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It's official: Colts to release 4-time MVP Manning

 IBJ Staff and Associated Press
March 6, 2012
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Peyton Manning forever will be thought of around these parts as No. 18, the quarterback who led the Indianapolis Colts to an NFL championship.

He'll be remembered, too, for his record four MVP awards, his 54,000-plus yards passing and his 208 consecutive starts. Most of all, Manning will be the guy in the horseshoe helmet who turned around a franchise and transformed a basketball-loving city into a football hotbed that hosted the Super Bowl.

Despite all of that, the Colts said Wednesday they would release the 35-year-old Manning rather than pay him a $28 million bonus.

“This process has been a long, difficult process," said Colts owner Jim Irsay during a noon press conference with Manning at his side. "We always kept trying to come back to the circumstances before us. In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome."

“I think Peyton has been completely unselfish in terms of looking at where the franchise is at this point. It’s never been about money or those types of things,” Irsay said as he fought back tears.

Manning missed all of last season after a series of operations on his neck.

"We all know that nothing lasts forever," Manning said Wednesday. "Times change; circumstances change. That’s the reality of the NFL.”

While the Colts are widely expected to begin moving on by taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft, Manning will become a free agent—and, if healthy, certainly will draw interest from other teams.

“I haven’t thought yet about where I’ll play, but I’ve thought a lot about where I’ve been," Manning said, deflecting attention back to his career with the Colts. "Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”

Arizona, Miami, Tennessee, Washington and the New York Jets all have been rumored as possible destinations; Manning's former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, Tom Moore, worked for the Jets as a consultant last season.

When Manning and Irsay flew to Indianapolis together late Tuesday, the player declined to address questions about his future with the team.

"We'll see y'all tomorrow," Manning said. "We're good. We'll talk tomorrow. We'll do it the right way tomorrow."

Word of the breakup—though not unexpected—still caught one of Manning's closest friends, Colts center Jeff Saturday, off guard.

"I never thought it was a foregone conclusion," Saturday said. "I was always hopeful they'd get something worked out, and that he would be back in a horseshoe, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen."

Manning has said his goal was to play his entire career with the Colts, but a damaged nerve that forced him to have neck surgery kept him out of action for all of 2011, and not coincidentally, his team's record plummeted to 2-14.

"I can't tell you what an honor it is to go start-to-finish with the same organization here in Indianapolis. That is something I have always wanted to do as a rookie coming out," Manning said in July, after signing a five-year, $90 million contract. "Of course, you never know if that is possible, but after yesterday it is official that I will be an Indianapolis Colt for my entire career. I will not play for another team. My last down of football will be with the Colts, which means a great deal to me."

But things changed since last summer. With the bonus payment due Thursday, the neck problems, and the fact that the Colts figure they can rebuild behind Luck, Irsay seems to have deemed it too risky—and too pricey—to keep the franchise quarterback.

As Manning goes, it marks the end of a remarkably successful era.

He started every meaningful game for 13 seasons in Indianapolis—227 in a row, including the playoffs—and took the Colts from perennial also-ran to one of the NFL's model franchises and the 2006 Super Bowl title.

In the two decades predating his arrival, the Colts won 116 games, one division title and made the playoffs three times. With Manning taking snaps, the Colts won 150 games, eight division titles, two AFC championships and the franchise's first league championship since moving from Baltimore in 1984.

Indianapolis broke the NFL record for most regular-season wins in a decade (115), and tied Dallas' mark for most consecutive playoff appearances (nine).

Manning is one of four players with more than 50,000 yards passing, one of three with more than 350 TD tosses, and one of two quarterbacks with more than 200 starts in a row. He broke all of the franchise's major career passing records, previously held by Hall of Fame quarterback John Unitas.

In 2009, Manning led the Colts to the cusp of NFL history with a 14-0 start, fueling talk of an unbeaten season.

But it's been mostly bad news ever since.

The Colts pulled their starters against the Jets and lost the final two games that season. Indy then wound up losing to New Orleans in the Super Bowl. During the offseason, Manning had the first of his neck operations.

Then, after making an early playoff exit in the 2010 season, Manning underwent another neck surgery to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm.

