The moves made by Jim Irsay thus far this offseason point toward the Colts rebuilding after one of its worst seasons in recent memory. Irsay fired the GM and much of the coaching staff, hired a defensive-minded coach, and has repeatedly beaten the "new era" mantra into our heads through press conferences. He's talked about how similar this situation is to 1998, when Peyton arrived into town on a white horse to rescue the Colts from the doldrums of the NFL (well, after a difficult first year). The presumptive QB playing the role of Peyton 14 years later is Andrew Luck, a prospect so coveted that the overwhelming sentiment now is that Irsay has "moved on." But has he?
Irsay declared on Thursday Night Football in late December 2011 that Manning would be back with the team if healthy. Comments made last week by Irsay and even Tom Condon, Manning's agent, indicate that Manning is not yet healthy enough to play. Condon says it is a matter of arm strength and performance, but Irsay has voiced concern (not in these words) about the general risk of putting Manning's neck in the line of fire of 300+ pound eager, angry men.
The front office and coaching personnel moves seem to back up the notion that - even if there is no added risk of Manning taking the field again - Irsay does not plan to put him there for the Colts. But Irsay has also constructed the offensive coaching staff to be both Manning- and Luck-friendly - Manning's first Quarterbacks coach, Bruce Arians, has been hired as the new Offensive Coordinator. and former OC Clyde Christensen has been retained as Quarterbacks coach. These staffing moves could be read as providing a sort of continuity for Manning's return, or as an attempt to recreate with Luck the magic that was created beginning in 1998.
The capper (so to speak) is that there would be a significant financial investment in both cash and salary cap terms to keep Manning on the roster when a hot QB prospect is waiting in the wings.
As of Wednesday, February 1, I was finally convinced that given all the variables and the business decision at hand, Irsay would release Manning into free agency and begin to rebuild around Andrew Luck. I was even budgeting to buy a #18 whatever-team jersey and a #12 Colts jersey. But beginning Thursday, February 2, I wasn't so sure any more.
That day, "ESPN" released an article that doctors had cleared Manning to "resume his NFL career." Two comments: (1) I put ESPN in quotes because I assume this release came from Manning - he'd been engaging the press all week and this was another opportunity to grab some attention; (2) the release held NO new information about his health - it was the same message that had been published in December, just with different words.
However, there was a less widely-publicized message that also came out on February 2 that turned my head a bit; Indianapolis local ABC Sports Director Dave Furst tweeted early that afternoon:
Fresh #JimIrsay on #Peyton coming up at 5 @rtv6. Says moving March 8th deadline being discussed. Saw 18 workout and is pleased. #Colts
Given the apparent backtrack - however slight - from Irsay's direction thus far, plus the fact that NOBODY else was mentioning this, I was skeptical. I followed up with Furst, who tweeted me back:
Peyton's agent confirmed today that moving date was possible. Irsay says hes seen him throw...
This could be Furst connecting dots that aren't there, but given the chance to retract or modify his statement, he didn't. He even reinforced that Irsay has seen Peyton throw.
The next pieces of "evidence" that the door may remain slightly open for Manning's return to the Colts came over the weekend. First, on Sunday morning, February 5, ESPN NFL analyst Adam Schefter tweeted that:
Peyton Manning is willing to create a contract that would contain no guaranteed money up front and would be incentive laden with bonuses.
I was confident that this information was more about Peyton and Condon communicating to potential suitors than it was meant for the Colts. I even wrote a post about why Peyton couldn't go back, and still believe it's not in his best interest (unless the team trades the #1 pick). There is also the question of whether the NFLPA would fight an attempt by Peyton to renegotiate his contract with the Colts. Speaking on a related matter of pushing back the option date, National Football Post writer (and Wharton teacher) Andrew Brandt has indicated that such a move would likely be met with resistance, but I still maintain that anything is negotiable.
Later that day, WISH TV posted a video interview in which Irsay answers the question, "If [Manning] wants to play, will he play for the Colts?:"
If he wants to, yes he will. I want to hear from him and if he wants to be here, he wants to play here, then that's what it's gonna be.
The message seems clear to me - Irsay will work with Manning if Manning wants to stay, but Manning must work with Irsay. But note what Irsay doesn't say... he didn't mention Manning's health or recovery in this interview. Irsay has made a significant effort in interviews to reinforce the importance of Manning's health, likely in an attempt to remind the fans that Manning has yet to recover. Did Teresa Mackin catch Irsay at a weak moment? Had some discussions taken place that haven't yet been publicized/leaked? Or can we put more stock in Furst's tweet 2 days earlier that Irsay "saw 18 workout and [was] pleased?"
