On March 7th
, Jim Irsay announced to the Colts faithful that after 14 happy years, he and Peyton Manning were going their separate ways. It was not personal. It was just business.
Irsay started dismantling the Colts squad by getting rid of the one player whose absence transformed the team from a contender into a bottom-feeder.
Manning was scooped up by the Denver Broncos and awarded a five-year $96 million contract. The contract guarantees Manning $18 million for 2012. This deal shows the Broncos are confident Manning’s health is not going to hold him back from playing next season.
The contract allows for the Broncos to back out of the agreement after the first year if Manning’s neck injury flares up again. The shear fact that they were willing to sign him to $18 million guaranteed is an admission on John Elway’s part that the former Colt has still got it.
So what was going through Irsay’s head when he decided to let Manning go?
Business said Irsay.
Manning was set to get a five-year $90 million contract extension, with $28 million guaranteed for next season.
Irsay decided he did not want to take the chance on bringing back his four-time MVP with Andrew Luck waiting in the wings.
For anyone who does not care about the business side of football, this is an unthinkable move. It’s Peyton Manning. The Colts’ success over the last decade can be almost entirely attributed to him.
Keeping him may be a high risk, high reward move, but handing the reigns immediately over to Andrew Luck is riskier.
The chance that Luck might end up a dud is more likely than the possibility of Manning never playing again.
Luck now has no one to look up to and compete with before stepping into his role as a number one quarterback. Now that Irsay has also shipped most of Manning’s supporting cast out of Indianapolis, Luck will also have little help in his rookie season. This could be detrimental to his development.
Luck has the potential to be an immediate difference maker on most teams, but will not in Indianapolis because of their depleted roster and disgruntled locker-room. With one foolish action, Irsay has unnecessarily condemned his franchise to years of mediocrity.
If Irsay had paid Manning the option for 2012, he could have delayed the decision by getting a better sense of Manning’s status and Luck’s ability.
Manning had started 227 consecutive games before sitting out the entire 2011 season. He has never been injury-prone and if he can rebound from his neck-trouble, he will have plenty of years left in him.
Jim Irsay’s father, Robert, drafted John Elway with the first overall pick in 1983. Elway refused to report for the Colts who were then based out of Baltimore. Robert Irsay sent Elway to Denver where he went on to win two Super Bowls.
Like father, like son, Jim let one of the best quarterbacks of all time leave for Denver and at 36, Manning probably has at least one Super Bowl left in him.