Back in September, March 8th seemed so far away that it really never registered that we'd get to this point, and there would be a very real chance that Manning would not be on the Colts roster in 2012. There was plenty of time for him to get his neck healthy, maybe even come back to "save the season", and we'd all move on to 2012, after an expected bad season, and we'd be back to watching the Colts of old. We all had this hope back in September, but as the months went on, and the Colts kept losing, the prospect of the Colts cutting ties with Manning became more of a reality.
Now that we're here, what's going to happen? The first thing to know is the actual time deadline for a decision on Manning's $28 Million roster bonus is 4:00 PM Thursday afternoon. My feeling is that we won't hear anything until Thursday at some point, but almost every other piece of breaking news the Colts have released this offseason has been on a Wednesday, so that's clearly possible as well. I don't expect it Monday or Tuesday.
As the offseason has gone on, it became perfectly clear that Owner Jim Irsay is not going to give Manning the $28 Million bonus, and I won't get into the back-and-forth they've had in the media since the season ended, as we've talked about it at length. I also said all along that I would not believe Manning was actually healthy without seeing it on video. Until I saw that, it was all just media fodder.
Seeing the video of him throwing really makes me question what Irsay is going to do. We've all heard about Irsay referring to his 2012 QB as "Andrew", how returning to the Colts is "on Peyton", etc. Now, we've all seen Manning throw a football, so he doesn't have a "noodle arm" any more, but it's really hard to tell from the little bit of grainy footage to see just how healthy he is. ESPN's Paul Kuharsky doesn't think he's healthy, and I don't know what he is basing that off of, so I won't go any further than just linking what he said.
My opinion? He isn't healthy enough to start a game if the Colts played tomorrow, but by September he will be, and I base this just off watching that video. The zip isn't there, but I'm guessing it's mostly because he hasn't thrown a football for 9 months, and he just needs to get the muscle strength back. If anyone can do that, it's Peyton Manning.
From my prospective, there are only two choices for Irsay and the Colts to make:
- Cut Peyton Manning, knowing full well he's more than likely going to play somewhere else in 2012, and draft Andrew Luck. Colts are in full rebuilding mode, which has been every indication since the end of the season.
- Exercise Manning's bonus, get "the band back together", restructure/re-sign several key players (Freeney, Wayne, Mathis, Garcon, etc), and trade the #1 overall pick for a boatload of picks, emphasizing players that are ready to play now rather than project players.
Now, I left out another choice that others have advocated, but it runs counter-intuitive to what the Colts should be doing, and that's keeping Manning and still drafting Luck. Even if Manning signs under a restructured deal, this won't be helping the Colts at all. At best it puts them in a holding pattern for three to four years, and wastes the cheapest years of Andrew Luck. I understand financially they can make it work for now, but if Manning can play for three to four years, Manning is going to play. You don't bring Manning back if you have no intention of playing him. He wants another Super Bowl ring, not to mentor a young QB.
Also, if the Colts draft Luck and let him "learn" from the bench, how many guys could the Colts seemingly get that would be able to help them win right away, maybe to get the defense to championship level in 2013? Hell, the Texans did a complete 180 in just one year, without any offseason work, so why not considerable improvement in 2012? Instead, they'd be rolling the dice with just the picks they had, hoping they get them right. There's a reason the Patriots stock-pile draft picks: it increases their margin for error. There's a big difference from missing three of six picks than three of nine or ten picks.
I think there is one wild-card scenario that we might see here as well. We all know that trading Manning after he receives the $28 Million bonus is damn near impossible due to the salary cap. But what about if Manning, to try and help the Colts, re-signs at a more cap-friendly deal, fully knowing that the Colts will trade him sometime before or shortly after the draft? Clearly Manning would have final say over where he goes, but it then lets the Colts get something in return for Manning, rather than just letting him walk out the door for nothing. What are the chances of this happening? Very small. But Irsay is an out-of-the-box thinker, and I don't think Manning wants to "stick it" to the Colts. This might be a very good compromise to appease both sides.
The deadline is now just about three days away, and I still can't make up my mind on what I would do. If you believe Manning will be healthy in September, based on what you see right now, I think it would be foolish to let him walk to another team for nothing in return. During this whole process I've come to grips with the fact Manning would not be a Colt next year, and Andrew Luck is the guy to rally behind and watch him grow over the next decade (hopefully). It's decisions like this that make me fully understand why these guys make as much money as they do, in order to make the right decision.
We'll know very soon though. It will certainly be nice to have a decision made. Finally.