The Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay announced today that after 14 seasons the team is parting ways with iconic quarterback Peyton Manning and releasing him to free agency. Manning, who will turn 36 later this month, will now join the long list of franchise players that have finished their careers elsewhere- making him the most prized free agent in NFL history.
We have seen this type of divorce before. In 2008, at age 38, Brett Favre decided to retire after 17 seasons with the Green Bay Packers stating he was just ‘mentally tired’ of football. Five months later, the three-time NFL MVP signed with the New York Jets and later finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings two years later. After 14 seasons and four championships with the San Francisco 49ers, Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, where he spent his final two years before he retired. And in 1973, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, Johnny Unitas, was traded to the San Diego Chargers after 17 legendary seasons with the Baltimore Colts. He retired a year later. Like his predecessors, Manning -who broke all of the Colts’ career passing records held by Unitas- hoped to play for one team during his career. But after a neck injury forced him to miss the entire 2011 season, which led to the Colts meteoric descent – they finished tied for the worst record (2-14) with the St. Louis Rams- Peyton, like those before him and despite their legacy, became expendable.
“We all know that nothing lasts forever,” Manning said during the decision. “Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”
Manning transformed the Colts from the laughingstock of the NFL into championship contenders when he was select first overall in the 1998 NFL draft. The four-time league MVP –an NFL record- delivered a championship to Indianapolis in 2006 taking home MVP honors for his stellar performance at Super Bowl XLI. It was the Colts first title since moving from Baltimore in 1984. The Colts will remember Peyton for his 11 Pro-Bowl selections, his 50,000 yards passing and his 200 consecutive starts, but most of all, he’ll be recognized as the guy in the horseshow helmet who completely changed the culture of a organization and converted a basketball-loving city into a football hotbed that hosted the Super Bowl a month ago at Lucas Oil Stadium. Number 18 will forever be a legend in Indy, but now he is gone forever.
“There will be no other Peyton Manning,” Irsay said to the press during Wednesday’s announcement. It was an amicable divorce that Irsay wanted and he hoped that their joint appearance would serve to “honor incredible memories and incredible things that [Manning] has done for the franchise, for the city, for the state.”
Now, the Colts hope that Peyton’s successor will bring some luck as they look to rebuild towards the future. Indy’s reconstruction beings with the number one overall pick in the forthcoming NFL draft. Stanford All-American quarterback Andrew Luck is slated to be the Colts pick, and like Manning, Luck will have as many lofty expectations coming in. For Irsay sake, Luck better not be a fluke, as the weight of the entire franchise, city and state, now rests on his shoulders.
For Peyton, his future begins now. Manning’s availability is likely to lead to a free-agency frenzy we have ever seen. One thing is for certain, if the veteran quarterback proves he can still throw the ball like his former self, he will be the most coveted free agent in football history, and the cellar dwellers of the NFL will be opening their wallets in hopes of Manning elevating their franchise.
The Arizona Cardinals, the Miami Dolphins, the Tennessee Titans, the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets have all been rumored as potential destinations for the elite quarterback. The Dolphins and the Cardinals seem to be the front runners in the Manning sweepstakes, with the Cardinals holding a slight edge as they can offer a climate-controlled domed stadium, a winnable division and All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald. And although, Miami has enticing pieces as well, in Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush, they seem too desperate for a star to fill their empty seats. The most intriguing scenario is Peyton potentially joining his brother Eli in New York. Manning’s former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, Tom Moore, worked for the Jets as a consultant last season. And after a late-season meltdown that has the shaken their confidence in Mark Sanchez as a starter, the Jets may try to revert back to an old strategy they used in ’08, in signing Favre, and try to make a play for the former MVP.
Ultimately, the question is not which team needs Manning as their savior, but which franchise is the best fit for Peyton. With the strength of his arm improving everyday as he testified today, “I’m throwing it pretty well. I’ve still got some work to do; I’ve got some progress to make,” only time will decide how and when Manning’s career will end, no matter which team he suits up for. (Photo)