The NFL offseason took a dramatic turn on Wednesday with the release of the already-legendary QB Peyton Manning from the Indianapolis Colts. While there was no real shock in the timing of the decision from NFL fans and personnel alike, the visual of Manning and Colts team owner Jim Irsay at the podium was still dramatic to say the least. (and don’t believe Irsay 100% when he says ‘it wasn’t about the money;’ it’s noble of Irsay to want Peyton to play for a team that isn’t rebuilding, but that still only illustrates part of the scenario…as Manning was due $28 million dollars if he remained on the squad after Thursday)
Simply put, the release of the NFL’s elder Manning was as organically emotional as it was economically impactful. It was evident that he loved the city of Indianapolis, the region associated with it, and all of the people he made personal connections with behind the scenes. He spoke with poise, admiration, and a fair amount of sorrow in the Wednesday press conference, as you would expect from any departing leader of a franchise.
Conversely, his economical impact was staggering. Forbes magazine released an article this week illustrating how Manning increased the value of the Colts by $233 Million during his tenure as signal-caller. A lot of which has to do with the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium in 2008, greatly based on Peyton’s marketability and league stature. In addition, all of the public relations junkets, all the marketing campaigns, all of the merchandising sales, and not-so-coincidently, all of the winning has been channeled through the shoulders of #18 (and into the pockets of Colts brass) on the regular in Indy.
With that said, I don’t fault the Colts on making the difficult decision to cut ties. As Irsay alluded to, they are a rebuilding team, especially so without Manning. In addition, they have their sights set on potential megastar Andrew Luck from Stanford, who is drawing comparisons to a young Joe Montana, with the #1 selection in this year’s NFL draft in April. It makes sense for the Colts to cut ties with Manning now, as they prepare to start planning for the future viability of their franchise. Quite honestly, if all pans out with Luck, Indianapolis is going to emerge with much more successful exit strategy than teams like the Denver Broncos (Elway), Miami Dolphins (Marino), and Buffalo Bills (Kelly), had after they lost their legendary quarterbacks of yesteryear.
So turning Peyton’s focus forward, the most coveted free agent in recent history has plenty of suitors. Teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, and Tennessee Titans have all been rumored to express interest in Manning. In my opinion, the justification for nearly a third of the league being interested is completely warranted because soon after he steps onto the practice field for a new team, they will become a Super Bowl contender almost immediately.
With that said, each of the teams that appear to be in the running for Manning’s services have viable question marks that would need to be addressed. The Cardinals have a dynamic wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, and also play in a dome which Manning has grown accustomed to in his career, but they suffer from a lack of WR/offensive line depth which could prove costly for immediate success. The Dolphins also have a couple strong offensive weapons in Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush, but they too have a questionable offensive line, not to mention he’d be in the same division as Tom Brady. The Jets have grown weary of the inconsistent play from Mark Sanchez and would certainly upgrade by acquiring Manning, but the notion of having to share the mad spotlight that is the NYC media circus with his little bro may play a role, plus Tom Brady still being within the division. The Redskins and Seahawks are each in a similar situation where they have plenty of salary cap space to make a sizable splash in free agency, (meaning they could grab integral pieces to form a team around Manning, like ex-teammates Reggie Wayne or Jeff Saturday) but both teams have even more holes to fill than Arizona and Miami. The Titans have a local interest in Peyton, as he played his college football at the University of Tennessee, but they already have a solid veteran in QB Matt Hasselbeck and upstart Jake Locker in tow. Two other options, the Texans and 49ers, made big improvements in 2011 and both made the playoffs…but they also have quarterbacks that have built solid relationships with their respective franchises, being Matt Schaub in Houston and Alex Smith in San Fran.
I think the biggest factor to be mindful of is that the internal clock is definitely ticking for Peyton. He had to skip all of last season with a neck ailment that has required 4 separate procedures. He is also on the wrong side of 35; despite the fact that some athletes have been able to endure the rigors of the NFL for longer in this day and age, (i.e. Brett Favre) I would find it surprising if Manning would be able to sustain any more than 2-3 seasons at the helm, especially if he lands somewhere whose offensive line is suspect.
Despite all the questions and uncertainties surrounding the situation, the only definite that looms is how interesting it will be to see how everything plays out. And there’s little doubt it will all happen swiftly as well, I would expect Peyton to have a new squad before the draft so that the team who wins the Manning sweepstakes will have ample time to plan accordingly.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2012/03/07/peyton-manning-increased-value-of-colts-by-233-million/ – Forbes Article on Manning
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