Part of my blogging brain is already programmed to resist the urge to pounce on every piece of Peyton Manning minutiae, mostly because it’s Super Bowl week, and therefore it feels like the focus of an NFL blog should shift almost solely to the Super Bowl. The game’s biggest spectacle is the central talking point for the league right now, and any North American sports fan who isn’t stubbornly single-minded.

But I don’t think there are shades of grayish hyperbole surrounding this statement anymore: there’s legitimate and growing concern that we could be witnessing the final days of Peyton Manning’s career.

Is that the kind of sentence that’s used so often for dramatic effect that it’s become corny and clichéd? Absolutely. Is it a stretching leap filled with baseless speculation? Absolutely not.

Three highly credible sources hinted strongly last night that Manning’s health remains in serious doubt five months after his surgery. First it was Gil Brandt and Peter King, who said Manning’s recovery is moving slowly. Then the most damning report of the evening was one that we first highlighted in this morning’s links.

John Clayton appeared on ESPN Radio with host Amy Lawrence, and he forecasted a future for Manning that doesn’t involve playing football anywhere, saying that the four-time MVP is likely headed for retirement.

While Clayton’s latest thoughts are indeed alarming, and the eventual denial from either Manning or Colts owner Jim Irsay is no doubt forthcoming, this serves as yet another reminder of how much Manning’s future in football is teetering.

It’s not the offseason yet, but on some level it feels like the offseason. In the rare moments this week when we’re not dissecting every conceivable angle of a game taking place Sunday that’s kind of a big deal, our attention shifts to offseason activities that will accelerate in just a matter of days (the Scouting Combine, Pro Days, etc.).

Manning will add significant intrigue to that offseason cycle. But instead of growing concerned about the possibility that he’s already taken his last NFL snap, we’re busy asking Curtis Martin if he thinks Manning would be a good fit for the Jets. He does, of course, and Martin would only pass on Manning in a hypothetical fantasyland where Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and/or Drew Brees are also available.

The constant Manning relocation chatter is the natural result of a league where each offseason there’s always a handful of teams desperate for a quarterback. Their longing to answer a question at that position has been complicated this year by the fact that several notable college prospects (Matt Barkley, Landry Jones) decided to stick around for one more year on campus. Once Andrew Luck inevitably lands in Indy to become Manning’s replacement, and then Robert Griffin III also falls off the board in the top five (likely to the Browns at No.4), the next hot spot for desperation is Washington at No. 6.

But even though Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is well aware that a healthy Manning could easily and quickly make fans forget about a laughable quarterback era that’s centered around Rex Grossman and John Beck, there was still very little desperation in his words when he spoke to ESPN 980 in Washington.

“Everybody knows Peyton Manning is, if not the best quarterback to ever play the game, he’s tied for it. So Peyton is as good as it gets. Everyone knows that. The Colts know that. I think the question on Peyton is the matter of his health. You got a guy like that who is so driven, so passionate about football. He truly enjoys it. The way he plays. I know he’s up there in age, but if he’s healthy, age is not an issue.That guy takes care of his body..his arm’s not leaving. He can take the hits. You just hope his neck’s alright, and then he’ll be Peyton Manning.”

If we don’t know if he’ll be Peyton Manning again, then we certainly don’t know if he’ll play for the Colts, Jets, Redskins, Texans, Titans, or anyone.