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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush
Less than one year after signing what was supposed to be his final contract — a deal to ensure he finished his career with the Colts — Peyton Manning is no longer a Colt. The man who put a team and a city on the map, who consistently set the bar for quarterbacking in the NFL, was released on Wednesday, one day before the Colts would have owed him a $28 million roster bonus.
Manning's release was widely expected. The Colts, who are in the midst of rebuilding, are ready to pass the torch to Stanford QB Andrew Luck, and Manning, who turns 36 on March 24, is still not fully recovered from four neck surgeries in a 19-month span. Yet, when the report surfaced late Tuesday afternoon that Manning would be released on Wednesday, it stopped most people dead in their tracks. Not only because of the indelible mark Manning left on the Colts and on the NFL landscape as a whole, but because it was the latest harsh reminder that while football is a game, the NFL is a cutthroat business where no player — not even a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer — is safe from the chopping block. Manning is no different than Joe Montana or Brett Favre in that respect.
Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay, who appeared together Wednesday in an emotional press conference to officially announce Manning's departure, spent the better part of the first two months of this year engaged in public-relations warfare, both determined to win the affection of Colts fans and emerge from an imminently ugly situation on top. As it turns out, there were no clear winners or losers, nor was one side more at fault — both sides made out as well as could be expected when handed an unthinkable set of circumstances.
"In the end, circumstances were too difficult to overcome," said a clearly uncomfortable Irsay. The owner spoke in detail about not wanting Manning to endure being on a rebuilding team with salary-cap and roster shortcomings. He said he wants to see Manning be great again, though we are guessing Irsay has said more than a few prayers that Manning lands in the NFC.
In the case of Manning, this split means that he will not have the opportunity to finish his career with one team. He also will not earn in excess of $30 million from any NFL team in '12. But all is far from lost. Most importantly, he continues to head in the right direction toward being fully healed and regaining his football mojo.
"I don't want to retire. … No one loves playing quarterback more than I do," Manning said.
While Manning's rare competitiveness and desire to get back on the field were predictably on display Wednesday, it was the sheer, palpable emotion from the usually calculated Manning that really hit home. He fought back tears on multiple occasions, from talking about spending his entire adult life with the Colts, to discussing the less-publicized people, like the equipment managers, who have meant so much to him over the years.
"I haven't thought about where I'll play, but I've thought about where I've been," said Manning, showing a reflective and vulnerable side that seldom had been seen over the past 14 years.
It is a near-certainty that the team he chooses to sign with will have a better chance of helping earn him more Super Bowl hardware than the rebuilding Colts. And it's not like Manning has been handed any financial hardship. He has put hundreds of millions of dollars in checks signed by Irsay in the bank over the past 14 years, including $26 million last season that he earned despite not taking a snap.
By moving on from the Colts now, Manning is still going out on a far greater note than if he stuck around and couldn't be himself because of his neck. With Luck waiting in the wings, it was only a matter of time before the situation possibly arose where Luck became the better option and Colts fans' allegiances were tested.
For Irsay, winning a popularity contest over Manning was never a winnable fight. Although Irsay is one of the league's better and more likable owners, how often do fans side with the owner over the player who's the face of the franchise? Irsay was always the one who was forced to decide to allow Manning to walk. Therefore, fans will always directly associate the owner as the man responsible for whatever team Manning ends up on and whatever level of success they experience together.
Irsay has been called a lot of things over the years, but dumb probably isn't one of them. No one will envy the position he was in having to make this impossible decision, but he can take solace in the fact that he said he would not allow emotions or sentiments to play into it and he stuck to his guns. Irsay made the best decision for the long-term outlook of his football team, the No. 1 responsibility for any business owner. Irsay got it right and he should be commended.
From a financial standpoint, the Colts are about to attain Luck's services for the next four years for less than what it would have cost them to have Manning back next season. While there are hardly any guarantees that Luck will even scratch the surface of Manning's success over the past decade, the Colts have put themselves in position to again sustain long-term success, with the financial flexibility to infuse more youth and talent to a depleted roster. That is a far more logical approach than getting caught between rebuilding and competing with Manning tying the Colts' hands from a cap perspective.
Thus, it will take some time — possibly several years — before we know if there was an obvious winner from this mess. If Manning guides his next team to a Lombardi Trophy in 2012, it is safe to say he made out OK from this divorce. But even if Manning does somehow accomplish such a feat, it still doesn't mean the Colts were wrong. One would have to search near and far to find a knowledgeable football insider who thought Manning could take the Colts back to the Super Bowl with this group of players next season. And that's what it's all about, right? Winning Super Bowls.
For the Colts and their fans, the best-case scenario is that Luck somehow can live up to the impossible expectations that hover over him. The worst-case scenario is that Luck is a bust, and the winner of the Robert Griffin III trade sweepstakes nets itself the next Manning. Either way, we likely won't know the outcome for several years but we do know the Colts made a sound, calculated decision instead of an emotionally fueled and short-sighted one.
At the end of the day, the fact that Manning and Irsay were able to put their differences aside and smile for the cameras, at least giving the impression that this is an amicable separation is a heck of a lot more than most would have predicted as recently as a few weeks ago. Manning and Irsay each talked about how Manning will be a "Colt for life," how there are no hard feelings over the separation and how Manning will be very much entwined with the franchise for years to come.
Not only in the NFL, but in all major sports, players very rarely go out on their own terms. The same can officially be said for the separation between Manning and the Colts, though it says here that this is the best possible scenario for both sides. As for Colts fans and NFL fans alike, it sounds like Manning will be playing quarterback for some team next season, which is good news for all fans of the game.