Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning walks off the field following… (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press )
In a move that was a foregone conclusion — yet somehow still a shock to the system — the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning parted ways Wednesday. Peacefully. Tearfully.
"We tried to put each other in each other's shoe and try to realize what the situation was for the franchise, what it was for Peyton," Colts owner Jim Irsay said, his voice cracking as he stood alongside Manning in a news conference at team headquarters. "In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome."
Manning, the four-time NFL most valuable player who sat out the 2011 season recovering from multiple neck surgeries, unfolded a prepared statement and maintained his composure until he thanked the people in the organization and Colts fans. At that point, he spoke haltingly, lowering his head to gather himself.
"I've been a Colt for almost my adult life," he said. "But I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change. Circumstances change. And that's the reality of playing in the NFL."
Manning's career with the Colts is over — the team is prepared to use the No. 1 pick on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — but his NFL career is still rolling. Even though he turns 36 this month and is still working to regain strength in his throwing arm, he should have a robust collection of offers from quarterback-needy teams.
After all, Manning is one of four players with more than 50,000 yards passing and one of two to have made more than 200 consecutive starts ( Brett Favre is the other). Manning owns all of the franchise's significant passing marks, surpassing Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas in those.
Under the terms of his deal, Manning was due a $28-million bonus by Friday, plus a base salary of $7 million next season, bringing the total cash commitment to $35 million. It would have been highly impractical for the Colts to carry both him and Luck, who will command a sizable deal as the top pick.
Manning said he's "feeling closer and closer" to his old self in his throwing workouts.
"I have to remind myself that it's March," he said. "I have a hard time doing that at times. It sure feels comfortable. It feels kind of like home being back out there after not being able to go out on the field for September, October, November."
The teams who will form a line for his services — or at least will give him a hard look — include Miami, Washington, Arizona, Seattle, the New York Jets, and even Denver, which is looking to add two quarterbacks to its roster who will compete with Tim Tebow.
Instructive for the Dolphins is their cautionary tale from six years ago when they wanted to sign Drew Brees, who was coming off a major shoulder injury. Brees liked Miami and the Dolphins liked him, but team doctors failed him on the physical. Brees wound up signing with New Orleans, led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory, and now is among the league's top quarterbacks. The Dolphins traded for Daunte Culpepper, who was an unmitigated flop, and since have continued their search for an answer at the position.
Point being, Manning is a gamble. High risk, high reward. It's likely that his next contract will be thick with incentives based on how much he plays, but as one team executive said, "It's not going to be a cheap deal, believe me. He's going to get paid."
Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who has a close friendship with Manning, called him "one of the greatest that ever played."
Although conceding that Manning had the benefit of playing in the same offensive system for the last 14 seasons, Madden said: "But it was a system he created. There was no one ever closer to being a coach and a player than Peyton Manning. I've had many conversations over the years with him, and you could talk to him as a coach, and he was the level of a coach, and you could talk to him as a player.
"To me, he was the system. The stuff that he could put in his brain and then put out and get on the line of scrimmage and call, that was all him. The Colts did it because he could do it. The Colts did it because he wanted to do it. The Colts did it because he did it better than anyone else."