In 2004, frustrated team president Bill Polian told Colts owner Jim Irsay that he wanted to trade franchise quarterback Peyton Manning. Grab your popcorn. This is a good one.
There's a lot to digest in Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz's lengthy and candid interview with Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay, but the one part which seems to be getting the most air time involves Irsay's claim that one-time team president Bill Polian wanted to trade franchise quarterback Peyton Manning back in 2004.
Part of the reason people are seething a bit at Irsay's revelation regarding Polian wanting to ship Peyton in '04 is a teaser tweet Bob sent about two hours before the interview was published on the Star's website:
Just to whet your appetite for a coming Irsay piece: The owner said in 2004, Polian went to him and wanted to trade Manning. Hmmm.— BobKravitz (@bkravitz) March 1, 2013
That tweet created a very WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! response from fans and readers on Twitter. Even me, the guy who everyone (rightly or wrongly) thinks I get my jollies bashing Big Bill, was shocked.
In 2004, Manning was coming off a season in which he guided the Colts to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1995. He signed a gi-normous contract that offseason, and then went on to toss 49 touchdown passes during the 2004 season.
Why the hell would someone like Polian, the man who drafted Manning No. 1 overall in 1998, want to trade him right as Peyton was hitting his physical prime?
Irsay's revelation was the kind that could effectively destroy Polian's legacy in Indianapolis. The draft failures in the latter years of his time in Indy could be blamed on Bill's son, Chris, being given more authority in the front office than he was ready for. Fans will forgive Bill for that, citing 1998-2006 as the true glory years of the Polian Regime. If it's discovered that Polian was actively attempting to trade Manning just two years before he would win his first and only Super Bowl with game MVP Peyton, Polian's reputation in Indianapolis would become worse than Jeff George's.
However, I don't think that Bob's first tweet painted the whole picture regarding Polian and Manning in 2004. Here's an excerpt from Kravitz's published article:
According to Irsay, in 2004, a frustrated Polian was at wit’s end as he attempted to secure Manning’s new $98 million contract and, in a fit of pique, told Irsay, "We need to trade Peyton; we can get a bunch of defensive players and become like Tampa Bay or Baltimore." Irsay said no. "Understand something, Bill, we are not trading Peyton Manning, period,’’ Irsay recalled telling the former team president.
For me, I don't read that and think that Polian was hell bent on trading Peyton. That event, chronicled by Irsay and relayed to Kravitz, suggests that the "We need to trade Peyton" line was born out of frustration. Polian was attempting to secure Peyton to a long-term deal that, at that time, was unprecedented. I'm sure at many points during the negotiating process, Polian's infamous temper got the better of him. Maybe on the day in question, Bill just threw his arms up and screamed, "LET'S JUST TRADE THE F*CKER!"
I asked Bob about this on Twitter, wondering if the comment was frustration on the part of Polian. Bob replied that is was.
So, before we all start burning effigies of ole Bill, it's important to take his and Irsay's comments in context. From what I know talking to various people, there is still a big rift in the once strong Irsay-Polian relationship. This shouldn't come as a surprise considering Polian's track record. He was fired by Bills owner Ralph Wilson because of a falling out, and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson seemed more than happy to trade Polian's services to the Colts in 1997.
However, just because Bill is a tad on the grumpy side doesn't mean he was a completely clueless front office executive. Yes, drafting Tony Ugoh was a boneheaded move, and thinking that Curtis Painter was a capable back-up quarterback made schmucks like me question Polian's neurological functionality, but none of those are as colossally stupid as someone actively trying to trade Peyton Manning in 2004. Bill didn't do that, and we shouldn't think that Irsay's comments suggest he did.
We plan to write a bit more on Kravitz's fine interview with Irsay over the next few days. Lots of info to mine from that. Props to Bob for doing a great job with the interview.
Oh, and in case you care, Kravitz tweeted that he reached out to Polian, seeking a comment. Bob has not received a reply.