Indianapolis Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay is no stranger to hard decisions that must be made for his franchise. After all, he was the one who had to make what is still one of the biggest and most surreal moves in NFL history - to release superstar quarterback Peyton Manning amidst injury concerns back in 2012.
Though Irsay isn't a stranger to these hard decisions, it doesn't make them any easier. And it was a similar decision that he faced this offseason, making a similar decision for the good of the franchise, as hard as it may be: moving on from wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
"It was very difficult because I have so much respect for what he's done for the Colts and for the game itself. He truly is a Hall of Fame caliber player." Irsay said earlier this week at the annual league meetings, according to Colts.com.
For the first time since the decision was made, the team owner spoke publicly about his decision. There was a press release containing quotes full of praise for Wayne from Irsay, head coach Chuck Pagano, and general manager Ryan Grigson, but that was it. On Monday, Irsay opened up about the decision for the first time.
He flew down to Florida to meet with Wayne at his home and the two friends talked for two days. "I told Reggie I just thought that we felt that it was time," Irsay said.
"Because he's uncertain about the direction, we didn't have an announcement," the owner continued, explaining why it was a simple press release that announced the major decision. "We didn't do those sort of things. We really wanted to. But him and I had a very long talk, face-to-face, man-to-man. He understood where the franchise was coming from in the end, and we wish him well with whatever he decides on." Irsay noted that he thinks Wayne wants to play another year, but he didn't specify whether he thought that would actually happen or not.
In addition to Jim Irsay, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano also met with the media in Arizona on Tuesday, and he expressed his appreciation for his close friend. "I know it was extremely difficult for everybody in our organization," Pagano said. "Guy spends 14 years giving everything that he has day in day out. Those are very, very difficult decision that you have to make. Again, it's the harsh reality of the National Football League and for every Ray Lewis ending there's a bunch that obviously don't end that way. You would like for them all to end it that way. It's just not going to happen. It was very difficult.
"Like Jim (Irsay) talked about, you can't put a price tag, you can't repay or talk enough about what Reggie meant to that organization, the locker room, the team, the community, the fans. He's a selfless guy. You just don't replace guys like that, and it's very difficult to say good bye."
It's not easy for anybody to say goodbye to one of the greatest players in franchise history, even if it might have been the right time to do so. "I knew that when you kind of let that era from Peyton's era and Edgerrin and Marvin and Reggie and everyone," Irsay said, "it's hard to let that era go because it was so special. But at the same time, in terms of the direction we thought the team had to go in, it was tough. But there will be a lot more time for (reflection) as the years go forward with the Ring of Honor and other things."
Hopefully those "other things" include a gold jacket and an induction into the Hall of Fame in Canton one day, but regardless, this much is clear: Reggie Wayne isn't just one of the greatest Colts of all-time, he'll also be a Colt for life.