The countdown begins now...
Sometime between now and March 8th, we'll learn the fate of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback to every play in the NFL. That's the date that Peyton Manning is set to receive a $28 Million roster bonus from the Colts, and the overwhelming sentiment is that Manning will be let go by Jim Irsay and the Colts. It's clearly the biggest decision Irsay has ever had to make, and quite possibly one of the most difficult decisions in NFL history.
There aren't many other players the caliber of Manning in the history of the NFL that hit the free market, especially after being let go. Reggie White did not go back to the Eagles while in his prime, but he was a free agent, and the franchise tag didn't exist at the time, so White was free to sign with anyone, and he signed with the Packers.
Speaking of the Packers, remember what happened with Brett Favre? The Packers had just gone to Overtime in the NFC Championship game before losing to the Giants with Favre at QB, and they decided to part ways with Favre in favor of Aaron Rodgers. Favre still had a couple years left in him, as he again got a team to Overtime of the NFC Championship before losing once again.
This situation is eerily similar to the one the Colts are facing. A beloved figure that the team would probably keep around if not for a legitimate QB-in-waiting, but turning the page is the correct decision for the franchise, as tough as it may be at the time. A big difference here is that we don't know if Manning has a couple years left in him like Favre did. If he gets his throwing strength back, there's no doubt that he does.
That's a gigantic "if" though.
All along, people have said that they cannot move back the March 8th date, or that Manning won't move the contract back. We've also heard that Manning can delay the date, and Mike Chappell of the Indy Star said this today on the Dan Dakich show:
Our guy @mchappell51 just said the Manning date can be moved back as far as they want..March 8th means nothing according to Chappell— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) February 7, 2012
The only thing that is clear is that nothing is clear. My guess is that both sides (Colts, Manning) will continue to report contradicting stories about this up until a decision has been made. Honestly, I have no idea which side is true.
But let's try not to speculate on whether they can move the date or not, and focus on what the benefits are for both sides if it can be moved. Clearly it's in the best interest of the Colts to get this date moved back until after the new league year starts on March 13. In that case, they can trade Manning and probably get some pretty good pieces back for a most-likely 50% or so Manning, with no guarantee he'll ever be able to play again. I'm not sure in this scenario Manning would still get his bonus, as I've not seen the exact wording of the contract, but I guess it's possible that Manning still gets the $28 Million from his new team. My guess, however, is that any team he goes to will want to re-do his deal to be very incentive-laden one.
If we continue with this scenario of moving the bonus date back, I see really only one reason why Manning would do this, and it would be a return "thank you" to the Colts for the $26 Million he made last year, as this would really not be in his best interest to basically give up the $28 Million in his contract. Would Manning do this to help the franchise he's led for 14 years? It's possible, but I wouldn't guarantee he'd do that. If he would absolutely do it, the date would be moved back already. I'd like to think he'd do it, but I'm not sure I would turn away $28 Million that easily either.
I'm also sure that if the date gets moved back, Manning would get to pick which team he is traded to. In no way will Manning move the date back and then let the Colts auction him off to the highest bidder, team be damned. If done correctly, the prospective new teams won't know Manning's intentions and the Colts will get fair market value. If it comes out that Manning wants to play in Arizona, for example, then the Cardinals could low-ball their offer. For the Colts in this situation though, getting something is better than getting nothing.
So what happens if the two sides can't, or won't, move the date back from March 8th? First off there won't be a trade after giving Manning the bonus, as Manning would count $44 Million against the cap, which is over 1/3 the entire cap on a player not even on the roster. Impossible to do. The second option would be to keep him on the roster and gamble that he'll get his strength back and play again in the NFL. His cap hit if he is released after subsequent seasons? If he makes it just one season, it would be $33 Million, and lose $11 Million each year he stays on the roster, with his contract ending in 2015. The Colts would be mortgaging their next four years on something no doctor in the world can assure.
This is why the only realistic option, if the date cannot be moved, is for Manning to be released before March 8, only causing a $16 Million cap hit, which isn't small, but is helped mightily by the rookie wage scale. We learned this week that Manning would be OK with an incentive-laden deal, so presumably that extends to the Colts as well, after he was released.
I don't think it's going to happen though, and I don't think it'll be Manning's decision whether he can or not. Adam Schefter reiterated this fact again this morning on Mike and Mike, basically saying they can both work financially, but in order for a young quarterback to grow, he needs reps. We know that a healthy Manning equals no reps for anyone else.
Remember when the news broke that the Colts had made the decision to cut Manning weeks ago? Here's the relevant text again from NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora:
"According to sources who were involved in the Colts’ GM search, the organization was planning to move on from Manning weeks ago, well before this public squabble between the quarterback and his owner," NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora said Friday on "NFL Total Access."
"So Friday’s joint statement won’t be changing a thing."
La Canfora reported the Colts will make a move on Manning "almost certainly" before the start of the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.
Now maybe the fact that Manning is now willing to sign on to play somewhere strictly on incentives has changed the mind of the Colts brass, but I wouldn't get your hopes up too much. Yes it's possible that Manning would come back to the Colts after being released, but I'm having a hard time remembering a player that was released from a team, had multiple offers from other teams (which he will surely get), and still went back to the original team. If someone could find such a person, I'd be more inclined to believe it can happen. For now, I'm not going to consider it better than an extreme longshot.
We're all fans of Peyton Manning and want him to finish his career as an Indianapolis Colt, and that includes Colts Owner Jim Irsay. Nobody could have expected the events of the past five months, least of which the two guys at the center of it all. Hell, just a year ago I was talking to my wife about getting on the waiting list for season tickets so I assured myself a seat at the last game of Peyton Manning's career. Little did I know that opportunity seemingly has already passed.
The comparison to the Aaron Rodgers/Brett Favre situation has come up a lot with regards to what the Colts are facing, but most of the attention has been on the first couple of years in Green Bay, which I think is slightly off. The situations are very close because of what happened at the end, which was the Packers deciding that it was best for the franchise to go with a young QB (who had not started a game in three years mind you) rather than the face of their franchise for over a decade.
The folks in Wisconsin were not happy when Favre was forced out, but they've gotten over it, thanks in large part to Rodgers being awesome. All signs point to Jim Irsay and the Colts making the same decision.
Here's hoping Andrew Luck (or Robert Griffin III) turns out to be awesome too. It'll help soothe the pain I'm feeling right now.