Peyton Manning’s record-breaking run as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts ended today, when owner Jim Irsay announced the team would release its best player.
Both men paused frequently, fighting tears and their voices shaking, when they appeared together at a news conference at the Colts’ team complex.
“This has not been easy for Jim,” Manning said, “and this has certainly not been easy for me.”
The 35-year-old Manning will become a free agent, and there is expected be interest from a half-dozen or so NFL clubs, provided he’s healthy. Manning is coming off a series of operations to his neck and missed all of last season.
Indianapolis needed to cut him this week to avoid paying him a $28 million bonus. 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.
“It’ll always be Colt,” Manning said. “That’ll never change.”
He forever will be thought of around these parts as No. 18, the quarterback who led the Colts to an NFL championship.
He’ll be remembered, too, for his record four MVP awards, his 50,000 yards passing and his 200 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 a month ago.
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.
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.