I'll repeat that I do not believe Manning is healthy or ready to play. If he were, he would be leaking his "secret" workout locations, and Condon would be shouting from the rooftops that Manning is ready. But perhaps progress has been encouraging enough for Irsay that he's now reconsidering, however slightly.
Another thing that occurred to me later... while the video was posted on Sunday morning after Schefter's tweet, it was recorded Saturday night. So it took place BEFORE Schefter tweeted the information that Manning would take an incentive-laden contract. Could Manning have been responding to Irsay's interview instead of already looking to new suitors? I am willing to bet that Manning or Condon let Schefter know of their willingness to take a flexible contract without knowing about Irsay's comments the night before, but the door still seems to be slightly ajar.
Anyone who hasn't seen the Bill Polian interview on PTI should watch it. Someone posted a link on the reader blog section. Check it out so I'm not the only one sitting around with a huge shit eating grin on my face.
@Peyton for President Trust me mate, despite my recent pessimism, no one wants you to be right more than me. In fact, I hope we are all playing "Hail to the Chief" in your honor in the coming weeks.
And on top of Polian, Chris Mortenson on Sports Center was also reporting positively on #18. He said that he didn't know where these people who were talking about "noodle" arm were getting their info, but he had his own sources who had saw Peyton throw last Thursday and said he was trhowing "pretty damn well". He also said he was throwing much better than a month ago and even better than two weeks before.
He also sited Chris Weinke, who had the same neck fusion surgery, to repair what Mortenson claimed was arguably worse nerve regeneration problems, and after 6-9 months, Weinke said his arm strength came back better than ever.
Since I have heard Mort is basically just a mouthpiece for the Manning camp, I discounted it. But between him and Polian... I sure want to believe them.
I read a quote from Chris Weinke, who had the same exact surgery, and he said his arm actually came back stronger than it was before the injury. He said it took a full 12 months for it to come all the way back, which 12 months would put Peyton at late May. Weinke also said he's been tlaking with Peyton regularly and stressing to him about being patient. Pretty interest stuff I thought.
@JasonLeeJason Actually, last May was Peyton's first surgery. The neck fusion was in September.
Still... fingers crossed #18 has the same full recovery Weinke did.
Ugh, WTH? Its NOT about his neck! its about his nerves regenerating!
Why do we keep talking in terms like hes a hit away form retirement! He no closer than any OTHER player in being one hit way from retirement
Bottom line, this team has been among the league's best at close hold of information and maintaining the company line for over a decade now. To think that suddenly everyone has lost all control and everything is a complete circus seems no more likely to me than this being loosely orchestrated business maneuvering. Again, I'm not betting my life on either one, I'm just saying, at the very least, there is no prudent reason for the organization to say exactly what they are thinking right now.
The gate is gone dude -- love him or hate him, Polian had a huge impact on the 'PR' behavior of the franchise, including Irsay.
@matt_has Completely agree. For all the gnashing of teeth prior to his exit, I think this off season shows how valuable the media lock down at Colts HQ was.
Yup, like I said somewhere else, with Peyton being willing to negotiate a different contract this stuff could get ugly.
One interesting thing I would not mind seeing would be Peyton signing back with us maybe about 15 mill signing bonus, and have a contract that included performance bonuses, like he would be signing with any team he goes to.
A couple ways this could play out, if he is healthy by the beginning of the season he can start and we will have wonderful backup, depending on his performance and the teams performance at the end of the year we can either keep him or trade him.
If he is not healthy he can help Luck out and be a mentor, and if he gets healthy in the first six weeks we can trade him to a destination that he would like, hopefully a team in playoff contention, this would be a plus for both sides, he gets to go somewhere he can start and compete and we get picks back to help with the rebuilding process.
If he is not healthy by he 6 weeks mark either he can stay around and continue to mentor Luck and if he gets healthy be a terrific back up (which will be kind of weird, he most likely would asked to be cut if he ended up getting healthy I think), or retire as a Colt.
P.S. If Luck starts week 1 there is zero chance of Peyton being our starting QB again unless Luck happens to get hurt.
Why is there this overwhelming assumption we'll take Andrew Luck? RG III held up better against pressure than Luck did, its not an open/shut case.
