Peyton Manning called the new phase of his career “uncharted territory.”
Is it ever. There’s never been a four-time league MVP enter the NFL free-agency market. That’s because there’s never been another four-time MVP in the NFL.
It made his release by the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday an historic moment. If for no other reason than we’ve never seen an employer and employee gush so dramatically about each other at what amounted to a very public delivery of a pink-slip.
Nor is it common to see two guys so sad to be in win-win situations.
Both Manning and Colts owner Robert Irsay blamed “circumstances” for forcing Manning’s release after 14 seasons in Indianapolis. They both added that money was never a component in the decision.
It was purely coincidental, then, that the Colts would have had to write a $28 million check to Manning this morning if they hadn’t released him. So that part of it is a lie.
But the influence of unusual circumstances is undeniable. It’s also monumentally unfair that the Colts had the chance to draft Manning with the first pick in 1998, only to use him for 14 years and then get the No. 1 pick again the year Stanford’s Andrew Luck became available.
While Irsay’s red eyes at the press conference were surely the result of genuine emotion, it’s not likely the rest of the NFL is going to feel compelled to hand him a box of tissues.
Irsay called the joint press conference with Manning “a difficult day of shared pain.”
It’s expected in these commentaries to target a bad guy. But Irsay’s decision was based on rational economics with the long-term health of his franchise at the core.
Aside from the $28 million implication of this move, Irsay is facing an extensive roster rebuild while facing serious salary-cap limitations. He’s got Luck on the line, with most observers considering him the most likely neo-Manning to come into the league since the last one.
Not only is there an element of risk with the health of the 35-year-old Manning, but also the logical question of longevity. Even if Manning could return to full health from three recent neck surgeries, the Colts look to be stronger a few years from now with Luck reaching his prime rather than Manning slipping past his.
Although Manning will be wooed by every team in the league without an elite quarterback under contract, it seemed clear and sincere that he wanted to finish his career in Indianapolis.
Maybe it was just a reflection of their nature, but it seemed an awkward-but-illuminating moment near the start of the press conference when the two neared and Manning offered a cordial handshake while Irsay pressed in for a hearty man-hug.
But staying might have been painful for Manning, too. He would have been returning to a team with a 2-14 roster, with a reshaped staff and front office. Instead, he’s now got a chance to join a team that might be just a quarterback away from a Super Bowl.
The market for him should be such that he will quickly recoup the loss of the roster bonus that was coming up from the Colts. And all this is keeping in mind that he’s in the last stretch of a career and coming off a spinal-fusion operation in September.
Reports suggest he’s throwing the ball well and his arm strength is returning. Anywhere near full health and Manning will immediately elevate a team to contention.
Several things have never been questioned about Manning: His work ethic, his dedication to the game, his leadership ability.
What we saw at Wednesday’s press conference reaffirmed another unwavering attribute: His class.
“In life and in sports, we all know (that) nothing lasts forever,” he said. “I leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude.”
He thanked the fans and the city, but made a special point to cite how meaningful were his friendships with the people who were a part of the Colts organization.
“This is a relationship business,” he said, showing a nice perspective in what is too-often a “me” business.
And now, Peyton Manning, the hottest free agent in the history of the NFL, will get a chance to start developing relationships with the employees, players and fans of some other very lucky franchise.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440