When the nerve did not heal as quickly as expected, Manning had two vertebrae fused in September, an operation that forced him to miss a game for the first time in his NFL career. There are still questions about the strength of Manning's arm.

Still, he has insisted he intends to play football next season.

"My plan hasn't changed," Manning said during Super Bowl week in Indianapolis, where his future was the main topic of conversation. "I'm on track with what the doctors have told me to do, and I'm doing that. I'm rehabbing hard."

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  • Peyton, yes! Colts, no!
    Jim Irsay is a liar, and I have lost all respect for him. I've been a fan of the Colts since they moved to Indy, even through the bad years before Peyton, partly because the management and players, with a few exceptions, earned our loyalty and respect both on and off the field. But I cannot continue to support a team whose management has so little respect for the team's fans that it lies outright to us so easily and makes decisions like this. Irsay said so long as Peyton plays football, it would be in a Colts uniform. LIE! He could have made that happen, but he choose otherwise (probably following the advice of the new GM, who is getting off scot free but I believe bears much of the responsibility for this callous decision). Even in the press conference on Wednesday, in one breath, Irsay said it's not about money, and in the next, he talked about the salary cap. LIE! If that $28 million bonus was not there, we all know the Colts would have kept Peyton. If Andrew Luck is such a great prospect, he could only have gotten better by having the opportunity to learn the NFL game from the best quarterback who every played it, and the Colts could have found a way to make it work if they wanted to. Peyton, on the other hand, is a real class act, and Indy will miss him greatly! I look forward to having a new team to cheer for and follow, and that will be whichever team Peyton is playing for this fall. Good luck, Peyton! Here's wishing you another Super Bowl victory in the very near future! As for the Colts, I doubt if they'll win more than four games next season, and I really don't care anymore.
  • are you serious?
    Peyton manning is not coming back because of MEDIA pressure as an earlier poster suggested. He’s already made it clear there is no one that enjoys his job as a player more than him and he wants to come back so quit blaming others for forcing his return. He doesn’t have any more of a chance to get injured than before his surgery and medical reports have already shown this. Quit talking about wheel chairs. He’s coming back because he loves football, not because of the media.

    FMEA schmea! Really guy?? Indy fans are so delusional it’s not funny. You really think that the Colts releasing Peyton is a lack of class or disrespect. Its about having the opportunity to draft a guy that will hopefully be the next face of the franchise. Luck as graded higher than any other player since peyton. If you have the chance to draft a guy that could be the NEXT Peyton, you have to take that chance. You really think a guy that highly regarded is going to sit the bench for 2 or 3 years ‘learning’ and who says that Peyton wants the responsibility of mentoring and coaching this kid. Luck is ‘unproven’ as you have mentioned. But every great qb including Manning was ‘unproven’ coming out of college. Peyton is already known to be a guy who wants most or if not all the reps in practice. Think that would benefit Luck if he’s holding the clipboard?

    Draft Luck, let Peyton go somewhere where hopefully he has the opportunity to compete for a championship in the last few years of his career because keeping him around doesn’t make the colts a contender. Indy fans are so delusional it’s not funny if they think Irsay disrespected Manning. Making a point that this affects kids by showing them that they should take the money and run….now you’re just rambling and without a clue.

    All great things come to an end and if by giving up Manning a couple years early for the opportunity to have another great for the next 14 years presents itself, you’re downright losing it if you think they should keep Peyton. I only hope Indy fans give Luck a chance to be great. Peyton didn’t come into the league and light it up year 1, so when Luck has that early 3 int game and fans turn on him, Indy is going to look like the classless fans.
  • Something doesn't add up
    1. Peyton has made it pretty clear he has every intention of playing again... somewhere. So all of you wishing him well and hoping he will retire for health reasons will have to pray a little harder. I too wish him the best life has to offer. He deserves every bit of it.

    2. The stats from the Peyton era are staggering. Obviously he didn't do this all himself but based on last season, it looks like he was certainly the key component.

    3. It is evident the management of the Colts has failed miserably to plan for such a contingency. The owner is the top of the organization so the ultimate blame rests on his shoulders. In industry, they call this Potential Failure Mode Effects and Analysis (FMEA) and it is a basic piece of running any business effectively large to small. Why was this not utilized? Management has had 13 years to plan for this contingency. I am glad they are only responsible for a football team.