I have been thinking that if Manning is released, Luck is the most NFL-ready and consistent QB in the draft. He's been playing a a high level for 2, arguably 3 years, has great intangibles, and has had more exposure to the NFL than most college players. However, if Manning is retained, I could definitely see them lean a bit toward RGIII because of RGIII's stated enthusiasm at working behind Manning for some time. While Luck has mostly said the right things about it, he has been far less excited about the thought.
I think there is zero chance they take RGIII with #1, it would be beyond stupid given Luck's trade value. But if they traded out of #1 to get RGIII at #3 or #4 it could payoff big. This is partially due to my belief that another can't miss QB will be around in 3-4 years and the Colts will probably be in position to get him at that point too.
Manning is my guy first and foremost if his arm is strong enough to play. The coaching moves don't factor into that at all.
@LovinBlue LB, I think so too. If 18 stays then RG III is the option but if not then its Luck. Over the years, the few times I've seen Luck face pressure, his accuracy goes down greatly and his pocket presence isnt all its cracked up to be. That said he's a young man but I cant shake the thought that he may not be it. RG III faced much greater pressure due to a worse O-Line YET he had more TD's and less INT's than Luck (granted he took more sacks). I think Luck is closer to his ceiling right now than RG III.
If the link doesn't work, just google 'dungy colts should pick rgiii' and look for a link to Yahoo.
@LovinBlue Do you have a link for Dungy's comments? That's funny, didnt know he thought that. Is he saying the Colts should pick RG III over Luck?
I've heard others, including Tony Dungy, say things like that as well (that Luck is closer to his ceiling than RGIII). Either way, I suspect we'll all have a little more insight by the end of the week!
I think Nate tweeted something the other day that said something along the lines of the whole dynamic changes if Manning is willing to renegotiate for a contract with incentives and a lot less money. It certainly changes things because it's outside of the norm; something no one would actually expect to happen.
If every AFC Pro Bowl player became a free agent at the same time and was willing to take close to the league minimum to all play on one team then that would probably be the greatest team of all time. But players don't do that. If Manning does, and ends up staying with the Colts, then it pretty much changes everything to such an extreme that I don't think we could give ANYONE a hard time for predicting he wouldn't play for the Colts again.
Manning's apparent willingness to take an incentive-laden contract will indeed change the dynamic. The irony is that it could backfire in terms of his relationship with Colts fans - many will argue that he should give that discount first and foremost to the Colts.
Some things to consider, though....Manning likely understands that the end of his career is near, and given his health status over the past few years he should be able to see that guaranteed money on his contract could cripple the Colts or any other team for that matter. He also may see that since the end is nearing and he really values his legacy, he desperately wants to win another SB and could be willing to make it happen at any cost.
@LovinBlue And if he does, that will hurt his relationship with the NFLPA.
Damn you for giving me hope!
Here's how I speculate it will go down. I think Peyton wants to play and he wants to do it in Indy.
I think they don't take up the option.
I think the Colts give him a deal in FA.
Whatever team Peyton decides to play for, I'm not sure he makes it through training camp without retiring.
I don't think Peyton will play a season under contract where he knows he absolutely, physically cannot throw the ball. I think he'll retire before that happens. Whether or not he thinks that now is the X factor.
I know... sorry for giving anyone hope. I went back and forth last night as I wrote this article about whether I was writing it to give myself a glimmer of hope that Manning would stay. But I felt that it was a part of the story that had gotten far less exposure than all the other storylines that were bombarding us last week, and I didn't want to let it go unnoticed. I still think there is a far higher chance that Manning is released (perhaps as early as today), but those last few pieces of information crack that door just a wee bit.
@LovinBlue Great read Laura. Don't think twice as I believe there is room for debate. It's quite possible Irsay and Manning haven't found a clear course of action.
The next few days could be very interesting.
@LovinBlue It is a good analysis, and the one I hope turns out! At the very least, I hope the relationship between Manning and the Colts leaves coaching open at some time, should Peyton go that way in the future. That's my main concern right now.
@Kyle Rodriguez as someone who didn't even get to see that last game... seconded with all my mind, body, and soul
I think it is important to remember that to this day... NO one knows why Peyton woke up one morning in pain and his arm was suddenly not right. Everything had been fine except for the NFL lockout. #18 was looking forward to a whole off season that he could workout with the team and was in fact leading the Colts in organized practices they were conducting themselves since they couldn't have contact with the Coaches. And then in one day, everything went terribly wrong.
