IUSportCom’s Brandon Bender explains why cutting ties with Peyton Manning was the right move for the Colts.
It couldn’t possibly have ended this way. Peyton Manning was supposed to be a Colt for his entire career and gracefully hang up his cleats when he could no longer work his magic. That’s how everybody figured it would go, including Manning himself and team owner Jim Irsay. It was absolutely outrageous to think that the legendary quarterback would someday be wearing another uniform. But after Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, what seemed unthinkable turned into the inevitable.
The Colts had completely collapsed in Manning’s absence, finishing an NFL-worst 2-14. Having been awarded the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the franchise came to a crossroads. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was projected to be the top pick, and fans everywhere began to wonder if Manning’s days as a Colt were numbered.
Would the Colts trade the pick and try to win one more Super Bowl by keeping Manning? Could they even afford to have two quarterbacks? Should Andrew Luck sit out a year and learn from one of the greatest of all time? The organization’s future was hanging in the balance, and Irsay knew he had to make the right call.
After months of speculation, the decision became official on March 7: The Colts were releasing Manning. To see and hear the news that Peyton Manning was no longer a Colt was shocking and so, so strange. But if you knew the circumstances, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Still, it’s worth wondering, how could this have happened?
You start by evaluating his health. Up until 2011, Manning had not missed a single start in his entire career. After undergoing four neck surgeries in a 19-month span dating back to May 2010, Manning lost all the strength his right throwing arm and was physically unable to perform. There were concerns that he might not be able to play again and doctors were worried that he would be putting himself at risk for permanent injury.
Next, it should be worth noting that, even if he were healthy, Manning was 36 years old and likely to play for only five more years. Meanwhile, Luck, the star quarterback waiting in the wings, was only 22 with his career expected to last well over a decade. Widely viewed as the best quarterback prospect since, ironically, Peyton Manning, Luck would be expected to play right away as a rookie. With Manning there, a quarterback controversy would ensue.
Lastly, consider the financial ramifications of the impending decision. As part of the 5-year, $90 million contract Manning signed prior to the 2011 season, he was due to make $22 million total per season (including bonus), which already took up an significant portion of the team’s salary cap. As the presumed top pick, Luck’s rookie contract would be worth around $20 million. The Colts simply could not afford to pay over $40 million to keep both players, especially since only one could play at a time. Trading Manning was not an option either, as doing so would require the Colts to take a whopping $38 million cap hit.
By taking all those factors into account, it’s easy to see why Manning was cut loose. From common sense, why would Irsay throw a lot of money at his severely injured 36-year-old quarterback when he could rebuild around a rookie No. 1 pick? He should be praised for having the guts to realize that the Colts were better off starting over with a rookie quarterback rather than one who is nearing the end of his career.
The grief and sadness of Manning’s departure was understandable, but the change has worked out well for both parties after one season. Manning eventually signed with the Broncos and was able to return to his old form by directing the Broncos to the NFL’s best regular-season record. As the top overall pick of the draft, Luck instantly became the new face of the franchise and city of Indianapolis and led the Colts to an improbable playoff berth.
One year after saying goodbye to the greatest athlete their city has ever known, Colts fans are finally at peace with the decision. As much as they refused to believe it then, they understand now that Jim Irsay really had no choice. Letting Peyton Manning go was the right thing to do.