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Sports Business

Colts Irsay's comments as much about Luck as Manning

October 17, 2013

Many people think Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's comments this week were a barb at Peyton Manning. But is it possible they were actually directed at a target that has more to do with the Colts' future than its past?

It occurred to me that Irsay's comments this week could have been directed more at the team’s current quarterback than its former one. After all, Irsay is still signing Andrew Luck’s pay checks. Not so with Manning, who now plays for Denver. And those comments could have more to do with a sticky situation Irsay faces with Luck in two to three short years than they did with the 14 years he had with Manning.

The “Star Wars” numbers referred to by Irsay could just as easily have referred to the number of zeros and placement of the decimal point on Manning’s pay check than the points he put up on the field.

Irsay was as clear as he was careful in his statements this week. It’s the same message he has not so subtly been sending for the last 18 months.

The Colts are not going back to a model where one player—not matter how good—is going to suck up vast amounts of money under the salary cap. That model, Irsay has theorized—rightly or wrongly—limited the number of Super Bowls the Colts won during the Manning era. Nothing against Manning. Mistake made by Irsay and then team president Bill Polian. Time to move on. Time to try something different.

All Colts fans love Manning. I get that. But you’d be blind not to see that Luck has the potential to be just as good. Yes, in time I believe Manning and Luck will go down as two of the 10 (maybe five) greatest quarterbacks of all time. Yes, it’s unthinkable to imagine the Colts could catch lightning in a bottle with consecutive quarterbacks. But unless Luck gets injured, it’s going to happen.

It would be equally crazy to think an NFL team could for 30 years have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time leading it and come away with two Super Bowl titles.

Irsay knows if he repeats the mistakes he and Polian made with Manning during the Luck era that’s the likely scenario. A change in the team’s business model is needed. That’s why Polian now gets paid by ESPN—not Irsay. I’m not sure how Irsay can be criticized for seeking an improved model. One Super Bowl title might be good enough for Broncos Coach John Fox. Hurray for Irsay for not settling.

So Irsay is greasing the skids with Luck—and his agent Will Wilson.

In less than three years time—when his rookie deal is set to expire, Luck and his agent could easily ask for a max contract making him one of the highest paid players in the NFL.

Irsay has never been shy about paying star players top dollar. But he’s said clearly he won’t buy the farm and not have enough money to put quality stock in the stable.

It didn’t work with Manning—at least not to the degree Irsay or any Colts supporters would have liked. And it won’t work with Luck.

Message sent. But Irsay wasn’t dialing it up for No. 18. His intended target: No. 12.

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