Remember that Surgery #2 and Surgery #3 (the neck fusion) were done in "hopes"of helping. But there was not even a "this is causing this" and if we go in and do this... it should fix it. Doctors, the Colts, Peyton... no one knows why the nerve stopped working. And they don't know why nothing has helped. It is this total fear of the unknown that is prompting the Colts to act like they are.
I am firmly convinced that NO ONE, save #18 himself, would love seeing an eleventh hour "miracle" more than me. But I fear, if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now. I feel like I am raining on my own parade that I desperately want to participate in... but if #18 is a Colt next year it is only because he can't play and is watching Andrew Luck play.
@DougEngland There was never a mystery about what caused the nerve damage. It was a herniated disk that put pressure on the nerve that caused the damage. How badly it was damaged and how quickly it will heal are very hard to measure, but there was never any confusion about what caused it. After the fusion surgery the nerve was no longer being damaged because the disk that caused the damage was removed. The only questions left at that point were how bad is the damage an how long will full nerve regeneration take. We are still waiting for an answer to those questions.
@Peyton for President My understanding is that you are correct about the herniated disc and that was what was causing the pain that was shooting down Peyton's arm and even leg. And the first surgery of 2011 did relieve the pain, but #18 was still left with no feeling in his tricep. This was definately unexpected and unexplained. (It is unclear because of the pain that Peyton was having, if the problem with the tricep was happening before the surgery or not.)
This is why the Colts and everyone were caught so of guard by Peyton not being ready for the start of the season. There was no longer any pain, but he still had no feeling in his tricep and it wasn't getting better.
After the second surgery (the fusion) it was hoped that there would be immediate improvement to the feeling in his tricep. This obviously did not happen. Then after the three months when the neck was finally prounounced fully fused, there was still no improvement in the feeling in 18's arm. While not exactly a set back, they did expect him to be way further along than he was.
And #18 did have a team workout in December that went terrrible. And if Wromtongue Kravitz is to be believed, he still has a "noodle" arm.
As you have correctly pointed out, when you are dealing with nerve damage, there is always the unknown. But it is the total lack of any significant improvement in the feeling in 18's arm that has forced the Colts to have to move on.
It would be very sad and disappointing if Manning didn't give the Colts organization a chance to alter the deal in order to get cut and then give a new team a new, more flexible deal. Neither Irsay or Manning has handled this situation very well, but if it plays out that way, it'd be a slap in the face and a very sour note to leave Indy on the way out by Peyton.
@kk5b I totally disagree. Manning deserves for this team to try and help him win another ring or two. After all, that is why they play the game. If Irsay refuses to trade the pick and continues his "build for the future" mantra, then it is the Colts who are slapping 18 in the face, not the other way around.
@Peyton for President oh you didnt offend me. i didnt call you delusional or clueless did i? i thought i said your take on manning was delusional and clueless.
@omahacolt Why would anything I say offend you? I'm delusional and clueless, remember? I guess I should apologize to the people of Omaha for my comment. I'm sure the people of Omaha would apologize for you if they had the chance. Sorry Omaha.
@JasonLeeJason@kk5b Don't even waste your time responding to Omaha. He's a troll just trying to stir shit up. I've read comments from people on other sites talking about him. He does this everywhere. Plus when you really think about it, you'd be pissed if you lived in Omaha too. I'm suprised they even have internet.
@omahacolt@kk5bThat's fine. But you then cant turn around and get pissed if Manning takes less to play for a contender. Which if the Colts make all the moves we expect, and try to clean up the cap so they can make a push 3-4 yrs down the road, there is NO WAY they are contending in the next couple of yrs. So if you want to say that the Colts owe Manning nothing, then in turn, he owes the Colts nothing as well. IMO they both owe each other quite a bit.
@JasonLeeJason I love Manning, but this is just ridiculous. Manning is not bigger than the team -- and it's Irsay's job to look out for the team. He's taken care of Peyton his entire career, including last year, when he payed Peyton $26M, despite knowing he might not play a down all year. But Peyton still isn't healthy. At some point you have to prepare for the future -- and when your QB is getting older (36) and suffering from any injury he has not, and may never, fully recover from, the time to prepare is now.
