Peyton Manning broke the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown record on Sunday night, and he may put it out of reach for many years.
Looking at the list of career leaders for passing touchdowns, there’s really only one person on the list who has a shot of passing Manning in the next decade, and that’s Drew Brees. Manning is currently 136 touchdown passes ahead of Brees (510 to 374), and Manning is three years older than Brees. Brees has a shot.
But it’s not a good shot. To equal Manning’s total, Brees would have to keep pace with Manning until Manning retires, and then play four more years after Manning retires while averaging 34 touchdown passes a season. That’s a very tall order.
And if Brees doesn’t break the passing touchdown record, it’s going to be a very long time before anyone gets close. After Brees on the list of all-time touchdown passers is Tom Brady, who is closer in age to Manning than he is to Brees. It’s unlikely that Brady will finish ahead of either Brees or Manning, let alone both of them.
Next on the list of active leaders is Eli Manning, who isn’t even halfway to his big brother’s total: Eli has 243 touchdown passes at age 33, meaning at his current pace he’d need to keep playing into his mid-40s just to reach Peyton’s current touchdown record, and of course by the time Peyton retires he’ll have put the record far beyond his current total.
After Eli Manning on the active list are Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, all of whom are in their 30s and unlikely to last long enough to reach Peyton.
Aaron Rodgers, with 206 career touchdown passes, probably got too late a start to catch Manning. The 30-year-old Rodgers spent his first three seasons as Brett Favre’s backup, meaning he was already in his mid-20s before he started throwing touchdown passes. He’ll probably have to play into his mid-40s to have any chance at the record.
If there’s a young active quarterback who would have a chance at catching Manning it would probably be Matthew Stafford, who became the Lions’ starter at age 21 and now has 118 touchdown passes at age 26. Could Stafford play something like 14 more years and average 35 touchdowns a year? It’s unlikely, but he’s by far the youngest of the active quarterbacks who have reached 100 career touchdowns, so if any one of the young crop of quarterbacks is going to break the record, it’s probably Stafford. Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are only a year younger than Stafford, and they’re both more than 50 touchdowns behind Stafford.
It’s impossible to guess how the rules of the NFL or football strategies might change to make the passing touchdown record easier or harder to break in the future, but assuming 60-touchdown seasons don’t become commonplace, Manning is likely to own this record for a very long time. If any quarterback is ever going to break it, he probably isn’t in the NFL yet.