    4. I remember part of the supposed allure Irsay touted of coming to smaller market teams like the Colts was because you become a member of the Colts family. It appears family membership is now up for renewal annually now and the criteria for maintaining that relationship is not clearly defined or they just don't want to share it.

    5. This parting of the ways was supposedly never about money. “I think Peyton has been completely unselfish in terms of looking at where the franchise is at this point. It’s never been about money or those types of things,” Irsay said as he fought back tears. "We always kept trying to come back to the circumstances before us. In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome."

    What can be "too difficult to overcome" if it isn't about money. That should mean the salary cap wasn't an issue. One of them just gave up on developing creative solutions.

    6. What does this say to Andrew Luck or any other player considering coming to the Colts in the future. You can play your heart out for 13 years, amass record-breaking stats in every category, outpace existing Hall of Famers and be called by many the greatest player who ever played the game and we will have no allegiance to you. So please just come and sign on the dotted line... Not to mention the example it sends to our youth. Play hard but grab all you can while you can because in the end, we will only care about ourselves. Nice.

    7. You should be proud of yourself Mr. Irsay as it appears you have finally reached the attitude of major market teams like Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots who dropped Drew Bledsoe for Tom Brady, but only after Brady had replaced him for a year while Bledsoe recovered from a major injury for a year. The difference in our case is we are betting on completely unproven commodities. And you have already shown you are not using FMEA techniques. Looks like we all better hold onto our 2006 World Championship DVDs because it will likely be a long time before we ever see another.

    To summarize, something here doesn't add up so we have not yet heard the full story of what really happened. And the next time you tell your star players that you want them to retire in your teams' uniform, be sure to tell them it will be you who will decide when it is time for them to retire. Maybe we should have listened more closely to the folks from Baltimore.
  • Peyton not gone
    I believe that once the Peytoniacs settle down a bit and thinks hard, they'll realize that Peyton will still be a part of the city, even though he's no longer a part of the Colts (and even that is subject to change). His various philanthropic efforts will continue to serve the needs of the people of the city for many years to come. And even though Peyton's no longer on the field in Number 18 for the Blue And White, think for a minute: What is the usual career path for the top NFL players when they reach a field-ending injury (and make no mistake; that neck injury could well become far worse if Peyton were to continue to play for ANYONE. You want to see him in a wheelchair - or a casket?). MEDIA! Perhaps in the pressbox for ESPN, possibly as the front-man for the Colts (yes, he's been released as a PLAYER - front office possibilities abound!) Heck, he could even
    wind up alongside Joe Staysniak at Emmis... I'm sure Mr. Smulyan could find a slot (and not out of sympathy, either!)
  • are you serious?
    So you think if Peyton stayed, the Colts could 'win championships' ?? Indy fans are so clueless about whats best for the team and Peyton. Peyton is an exceptional person but its crazy to think every team extends contract to players that meant a lot to the city. Look what Pitt did with hines ward. its how things work. its much better to release a play a year early than a year late and put your franchise in a hole.

    Irsay isn't turning his back on peyton. he's coming to the conclusion that even with peyton they aren't superbowl contenders, so why not move on and draft the expected best college qb since peyton and let peyton have the opportunity to play somewhere that does have superbowl aspirations.

    To all the crying Indy fans....peyton was a great player and great for Indy but its time to move on. Don't become what fans of other teams call indy fans...."peyton fans and not colts fans aka bandwagon. "
  • Well Wishes
    And by the way, thank you Peyton and Jim for both being at the top in class. Best of luck to you Peyton in the future and to you Jim on the task of rebuilding.
  • Relax folks...
    Everyone should just relax and let the game/future paly out. We should all be thankful for Peyton's contributions to the franchise, our memories and even more so our city. But football is a business and business owners have to make extremely difficult decisions. Add to that the opportunity for a first round pick and an opportunity to get a jump on rebuilding a team that is considered old by NFL standards. If the Colts return to their winning ways everyone will be happy. This reminds me of a similar situation in Green Bay when the Packers decided to release Hall of Fame quaterback Brett Favre and replace him with little know Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is agruably the best QB in the NFL right now.
    • Thank You!
      Ditto to all who posted such positive and grateful messages to Peyton. Peyton, wherever you go and whatever you do, please know that you are, and always will be, loved here in Indianapolis! Wishing you all the best down the road... and I will always remain a COLTS fan!
    • Amazing Class Amazing Person
      All I can say is we have seen break-ups before. Not sure I've seen one where both are crying and the guy being let go says thank you.

