The demise of the once great Indianapolis Colts seems to be continuing. After a 2-14 season, with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning missing the entire year, Colts owner Jim Irsay has blown up the entire front office and coaching staff, starting completely over in Indy. And, with the team poised to select Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in April's draft, it is not looking good for the future of Manning with the Colts.
On Monday, Manning was asked about his future by The Indianapolis Star , and if he was preparing to to leave the only franchise with which he has played. "I don't want to get into some kind of fan campaign with the owner [Irsay], but I think it's well documented that I want to play in the same place my whole career," the quarterback answered.
With Manning owed $28 million on March 8, the speculation that Manning will be released in the upcoming weeks continues to grow. Manning is trying to come back to the NFL following three neck surgeries and nerve damage affecting his right, throwing, arm. The Colts never placed Manning on injured reserve, instead paying him his roster bonus and full salary, despite not stepping foot on a field all year.
On Tuesday, Irsay, who is constantly on Twitter, sent out a tweet about the decision to keep Manning on the roster:
Even the new general manager of the Colts, Ryan Grigson, is new and a stranger to the quarterback who has spent 14-years with the franchise. The two ran into each other in the hallway at the Colts' facilities, with Manning retelling the chance encounter as, "One thing he kind-of, sort-of told me, without really wanting to tell me, was that Irsay will be the guy I'm going to sit down and talk with. That's going to happen at some point, but we haven't had that conversation yet because we really don't need to have that conversation yet."
That conversation is going to be a little more tense after this week.
Irsay responded yesterday to Manning's comments. "I don't think it's in the best interest to paint the [Colts' logo] horseshoe in a negative light, I really don't. The horseshoe always comes first, and I think one thing he's always known, because he's been around it so long, is that, you know, you keep it in the family. If you've got a problem, you talk to each other. It's not about campaigning or anything like that.
"I have so much affection and appreciation for Peyton. I mean, we're family. We always will be, and we are," Irsay continued. "He's a politician. I mean look at, when it comes to being competitive, let's just say on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, we're both 11s, OK? So there's been plenty of eggshells scattered around this building by him with his competitive desire to win.
"There's not any sort of bad situation around here for healing or anything like that. That's not a correct perspective. Like I said, keep it in house, in our family. Talk to each other if you have problems. We'll work it through hand and hand and continue to talk as we get closer to the league year."
Last night, Manning responded to Irsay's comments, telling Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
"At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally, and I think we will. I've already reached out to Mr. Irsay. I wasn't trying to paint the Colts in a bad light, but it's tough when so many people you've known for so long are suddenly leaving. I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we've done great things together. It's hard to watch an old friend clean out his office. That's all I was trying to say.
"I just want to keep rehabbing and working hard, and when the time is right for Mr. Irsay and I to sit down, I look forward to a healthy conversation about my future. I've worked too hard and have such great respect and have so many great relationships inside the building and out, and it's incredibly important that those remain.
"I want to separate the personal and the business. I've seen it get personal in other situations, and I don't want that to happen here."
Yet, personal it seems to have become. And, with the situation as toxic as it seems right now, the answer is clearly that Manning will not don the "Horseshoe" again. Irsay and Manning are expected to sit down and talk, with Irsay expected to urge Manning to retire. But, as long as Manning's neck is healthy, the quarterback is going to want to play. And, with $28 million and these "campaign" comments out there, Irsay is not likely to keep Manning.
Irsay insists that the Manning decision will come down to health, not money. He states, "Well, I think fans have already understood that. This is a neck, not an ankle, not a shoulder. Often times the NFL is criticized for putting people out there and for putting them at risk. I'm not going to do that. . . What he's done for the city, the state, what he means to me and our fans, we're not going to be in that situation. I just think him and I have to talk and see where his health is and go from there."
However, all speculation has Irsay cutting Manning to save that $28 million - and the salary cap space it takes up - before March 8. If the Colts do cut the 4-time league MVP, Manning is sure to look for another team - and he will remember what Irsay has done to him. He's going to want to take out his frustration on the Colts, and he is going to be motivated to prove he still has "it" and can win in the league.
Four teams seem to be jumping to the top of possible locations for Manning, if he is released, with the Washington Redskins seeming like the early favorite. The Miami Dolphins are hot on the Redskins heals, with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals also seen as possible locations.
The Dolphins are thought to be targeting Manning as their top priority this offseason - despite rumors that the team would pursue soon-to-be free agent Matt Flynn, who is leaving the Green Bay Packers and could be teamed up with his former offensive coordinator in the Dolphins' head coach Joe Philbin. Armando Salgeuro of The Miami Herald, wrote yesterday:
"A team source e-mailed me this afternoon that the priority is Manning. This coincides with news out of Mobile, Ala., where the Senior Bowl is going to be played Saturday. A league source there tells The Herald's Barry Jackson that the Dolphins have shown no interest in Flynn as of yet -- not even informal interest.
"Now, teams are not allowed to show formal interest in soon-to-be free agents at this time. But at those Senior Bowl practices, where agents and team personnel departments mingle on the sideline, it's common for preliminary signs of future interest to be displayed. In fact, it's almost expected.
"The Dolphins have shown no such interest in Flynn."
If the Dolphins, who may be coming to the realization that a trade up in the draft to land Robert Griffin III, the second quarterback expected to be picked after the Colts take Luck, do pursue Manning, then draft a quarterback later in the draft - such as Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, who's former head coach,Mike Sherman, has been named the Dolphins' offensive coordinator - the move could make sense.
Now, as the Colts continue to implode, the Dolphins will continue to watch and wait. Then, as free agency begins on March 13, we will all see how fast the team can pounce on Manning.
[UPDATE:] At about 2:30pm EST today, Irsay and Manning released a joint statement:
"We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us.
"Since 1998, we have enjoyed a great relationship, based upon mutual respect and trust. We have always been able to talk and address matters we've faced over the years, not just as owner and player, but as friends. We had a long talk today and we want to assure Colts fans everywhere that we are both committed to maintaining our close relationship and to working together through any challenges the future may bring."