Irsay has what it takes to keep Manning, Luck happy together

November 29, 2011
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The prevailing thought among many sports pundits is that Stanford’s Andrew Luck will boycott a move to Indianapolis unless the Colts jettison Peyton Manning.

No need to wait for the results of medical tests on Manning Wednesday, pundits say. If the Colts get the No. 1 pick, Luck is in, and Manning must go.

See ya later Peyton. Thanks for the memories.

After all there’s no way a star like Luck sits for a year—or heaven forbid two or three. He’s ready to play pro ball. We live in an era where rookies start right away. Hey, look at Cam Newton.

If the Colts mess this up, Luck is out of here faster than the John Elway Express. Remember, Elway forced the Colts to trade him to Denver in 1983. Elway said he’d rather play pro baseball than quarterback a Colts team owned by Robert Irsay.

And don’t forget Eli Manning, Peyton’s brother, who forced a draft-day trade in 2004 from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants. These things happen in the NFL.

And if the Colts foul it up, it could happen to them next year with Luck.

That’s the prevailing thought anyway.

Count me among the dissenters to the above theory.

Luck is no Cam Newton or John Elway. And Colts owner Jim Irsay certainly isn’t like his dad, Robert. And as much flack as Irsay and Colts President Bill Polian have taken this year, they’re nowhere near as messed up as the brain trust running the San Diego Chargers franchise that Eli Manning fled.

Luck, if you recall, agreed to red shirt his freshman year, though he probably could have started for Stanford. Who’s to say he wouldn’t sit again to learn the game for a year or two under the best teacher possible—Professor Peyton.

But, the theory goes, Manning wouldn’t have it! Remember what happened when the Green Bay Packers drafted Cal’s Aaron Rodgers to be Brett Favre’s understudy.

Apples and oranges.

Manning is and always has been a team player. Remember this year he demanded less money for himself and more money for support players like Joseph Addai.

But that was to help a team Manning was going to be a part of. Why would he want to help the future of the franchise beyond his own playing days?

For starters, Manning wouldn’t mind attaching his legacy to the rising star that is Luck. If he’s smart, he—and his handlers—realize that will keep him relevant in this game far beyond his playing days. Imagine too what a selfless act like accepting Luck into the fold might do for his enduring reputation.

Imagine what it might have meant to Favre had Rodgers praised No. 4 for all his help in teaching him the NFL game. Instead Favre’s image has taken a major hit for being a petty cad.

Irsay wants badly to keep Manning in uniform for his entire career. If Manning thinks he can play another year or two—and that’s a big if at this point—I’m betting No. 18 would be willing to restructure his contract for the Colts so he could remain involved for years after his playing days are over.

Take note of Elway’s current role as executive vice president of football operations with the Broncos. Archie Manning, Peyton’s father, told me last year Peyton has more interest in coaching than broadcasting. Manning moving to a front office position at some point would surprise no one.

Back to Irsay and his ownership style. It’s difficult to understate how much players like playing for an owner like Jim Irsay, whose management style is a 180-degree spin from his tight-fisted father.

Irsay has proven his willingness to spend money to win games. I’m guessing Luck—and his future agent—have taken notice of how Irsay has treated Manning over the years and especially recently.

Even while Manning’s health was questionable earlier this year, Irsay was determined to make him the NFL’s highest-paid player. He was under no obligation to do so. Irsay has always paid Manning top dollar. Same goes for Dwight Freeney and other players he thought were key to winning a championship. Even to a fault, paying Bob Sanders despite injury after injury.

Players want badly to play for that kind of owner—one who is truly committed to winning a championship and willing to pay for it. Most NFL owners aren’t nearly as committed to doing so as Irsay.

And Irsay respects the players. He always has, dating back to his days as team ball boy four decades ago. I’m not sure the same can be said for the likes of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Newton’s boss. Remember, Richardson was the one who told Peyton Manning and Drew Brees they had no business at an NFL labor negotiations meeting earlier this year. I don’t know a person who doesn’t want to be respected by their boss.

If you know anything about the history of Robert Irsay, it’s no wonder Elway wanted as far away from him as possible. He had a marginal commitment to winning.

