NewsFeed was sharing a pizza with an Indiana native Tuesday night. This fan was shaking his head, refusing to believe that his beloved Indianapolis Colts were going to cut their iconic quarterback Peyton Manning. “He built that stadium,” said the fan, referring to the $720 million downtown Indianapolis palace that hosted this year’s Super Bowl, and cost the state and city of Indianapolis $620 million. No way taxpayers fork over that money, if not for a franchise QB like Manning. “He transformed that town.”
His wife – an East Coaster – tried talking some sense into him. She, and a majority of football insiders and observers, knew that parting ways with the 36-year-old Manning made both financial and spiritual sense for the Colts. Financial, because the move saved the team from paying a $28 million option bonus to Manning, who did not play last season because of a neck injury (the Colts finished tied for the worst record, 2-14, with the St. Louis Rams). Spiritual, because it just feels like time to move on. The Colts will select a new potential franchise quarterback, most likely Stanford’s Andrew Luck (and if not him, probably Robert Griffin III), in April’s NFL draft. The team also hired a new coach and general manager, with owner Jim Irsay pretty much cleaning house. Irsay and Manning will reportedly attend a press conference to announce the news Wednesday.
“You’re thinking like a fan,” she said. He shot her a look. Of course I am, it said. That’s what I am. And that’s why this hurts.
Such is sentiment is spreading among Indianans this morning. How could Peyton Manning, the player who rescued what was often times an awful franchise since it moved to the midwest form Baltimore in 1984, possibly wear another uniform? Sure, he’s recovering from a potentially debilitating injury. But a video emerged of Manning throwing spirals during a workout at Duke recently. If Manning’s arm is intact, isn’t he still be the best QB in the league?
But the move makes sense for all sides. Paying both Luck and Manning would have been a salary cap burden which prevented the Colts from investing in other needs. More than any other sport, football is a puzzle. No matter how shiny one piece is, you need all of them for the thing to work. Luck looks like a once-a-decade talent. Another time such a player came along, the team that selected him started him from day one. That guy did not miss a game for 13 years. He won a Super Bowl, and four MVPs. Such a plan worked out nicely for Peyton Manning. The Colts haven’t forgotten about it. And why should they?
Now, the NFL (and every fan) asks: where will Peyton play this year? Our bet is Miami. The Dolphins have an exceptionally talented receiver in Brandon Marshall. They can afford a quarterback. The city has been starving for a franchise QB since Dan Marino retired in 2000. We’re sure Manning will love the weather. It would be great for fans. Signing with Miami would put Manning in the same division as Tom Brady, his long-time rival with the Patriots, and the New York Jets, whose blabber-mouthed coach, Rex Ryan, has been obsessed with beating Manning for years (that said, the Jets have been named as potential suitors with confidence in Mark Sanchez at a low).
Let’s take some time to reflect on Manning’s accomplishments with the Colts. What, a day, maybe? A handful of hours? In the NFL, sentiment runs short. Players are not guaranteed contracts. Loyal employees are often released without a moment’s notice. The game is fundamentally brutal. And now, we’ll have the benefit of seeing two great players – Manning and Luck – hone their crafts come the fall, rather than one backing up the other on the Colts. For football, Manning’s release adds even more intrigue.
As for all those weeping Hoosiers out there: go ahead, think like fans. Be thankful for what you had with Manning. And appreciate the promising future.