With the Colts achieving a negative 8 wins from their previous season, they’ve locked up the #1 overall draft pick next month, and will take Andrew Luck, as all coaching and administrative staff have stated. The 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback is being kicked to the curb, but will he go out as Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Johnny Unitas, playing for different teams?
Manning, who will turn 36 later this month, will perhaps become the most prized free agent in NFL history. The decision is not a surprise. Manning spent his 14-year career in Indianapolis, but he became expendable after a neck injury forced him to miss the 2011 season and the Colts collapsed without him, finishing tied for the worst record (2-14) with the St. Louis Rams. That put the Colts in position to select Manning’s successor, Andrew Luck, who will have as many lofty expectations to meet as Manning did. Luck will join a franchise that is substantially different from the one Manning elevated to greatness. Since the end of the season, the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, has cleaned house of most of the coaches and front-office executives who worked with Manning.
Peyton Manning has been the Colts’ quarterback for so long that the last quarterback to start a game before he got there was Jim Harbaugh, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, who could be among the teams that try to bring Manning in.
Manning and Irsay traded public barbs in the days before the Super Bowl, displaying just how fraught their emotions were over a potential parting. Manning, though, might have indicated how jarring the past few months have been for him the week before the Super Bowl was played in Indianapolis. “It’s a strange time around here, with all the coaches getting let go,” Manning said in an interview. “I guess that’s somewhat normal for a lot of teams, but it hasn’t happened around here much. I’ve been in the facility every day rehabbing, and everybody in the building is walking around on eggshells because nobody knows who is going to get fired next. It’s not the kind of environment you like to be in,” he said. “It was fun to get out of town.”
Now he is gone for good, and his availability is likely to lead to a free-agency sweepstakes like few others. Manning’s absence from the Colts this season could have enhanced his value, because it laid bare just how many holes, on offense and defense, Manning was able to cover up for so long. If he is healthy, a significant question given the seriousness of his neck condition and the long rehabilitation it has entailed, Manning remains one of the few quarterbacks so dominant he can instantly transform a franchise.
Manning could sign immediately, although it is unlikely he will. Manning has had four procedures on his neck, and his arm strength was diminished as a result. He has been working furiously to get in shape, but his ability to play at his usual, extraordinary level remains unknown. Manning has worked out in Miami and at Duke University. Last week, a shaky video showing Manning throwing a few passes was leaked and was scrutinized for indications about his strength and accuracy.
Manning’s health will be closely examined by his suitors, and he will have to throw for teams that are interested in him. He could be reluctant to do that for at least a few more weeks to give his arm more time to improve. That could mean an extended free-agency process that could stretch into the summer as teams weigh other free agents, like the Green Bay backup Matt Flynn, and potential draft choices, including Robert Griffin III, who is expected to go second in the April draft.