annual revenues will increase greatly in the next decade or so, with 10 years of labor peace ensured.
The sport took a significant step toward that with the extension of its contract with ESPN for “Monday Night Football,” announced Thursday. The eight-year extension, running through the 2021 season, is worth about $1.9 billion per year, according to a source. That’s up from the approximately $1.1 billion annually that the league’s current contract with ESPN is worth.
The NFL might further boost its TV revenues in the future if it sells a package of Thursday night games in the first half of the season to a network. The league-owned NFL Network broadcasts prime-time games on Thursday and Saturday nights in the second half of the season.