Despite enduring his third neck surgery, Peyton Manning claims that he is not seriously considering retirement. Manning is the face of the Indianapolis Colts (since relocating from Baltimore in 1984) franchise and the reason for the city of Indianapolis hosting Super Bowl XLVI in the stadium that Peyton and Irsay built… and yet… Tom Brady and Eli Manning will square off in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday. Were it not for the most over-hyped, most lucrative marketing and commercial event in the history of evolved mankind, Peyton Manning’s fate would be the lead story.Wait until next week!
Indianapolis Colts Team officials confirmed Tuesday that they had hired Bruce Arians, Manning’s former QB coach (and deposed Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator) to become Colts offensive coordinator as well as Harold Goodwin as offensive line coach. They also fired tight ends coach Ricky Thomas and assistant offensive line coach Ron Prince. This in light of Chuck Pagano (former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator) taking the helm as head coach, replacing the deposed Jim Caldwell.
The whirlwind of changes began Jan. 2, the day after the Colts clinched the No. 1 overall draft pick with a league-worst 2-14 record. Jim Irsay has since fired vice chairman Bill Polian, general manager Chris Polian, and dismissed most of Jim Caldwell’s incumbent staff — a series of changes that prompted Peyton Manning to voice his complaints two days after the conference championship games. Two days later, Irsay called Manning a “politician,” fueling a public spat that drew national attention. The two tried to quell that fire but the fallout has continued into this week.
The four-time league MVP hasn’t played in more than a year because of a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his throwing arm. Manning had neck surgery in May, then underwent his third and most invasive neck surgery in 19 months in September. Doctors fused two vertebrae together - a procedure that forced him to miss the Colts entire two-win season.
Since then, there has been rampant speculation about his recovery, the potential risks of a return, whether the Colts will pay Manning a $28 million roster bonus in early March to prevent him from becoming a free agent or whether the soon-to-be 36-year-old might retire. Should that happen, the story would be ended. Manning himself has indicated that he is planning to return to the football field and wants to play in the NFL in 2012 and beyond.
The Indianapolis Colts have not made their plans public but even more rampant speculation surrounds the prospect of retaining the services of Peyton Manning AND drafting heralded Andrew Luck with the first pick in April’s NFL Draft. Thanks to rookie salary restriction revisions under the NFLPA’s new CBA, it is fiscally possible to draft Luck and keep Manning but that $28 million roster bonus seems like a lot of money for a franchise obviously hemorrhaging talent.
Peyton Manning a potential free agent? This is a prospect that has at least half the NFL teams drooling over the opportunity and reworking their salary cap to see if it is a realistic possibility. Not since Joe Montana found his way to Kansas City or Warren Moon wound up in Minnesota has a proven, marquee, future Hall of Fame QB been available to the highest bidder.
Would Indianapolis really let Manning go for nothing, or would they sign him and trade him for a bounty of draft picks and sorely-needed infusion of talent? This could potentially be either the biggest NFL trade since Herschel Walker or the biggest free agent signing since Kurt Warner. For Indianapolis, signing Manning will cost them $28 million but they could trade him and recoup much of that money as well as a boatload of draft picks and returning players. For teams interested in Peyton Manning’s services, they know there is a March deadline for Manning becoming a free agent. Why would you sit at a poker table holding a good hand and NOT ask your opponents to show you their cards?
No one player is bigger than an NFL team, a truth that is proven with every big contract due to the march of time, the nature of salary escalation, the brevity of the average NFL career and the salary cap. Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Reggie White, Deacon Jones and Walter Payton all had their days in the sun and defined their teams in moments of greatness and defeat. Peyton Manning is the reason there is still a Colts franchise in Indianapolis, is the reason Lukoil Stadium is hosting the Super Bowl and has been the most important player on offense, defense or special teams for those Indianapolis Colts since being drafted in 1998.
How different would the course of this franchise have been had the Colts chosen Ryan Leaf and allowed Peyton Manning to be taken by San Diego? Would Archie Manning have nixed Peyton’s signing with the Bolts as he did for Eli Manning years later? John Elway spurned the Baltimore Colts in 1983 which many say was the final nail in the coffin for the same franchise. Might Peyton have wound up with the Jets or Baltimore Ravens – or might he have been the impetus for a franchise relocating to Los Angeles in begin the new millennium?
Now at age 36, Peyton Manning could have his pick of NFL opportunities. Maybe it is via trade or perhaps it is via free agency. Where would Peyton like to finish his career? Obviously it needs to be a team on the verge of greatness because Peyton has just a handful of seasons left. Rebuilding teams are out of the bidding – or are they? Couldn’t Maestro Manning rejuvenate a moribund franchise? Possibly but without a fortified offensive line and some serious weapons, not even Prince Peyton can conjure a championship out of thin air.
So let’s eliminate destinations such as St. Louis, Cleveland, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Carolina. Not only do they have far more needs than one player, most have young, recently drafted QB such as Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Cam Newton. Washington (#6 overall pick) and Miami (#8 draft position) have been discussed and an argument could be made for several other teams (Kansas City, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Arizona, Tennessee). Whether you have a Top 10 draft position or you made the 2011 playoffs, Peyton Manning is someone you want on your team.
The right offense, the right salary structure, the right coaches and the right personnel will be the wildcard factors that will ultimately determine Peyton Manning’s destination. Could Manning co-exist with Mike Shannahan or Pete Carroll? Would Manning be pummeled behind porous offensive lines such as Arizona or Chicago? Would an NFL franchise be foolhardy to restructure their foundation and team composition to accommodate a 36-year-old QB that could be one hit away from forced retirement?
By March we will know what Indianapolis has chosen to do and by April’s Draft we will know much more. Re-sign Manning and try to deal him in order to blow up the team under Andrew Luck, Chuck Pagano and new management? Cut Peyton Manning and move forward? Just as Johnny Unitas was forced to surrender his Baltimore Colts jersey for that of another team, Peyton Manning may have to do the same.
Should he be a Colt, Eagle, Falcon or Cowboy is not the question at hand. Is gambling on Manning worth a $28 million poker chip or cutting one’s losses? Gambling on the NFL is illegal but gambling in the NFL is a way of life.
Retirement? Free agency? Trade? What would your NFL team do?
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org