It looks very much as if an era will be coming to a close today. According to ESPN and the NFL Network, the Indianapolis Colts are expected to announce they are parting ways with quarterback Peyton Manning.
While the team has not officially scheduled a press conference, the Indianapolis Star has reported that Colts owner Jim Irsay and Manning have been meeting in Florida in recent days. They were reportedly set to fly back to Indianapolis together Tuesday evening and still discussing the signal-caller’s future with the franchise.
The general consensus is that unless something can be worked out between Tuesday night and this morning, the face of the Indianapolis Colts for the past 14 seasons will be changing. It’s also expected that the mood of the press conference will be celebratory and not contentious, honoring Manning’s career with the team and what he’s meant to the city and state.
Manning is due a $28 million team bonus by 4 p.m. Thursday. After undergoing four medical procedures on his neck over the last 19 months, the question has been whether the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player will be able to return to the form that enabled him to become the Colts’ all-time passing leader (54,828 yards).
He also is the franchise’s career record-holder in completions (4,682), pass attempts (7,210), touchdown passes (399) and games played (208). Manning has had 11 4,000-yard passing seasons, three seasons with 4,500 or more yards passing and six seasons with 30 or more TD passes (including a franchise-best 49 TD passes in 2004).
He is second behind another iconic Colts quarterback, John Unitas, for the most career interceptions (Unitas had 246, Manning 198).
During his 14 seasons with the team, Manning led Indianapolis to a combined 141-67 record (postseasons included) along with 11 playoff appearances, eight division titles, three AFC championship games and two Super Bowls. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XLI after a 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney said Tuesday night that he knew Manning’s departure was probably imminent but still hoped for the best.
“It’s a little bit of being shocked and also the other side of feeling like it was going to happen. With all of the moves that happened this year after the season was over with — the [general manager] being fired, all of the coaching staff [being let go] and all of that — I kind of figured something was going to happen,” Freeney told the NFL Network.
“Peyton is like family to us, family to me. He’s been there 10 years with me. It’s been great, but we also understand this is the National Football League and these things do happen.”
Middle linebacker Gary Brackett agreed.
“Even though it was speculated for some time now that this would happen, there is still a shock factor. I know what Peyton has meant to the organization, has meant to me as a teammate. I just definitely wish him the best in whatever happens tomorrow,” Brackett also told the NFL Network.
“His numbers speak for themselves. You talk about us being the winningest team in any decade of football — he’s a large part of that. The 12 consecutive winning seasons, the Super Bowl. For me, getting here in 2003, the stands were suits and Green Bay jerseys; probably now, there are 80-percent Colts jerseys and largely his jerseys. He was a guy that really changed the landscape of Indianapolis and really changed the landscape of football.”
While he has been cleared to return to the playing field by his doctors, regaining strength in his right arm and upper back has been the unknown factor in trying to decide what to do about whether to re-sign Manning or to give him his outright release.
Also entering the equation is that Indianapolis will have the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft in April and is expected to select former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts are starting a major rebuilding project with the franchise with a new general manage (Ryan Grigson), new head coach (Chuck Pagano) and coaching staff (only two members of Jim Caldwell’s previous staff are returning).
Potential landing spots for Manning include Miami, Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City, San Francisco and the New York Jets. He grew up as a fan of former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and the weather in the area has to be considered a plus. The same thinking goes into a possible move to the Cardinals, in addition to the presence of an outstanding receiving corps led by Larry Fitzgerald.
The 49ers, led by former Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh, is considered the most Super Bowl-ready franchise of those being mentioned. Harbaugh proceeded Manning as Indianapolis’ starting quarterback and is in the Colts’ Ring of Honor.
“Peyton will be a class act [during a possible Wednesday press conference],” center Jeff Saturday told NFL Network. “He’s meant a lot to this city [Indianapolis], this state and this franchise. I wish I could keeping snapping the ball to [No.] 18. But that doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.”