HOUSTON (CBS Houston) — As Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and owner Jim Irsay spent these past few months talking about the future and all around the real issue, we found out Wednesday there was always a third influential presence in the room.
Both men said Circumstance was always there.
But in really it was Inevitability who was sucking all the air out of the room. Even with all of the unparalleled success the franchise and its quarterback shared for 14 seasons, multiple neck injuries and a salary-cap killing $28 million roster bonus due to Manning on Thursday left both men will little choice.
Finally after months of speculation, Manning and Irsay made official this week what had been inevitable since last August when it became known Manning’s 14th season would be washed out and his career was in jeopardy after yet another neck operation. Manning’s storied career with the only organization he had ever played for since being drafted No.1 in 1998 was over.
Irsay let the rest of us in on what he has known for quite some time now on Wednesday. The risks of keeping the best quarterback the franchise has ever had (sorry Johnny Unitas) were just too high.
“The good times we’ve shared together, the laughs we’ve shared together, “ Irsay said as he choked back tears. “Growing up together in the organization … The dreams that we had and the experience are just beyond my imagination.”
But in the NFL nothing supersedes the bottom line, not Super Bowl wins, not deep playoff runs, not greatness and not even a strong personal connection. It’s all about business. There was no way Irsay could leave his organization strapped after giving an aging 35-year-old quarterback who may never play at the level he once did that kind of money.
So instead of talking about the real nuts and bolts about what was about to happen, Irsay and Manning spent months talking around the issue. They reflected on the heights they had achieved and what each other meant to the other.
But as March 8 approached each knew what the end result would be. It was interesting that both men insisted the money and the contract were never the issue but how could they not be. Sure the Colts starting over with a new coach and as the worst team in the NFL last season they are positioned to draft Manning’s replacement, but with Manning back the team would have been an immediate threat again.
The cost, however, was too steep.
“The circumstances were always the third guy in the room,” Manning said. “It’s not what either one of us wanted.”
But it’s what had to happen. The Colts, who for much of Manning’s time had run roughshod over the AFC South and the Texans, will move on and begin to rebuild with Stanford quarterback standout Andrew Luck when they take him with the No.1 overall pick in next month’s NFL Draft.
Manning, meanwhile, is set to hit the market as potentially the biggest free agent ever. Teams like Washington, Kansas City and Miami among others are already lining up waiting for his release to become official later on Wednesday.
“I don’t know what the next steps are, this is all kind of new to me,” said Manning, who only knows he still has a strong desire to continue his career. “This is the only team I’ve ever known and I have always known what the month of March is for the offseason and getting ready to go play for the Colts the next season. So this is kind of unchartered territory for me so we will see how that all plays out.”
But in the meantime, this inevitable move becomes a game changer for so many, including the Colts fans who for the time being will have to deal with the Texans ruling the AFC South.
“As difficult as this day is, it’s made difficult because of the greatness and the things Peyton has done for our city, our state and the franchise,” Irsay said. “There will be no other Peyton Manning.”