Peyton Manning (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
The Indianapolis Colts are in a power position when it comes to the future of their franchise and the short-term future for others. Their big decision on Peyton Manning could affect a lot of teams through free agency and the draft.
With everyone but the Patriots and Giants closing the book on the 2011 season and starting the process of looking ahead to free agency and the draft, one of the bigger topics of discussion is what the Indianapolis Colts are going to do at the quarterback position. In many ways, their situation mirrors the conundrum the Green Bay Packers faced four years earlier.
Back in 2008, the Packers were looking to their future. They had a young quarterback (Aaron Rodgers) that most in the organization felt was the answer to their long-term plans. But they had a Hall of Fame quarterback (Brett Favre) that wasn’t ready for retirement. In a move that would spark a ton of controversy among their fans, the Packers made the controversial move to ship off the veteran in favor of the youngster, despite a long career from Favre that made him a legend among Packers fans. It would appear the Colts are heading down the same path.
There seems to be little question that the Colts are going to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in April’s draft. The problem is that not only do they have Hall of Famer Peyton Manning under contract, he is due a $28 million roster bonus in March. To make such a massive payment, it would seem that the Colts would have to commit to Manning for at least the next couple of years to pay off that investment. At the same time, they would be paying Luck the money that the first overall draft pick would receive. To many, it’s a price too high for any team to handle against the salary cap.
As a result, the rumor mill is swirling that the Colts may find themselves forced to release Manning. It’s hard to imagine that, even with Manning’s talent, the Colts can afford to keep them both. If the franchise is planning to make the best use of the opportunity to draft Luck, it would appear that, like Favre, Manning has to go.
To say there is a precedent is understating the point. Many of the game’s top quarterbacks over the modern history of the NFL haven’t ended their careers with the team they helped make famous. Fran Tarkenton bounced from the Vikings to the Giants and back again. Joe Namath didn’t finish his career as a Jet. Warren Moon led both the Vikings and Seahawks to the playoffs after being pushed aside by the Oilers (for trivia answer Cody Carlson). When Steve Young emerged in San Francisco, Joe Montana had to go – and led Kansas City to the playoffs. Johnny Unitas didn’t end his career as a Colt, as he hobbled off to San Diego to finish out his career.
There is a precedent for top quarterbacks being pushed aside by the franchises they were so closely associated with – even those who had become the face of the franchise.
As hard as it was for football fans to comprehend Montana wearing a Chiefs jersey or Favre wearing the colors of the Jets and Vikings, it’s starting to look more and more that, if Manning’s injured neck has healed and he wants to continue playing, it likely won’t be with Indianapolis. Even if he does return, like Favre in Green Bay, the clock is ticking.
While his current price tag is probably too high for teams to absorb, if Manning is released instead of receiving his $28 million bonus, which would go a long way to covering the guaranteed portion of Luck’s contract, the landscape of teams interested in a quarterback would change considerably.
In 2009, the Vikings were a team in need of a veteran QB and Favre was the short-term solution. The same could be true for Manning. Miami, Washington, Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco or Arizona could all be in the mix if Manning hits the open market.
The Colts haven’t publicly stated their intentions, but they have laid the groundwork for the transition. It won’t be popular in Indianapolis if Manning is released, just as Packers fans got in an uproar when the team parted ways with Favre, but, in the business of the NFL, it’s all part of doing game.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.