And what about Eli Manning in San Diego? Would anyone who knows anything about pro football or sports management want to play for that ownership and management group? The Chargers are a shipwreck worse than the SS Minnow.

But wait a minute, the pundits say. If Luck sits out half or more of his four-year rookie contract, he won’t be able to prove his worth and will get short-changed on what should be a lucrative multi-year agreement after his rookie deal expires. Anyway, how on earth could the Colts afford both players?

First, due to the new collective bargaining agreement, rookie contracts have been greatly reduced. Luck is likely to sign a four-year $24 million deal. That’s only slightly more per year than the Colts paid Kerry Collins this year—to mostly sit at home with an ice pack on his head.

Second, you can doubt Bill Polian and his son, Chris, all you want, but I have to believe they have the wherewithal to judge talent well enough to tell even through practices and the pre-season if Luck is the real deal. It worked for Green Bay with Rodgers.

And if they give him the thumbs up, Irsay will open his wallet wide and welcome in the new era. Manning will be in the ring of honor, and possibly in the coaches’ box, with Luck under center.

I know, it sounds like pure fantasy.

Perhaps with a different owner and two different players involved, I might tend to agree.

But I think this unique trio will realize with a little patience, a bit of give and take, a dash of respect and a lot of money, they can make this work for everybody—especially the fans.

  • I've said it before...
    ...I've said Peyton won't least in his current position; for that, I've been called a heathen who isn't a true blue Colts fan. Let's face it: 3 cervical surgeries & a degenerative nerve in this throwing arm. Cervical surgery is no laughing matter. If you do the research, just the issues in his neck could make his game terrible... potentially chronic (as in persistent, not frequency).

    If the front line takes as much care as the status quo, then he is doomed because he'll remain in a comfortable place (not necessarily the pocket) as long as it takes for a receiver to get open. A couple of nasty hits and he's the next quarterback coach, whether it be Colts or anyone else.

    Many months ago, I started this joke: there's a link betwixt Indiana & Stanford. The team is known as the Stanford Cardinal (not plural). What's Indiana's state bird? (the cardinal)

    I meant it tongue-in-cheek.

    For several weeks, I've tracked the "magic number", which is the opposite of the usual tally: what number of games should another team win in which the Colts will lose to get them to the first draft pick. It's just like the magic numbers for teams to win a title of some type, but here it's the number of games Indy can lose in order to win.

    It's what I termed the "Lucky Lotto" 2-3 months ago.

    There are teams such as the Packers who were taken out of the running many weeks ago.

    The Vikings & Rams have two wins. If the Colts get hot, they could find themselves beating those two teams. Also, the Dolphins, Jaguars, and the Panthers have three wins.

    The three game winners have a magic number is 2; i.e., if the Colts lose too more games or the Vikings & Rams win two more, then they (Colts+) will be knocked out of the running. For the 3 game winners, they are dealing with 2 Colts' losses or their (the 3 game winners) and *poof* they're gone.
  • way, no way
    Looking at the Colts schedule it'd be a minor miracle if the team won two games this season. Three? No way. As for Luck and Manning, I think they'll get it worked out to keep everybody happy. Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too! Of course if Peyton's test results come back the way a lot of folks think, it will all be a moot point.
  • THE COST !
    How are they going to fund this, maybe we can increase the sales tax again.
  • do stars make good coaches
    Most great players in any sport do not make good coaches, in soccer the best managers generally do not have great careers, and in the NFL many coaches were not even players, at this leval.

    One of the reasons for this it is said that it is not the same as telling someone how to do it as doing it yourself, another is that great players can not deal with the fact that the players can not do the things that as easily as they could.

    If Luck is as good as most people say he is and Manning has the ability to coach then, this might just work.

    Another side as Manning as now no hope of beating Brett Favre's record of consecative games played, and he accepts that he is coming to the end of an his time playing then this may add another legacy to this great career
  • Luck's Humility is For Real
    This is a very sane, well thought out article.

    Those who know Andrew are sure about one thing: his ego won't get in the way of playing behind Peyton Manning for a couple of years if that's what the coaches believe is best for the team. Andrew's humility is very real and his selflessness is incredible. He's the only superstar guy out there who really cares more about the rest of his team than he cares about himself.

    Indy, you're going to love this guy even more when you get to know him.

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