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Last night, the inevitable happened when Peyton Manning tossed his 509th career touchdown pass and eclipsed Brett Favre’s NFL record for all-time touchdown passes. As a Favre fan, I was slightly sad to see what was largely a Packer record go down, however, Peyton Manning seems like a great guy and is a phenomenal player, so at least I can take comfort that the record is in good hands. 


But just how long will the record be in those worthy hands? It’s been just 7 years since Favre broke Marino’s record, so on the surface, it would seem this record could eventually be in jeopardy. But after thinking about it more closely, this one seems like a record that might be approaching unbreakable status. 


Can Peyton’s record be broken?


To find out, we must ask ourselves a few questions.

How Many More Touchdowns Will Peyton Throw?
Peyton Manning has shown no signs of slowing down and, much like Favre before him, is having some of his best seasons in his late 30s. The number of touchdowns Manning throws from this point on will depend on how many more years he plays. Peyton Manning currently sits at 510 touchdowns after last night’s game, and it looks like he will keep racking up the TDs for the rest of this year.  If he wins another championship after this season, there is a chance he may walk off into the sunset. But something tells me he will play at least one more year. So, how many TDs does that leave Manning with when it’s all said and done?


*If he maintains current season average


(I gave two sets of numbers for Peyton’s hypothetical 2015 and 2016 seasons. His career average is just over two TDs a game, but it felt unfair to hold him to that standard when he has been blowing that away since he arrived in Denver. I am more comfortable with the Denver average being used to calculate future touchdowns than I am using his career average.)


Last night, Brett Favre congratulated Peyton Manning on Twitter and ended with the hashtag #onto600. If Peyton plays through the end of 2016, that is a very real possibility. For this study, I’ll stay with my original thought that Peyton plays through 2015 and finishes his career with 575 touchdown passes.

Can Anyone Currently Playing Break Peyton’s Record?
Today’s NFL is filled with some of the most statistically prolific quarterbacks of all time. Nine of the top 35 players on the career touchdown pass list are active. Add those men to the emerging crop of young talent and it would appear that Peyton’s days on the top of the list are numbered. 


Assuming Peyton reaches 575, how far would his contemporaries have to go to run him down?



Assuming each player maintains his career average to date, not many have much of a shot of catching Peyton. You’ll note that most of these players would have to play well into their 40s to catch Peyton. To date, only 16 quarterbacks over the age of 40 have ever even started a game. Just playing at 40 is remarkable, much less playing to your career average production.


There are some major outliers on this list. Drew Brees and Tom Brady look like they might have shots, already being 4th and 5th respectively on the all-time list. Their biggest hurdle will be time. One below-average season and their chances could be wiped out. And if they miss any games to injury, forget about it; it’s over. Brees and Brady are in the running, but getting to 575 is highly unlikely.


Then there’s Aaron Rodgers. He’s the only person on this list that could potentially reach 575 in his 30s, even when including the young players like Nick Foles with inflated averages based on a small sample. Rodgers has a legitimate shot. But will Rodgers' style of play hold up into his late 30s? As great as he is, it would be foolish to assume he can maintain his record-setting efficiency uninterrupted for another decade. But it certainly is possible. From a physical standpoint, there is no one in NFL history as similar to Aaron Rodgers as Steve Young. Young was still very effective as a mobile scrabbling quarterback right until the end when concussions caught up with him at age 38. Rodgers also has a history of concussions. Could that come in to play as time goes by? Rodgers has also had other injuries in his career. If he gets one more injury in the next 10 years similar to the one he had last year, his quest to 575 gets pushed deeper into his 40s like the other players and may consequently be pushed out of reach.


One final note on the current guys as it pertains to the young players: this new generation of quarterbacks has the advantage of playing in an era that is likely to see unprecedented scoring. People have thrown around names like Andrew Luck as franchise quarterbacks who are likely to play for two decades. Even if this were the case, these guys are already behind in the pace to 575. Luck has had an impressive start with 65 touchdowns in his first 39 games. By game 39, Peyton had 67 touchdowns and was 5 months younger. And he was chasing 508…not 575.  It’s much too early to rule out any of these young quarterbacks, but if any of them want to catch Peyton, they have to start producing at a much more torrid pace than they are currently. 

So What Will it Take to Break Peyton’s Record? 
Let’s build a scenario around our original hypothetical. Peyton Manning retires after the 2015 season with 575 touchdown passes. In the 2016 draft, many quarterbacks are drafted. Do any of them have a chance to catch Peyton? Let’s crunch the numbers.


The four most recent players to hold the career touchdown record, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning each became full-time starters when they were 22 years old. Not many quarterbacks are given that opportunity. For reference, of the 14 quarterbacks drafted this year, only four were 22 or younger when the season began. Therefore, in order to catch Peyton, you’ll have to be young and you’ll have to play right away. 


How long will you have to play? Well, of the seven players in NFL history to throw 300 touchdown passes, each played an average of 237 games; nearly 15 complete seasons. While that might not sound too impossible, only 46 quarterbacks in history have started at least one game in their 15th season or beyond. A mere 17 of those started at least 16 games ever again. 


So, if you started playing full time at 22 and play 15 seasons, you’ve done something very few have done, but that in and of itself only allows you to be in the league long enough to get within striking distance of Manning. Now you have to produce. 


Check out this below chart. This time we’ve trimmed all the fat and there is nothing left but the prime cut of quarterbacks:  


The three most prolific touchdown tossers in history and the only three to throw more than 400 touchdowns average nearly 30 touchdown passes per season. So our hypothetical rookie starts at the age of 22, plays 15 years until he’s 36 or 37 years old, and averages 30 touchdown passes a year. With these numbers, he will have a career total of….450 touchdowns. 58 shy of Favre! He’ll have to play into his 20th season when he’s 41 years old to eclipse Peyton’s hypothetical 575. Oh, and by the way: that’s without ever missing a game. Every game you miss in your entire career will be tacked on to the end and push Peyton that much further away. 


Now all of this is if Peyton stops at 575! If he gets to 600, the most likely way to break Peyton’s record is to buy a copy of Madden. 


So it’s unbreakable then?
There is still one reason to believe it can be done: it has been done…by Peyton Manning. All of the unbreakable records eventually fall. If I had told you in 1995 that Dan Marino will play 4 more seasons as a full-time starter and Brett Favre will still break his record by nearly 100 touchdowns, you would have thought I was crazy. I’m sure there is some quarterback, maybe one who hasn’t even touched a football yet, who will someday break all of Peyton’s records. Will he be a scrabbler like Tarkenton? A fiery warrior like Marino? A gunslinger like Favre? A cerebral tactician like Manning? Or perhaps something we’ve never seen before?

I’m sure it will happen and I hope I’m still around to see when the next great one comes along. But until then, let’s recognize Peyton Manning’s greatness and tip our cheeseheads to him. He’s earned it. 

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