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

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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.

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