And YET, middle class taxpayers are footing over 85% of irsays stadium bill...what a welfare capiltalist. irsay is NOT cool, hes Ricky Schroder
@kasey_junk@Neven And Irsay is flying around in a fraking JET helicopter. How cool is that btw. But back to kasey's point, the number is not subjective. It doesnt matter how much the league increased in value as a whole. What matters is where the Colts ranked in that pie. In the late 90's, Forbes had the Colts ranked somewhere around 25th or 26th in the league in terms of overall franchise value. Today Forbes has them FIFTH. Think about that. Out of all the historic teams in the NFL, the Colts franchise is now in the top 5 in total value. That is pretty much ALL Peyton. He took Irsay from a millionaire to an uber rich billionaire (who flies in jet copters) in just over a decade. That says alot if you ask me.
@Neven Like I said to kk5b, I agree with you Neven because I dont think Peyton is going to be healthy. If Peyton was healthy, that's a totally different story. He could easily play another 5 yrs. Favre had his one of his best years with MIN at the age of 40. Warnenr was playing in the SB at the age of 39. A healthy Manning could do serious damage for another half a decade. But I dont think he's healthy and so you have to move on. But as fans, we have to let him move on as well and not begrudge him for it.
In 2002, the Colts were worth 419 million dollars, in 2011 they were worth 1.05 billion dollars. That is a 152% increase in value in a decade. A lot of that is due to the improving popularity of the NFL as a whole, but a team with similar demographics, the Titans, only raised 74% in that same time. Some (possibly significant) difference between those 2 numbers is Peyton Manning.
Prior to Manning, Irsay had to sell off some of his family holdings to keep the Colts in the RCA dome, after Manning the Colts are playing on one of the biggest sweet heart stadium deals in the country.
@JasonLeeJason Jason, we as Colts fans have it in our head that we're owed something or Manning is expected to have to play for our Colts for his entire career. Sports and football are businesses and it's the fans that mis-characterize the notion of loyalty. In today's era of free agency, it's rare if a player only plays for one team, no matter how great they are. It's hopeful and pleasant to think it will work out this way, but it's a huge oddity to occur in practical matters. I hope it does work out that he comes back, is healthy and doesn't ruin the Colts cap for the next 4-5 yrs by not changing his deal, but to handcuff the team to a severally injured player is not smart, even if it's our beloved Peyton. If he's not willing to recognize that fact and adjust the contract (be reasonable with the Colts), the Colts have no choice but to be reasonable and cut him loose.
@JasonLeeJason@kk5b Manning can't expect the Colts to keep him if he isn't ready by the March 8th deadline and is now "open to the idea of incentive based deals"... if he isn't being flexible and reasonable the the Colts and this contract, he is forcing his way into free agency and onto another team. That would be pretty lackluster for someone who wants to stay in Indy for his entire career.
@kk5b I agree with you because I dont think Peyton is healthy. But in turn, I dont think it's fair for Colts fans to EXPECT that if Peyton is going to rework his deal and make it insentive based, that he should do it for the Colts first, and that if he doesnt, he is some how turning his back on the Colts because he wants to go somewhere he will have a chance to win. The Colts are not going to win a championship anytime soon if they make all the moves we expect (Cut Clark, Not resign Reggie, Not extend Freeney, etc) whether Peyton is here or he isnt. That's my only point.
@JasonLeeJason Jason, I'm a diehard Colts fan but anywhere Peyton would go unless the team is absolutely awful, that team becomes playoff bound and potentially a SB contender. We've had games and seasons where he's led us alone to the playoffs. The team should not sacrifice it's future for 2-3 more chances with Manning - this was only a good idea if/when Manning was 100%. He's not a 100% and may never be again. Way too much risk and small chance of success to work out. The Colts are choosing to rebuild with or without Manning in order to create a long successful future which is the best for the organization. Manning is no longer more important than the future of the franchise. That time has past and the savy guy Irsay is, is acting in best interest of the org as a result.
@kk5b I"m not saying Peyton should'nt rework his deal and make it more cap friendly. Absolutely he should. All I'm saying is, if he's healthy (which none of this matters otherwise), then he deserves to play his last remaining years for a team trying to win a championship. Indy absolutely has the capability to be that team. But instead they want to draft for the future and begin to rebuild. So if that is how they want to go forward, then Peyton (again I'm talking about a healthy Peyton) needs to go someplace he can contend. I dont want that. I hate that as a matter of fact. If it were me I would trade the pick for a ransom and worry about 18's replacement down the road. But that's not what the Colts want to do. And if they are not going to try and win now, we should not hold it again Peyton because, in the few years he has left, that's what he wants to try and do.