So if Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay wanted Peyton Manning to stay with the team, what happened? Why couldn't a new deal be reached? Why not a compromise of some kind?
“This process has been a long, difficult process. I know Peyton and I have had numerous conversations over the months, and we always kept trying to come back to the circumstances that were before us. We tried to put each other in each other’s shoes, and tried to realize what the situation was for the franchise and what it was for Peyton,” the Colts owner explained.
“In the end, those circumstances were too difficult to overcome. Circumstances that dictated to us, to the franchise, that really were unavoidable. It is something where, as we are going forward, being a rebuilding team with salary cap problems and Peyton is on the mend, to try to resume his career, we both wanted to be together. It has been very difficult and just tearing at our hearts to try and look at the situation and find the best solution.”
Neither side pointed fingers.
“I think Peyton has been completely unselfish in terms of looking at (where) the franchise was at, and where we are at in this point. I tried to put myself in Peyton’s situation as well. In the end, before we ever got into any specifics, it has never been about money. It’s never been about those type of things,” Irsay said.
Manning added that he had plenty of talks with the Colts owner.
“We’ve covered all sorts of scenarios, and like he said, these circumstances, they are not the way either of us wished they were. But that is the reality, and that is kind of how it got to this point. So I don’t necessarily think there was a decisive point. It was just good healthy talks, fun talks in person, over the phone and long talks. That is kind of how we got here,” he voiced.
• Peyton moving forward – The now former Indianapolis quarterback is ready to see what the future holds, whether he'll be signing with one of a handful of teams. Miami, Arizona, Seattle, Kansas City, Washington and the New York Jets figure to be among his most ardent suitors.
“I am confident. I don’t know what these next steps are, this is all kind of new to me. [Indianapolis] is the only team I’ve ever known, and I’ve always known what the month of March is for an offseason getting ready to go play for the Colts the next season. This is kind of uncharted territory for me, so we’ll see how all that plays out,” Manning said.
He added, though, that retirement was not among his immediate plans.
“I don’t want to retire. No, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But, there is no other team I wanted to play for,” Manning said. “Nobody has had it better than I have playing for the Indianapolis Colts for these 14 years. I just can’t say how thankful and fortunate I feel to have played here. I love playing quarterback.”
And what about his health? Four medical procedures in 19 months to repair a bulging disk in his neck, coupled with strength issues in his right arm.
“I’m throwing it pretty well. I still have some work to do and some progress to make. I’ve come a long way and I’ve really worked hard. I can’t tell you the hours and the time I’ve put in to working hard. I really enjoy being back out there,” Manning explained.
“To get back out there and throw, and I’ve sure enjoyed that. I’m doing better, I’m going to continue to work hard and hopefully [I’ll] keep making some progress.”
Wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who has been working out with the quarterback in Miami, told WTHR-TV Wednesday that Manning is getting closer to his MVP form.
“I’ve seen Peyton Manning throw the ball 65 yards [in recent workouts],” Wayne said. “If that ain't strong enough, if he has to throw the ball farther than that, I'm not sure he should play again.
“He's definitely throwing the ball with some whip and some velocity and some depth. He looks good, he looks like the Peyton Manning of old. Looks eager to show everybody he’s back.”
• Colts moving forward – The release of Manning may just be the first shoe to drop when it comes to parting ways with key veteran players.
Wayne, along with fellow wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez, are all unrestricted free agents. Decisions must also be made about the futures of center Jeff Saturday, offensive guards Ryan Diem and Mike Pollak, linebackers Philip Wheeler and Ernie Sims, defensive tackle Eric Foster and tight end Jacob Tamme.
Salary cap issues may also force Indianapolis officials to take a long, hard look at the contracts of tight end Dallas Clark and defensive end Dwight Freeney.
“I just think that as a franchise where we are right now with the salary cap and where we are rebuilding, we are definitely a few years away [from being contenders again],” Irsay said.
“I think with injuries, the erosion of time on the roster and different things and circumstances dictated [going into a rebuilding plan]. I think people lose track of the salary cap and where we are really at there. Just to sign our draft picks, we’re going to have to make more roster moves. It’s a challenge, but I know we’ll continue to work at it as we go through each day.”
Wayne doesn't know what his future holds.
“I’m expecting the worst, the worst being that my time is up [with Indianapolis]. It’s been real. No regrets. No ill will. Just move on, that’s the way it goes,” he said.
Freeney, though, wants to stay with the Colts if at all possible.
“We’ll see what happens. I know I do have one more year left [on his contract] and I plan on playing that out,” the Pro Bowl defensive lineman told NFL Network. “I love Indianapolis. I plan on trying to stay.”