      Peyton is a CLASS ACT

    • Thank you
      Peyton,
      You have been an amazing blessing to our city. You are an oustanding athlete, a model citizen, a generous and humble philanthropist - and an all around first-class act.

      Thank you to you and your family for all that you have done for our city, our Colts and each of us personally.

      Respectfully,

      Lynne
    • Goodbye Peyton
      Goodbye Peyton...you have done much for the city, the Colts, and football. You have been an excellent role model in a time when so many sports figures are just rich thugs. I wish you nothing but the best as you continue to heal from your injury and know that you will be missed in Indy! Good luck and Godspeed!!
    • Redonkulous
      Peyton made this team and has several years left. I'll eat my words when Andy Luck becomes one of the best players in history which i doubt. Peyton still is great and The Colts just made a huge mistake. Watch Peyton win more championship/s w/ another team! My intital gut reaction is i'm done w/ the Dolts
      • Sandy
        THAT is exactly what Manning did for the Colts! He took lower salaries over the years to pay for the line up. ... St. Vincent's Hospital. Sounds like Manning has been taken advantage of by someone with no heart or head - Ersay.
      • Manning
        As someone that has had an anterior cerebial dysectomy with fusion, I have to respect Mr. Irsay's decisions. I had my surgery 4 years ago and my arm is still not 100% and the doctors tell me the nerves may not ever fully recover. Even if his nerves do recover it's a dangerous proposition to play again. I hope Mr. Manning decides to retire and not take the chance.
      • are you serious?
        Look i understand what peyton has done for the team, city, and fans. he deserves ever cent he's ever been paid.

        But if you think he should be kept around just to finish off his career with the Colts you're thinking with your heart and definitely not your brain.

        Thankfully Irsay knows that if the Colts want to stay relevant they have to do what is right for the future. This happens with every great athlete...Montana, Favre, etc. the fans moan and the owner takes the heat. Young backed up Montana and Rodgers is doing ok in Green Bay.

        Get over it Indy. Peyton will be just fine in another uniform for a few years and hopefully he'll get a chance at another superbowl cause he sure as h won't have that chance for a Colts team that has so many holes on both sides of the ball.
        • oops, there it is!
          I agree totally. Irsay should shut his pie hole, suck it up and let the man finish his career where it started, and with the team that he helped turn into a success. We owe more than money to Peyton, he helped turn Indianoplace into a Superbowl worthy city. Once they got here, they found out how great we are, but we would never have gotten them here without Peyton. He should get the $28 mil just for gracing us with his presence.
        • 28 mil?
          are you kidding me? 28 millon is nothing! compared to the cash this man has helped bring not just to this city, but to the Irsay household too. but then again maybe the good times this man has helped bring to our city has clouded my jugement a bit, i mean like father like son, soon when the city cant give him what he wants i guess indy will be the next city to see Mayflower trucks roll up to the stadium and sneek away again... remember sneeking away is something the Irsays are really good. shame on you mr irsay. and heads up to the rest of the team!
          • will be missed
            Never thought a guy I never met could bring so much pleasue to my Sunday afternoons. It is like he has died. My wife myself and or city will truley miss him.
            Go Colts
          • Manning's Future
            While I understand that many fans are upset, I think that all fans must face the same facts that Peyton Manning is facing. The neck surgeries Manning had will serve him well, for day-to-day normal activity. There is absolutely no way an NFL Franchise Player, such as Manning, can be expected to perform at 100% and not be injured again, and perhaps permanently if the neck repairs are damaged. The Colts had no option other than create a losing season and get a good quarterback in the draft. I recommend that the NFL review all game footage from games between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis to see if Manning was targeted for hits associated with the Saints' Bounty Program. Manning is still my favorite NFL quarterback, and I care more about his future away from football than a future that could include a severe neck injury if he continues to play.

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