Sent packing by his only NFL team, one he transformed from afterthought to Super Bowl champion, Peyton Manning said goodbye to the Indianapolis Colts with a shaky voice and tear-filled eyes, then got ready to find a new place to play quarterback.
At a podium alongside owner Jim Irsay, who cut the injured star Wednesday rather than pay a $28 million bonus due this week, Manning was by turns wistful, nostalgic – he got choked up while praising the Colts’ equipment managers – and forward-looking.
The only four-time MVP in NFL history now figures to become as coveted a free agent as the league has ever seen, assuming he can assuage any lingering concerns about the series of neck operations that forced him to miss all of 2011. Arizona, Miami, Seattle, Tennessee, Washington, Denver and the New York Jets all have been rumored as destinations.
“Nobody loves their job more than I do. Nobody loves playing quarterback more than I do. I still want to play. But there is no other team I wanted to play for,” said Manning, who turns 36 this month.
Still, he acknowledged: “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”
Another reality: Manning should command plenty of offers on the open market. It’s not very often that teams get a crack at a QB who has thrown for more than 50,000 yards and nearly 400 touchdowns, been picked for 11 Pro Bowls and been a Super Bowl MVP. Manning’s importance to the Colts’ success was never more apparent than last season, when their record plummeted to 2-14 without him.
Reports of other clubs’ interest emerged weeks ago, and they have only begun to intensify. Because he was released and went on the waiver wire Wednesday, Manning is allowed to negotiate and sign with any club immediately; he does not need to wait until the free-agent period that begins next Tuesday, and he said his agent already was taking calls.
Manning flew to Miami on Wednesday – not to visit the Dolphins, but because he has a condo and works out with former Colts receiver Reggie Wayne there. His private plane arrived at a small airport 30 minutes from the Dolphins’ complex, but he then rode off in a different direction with the news media – including TV helicopters – in pursuit.
When his van reached Miami Beach, it pulled over in a church parking lot, and Manning emerged to tell reporters that South Florida might not be his final destination.
“I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s like college recruiting, where you go take visits. I mean, this is all so new to me.”
The domestic assault trial of Vikings cornerback Chris Cook began in Minneapolis. Prosecutors said after Cook became so jealous when he discovered his girlfriend was talking to another man he squeezed her throat until she couldn’t breathe. A defense attorney said Chantel Baker was angry and drunk when she punched Cook multiple times, and the player reflexively struck her after she hit him in the back of the head. … The NFL Players Association said it will do its own investigation of the Saints’ bounty system and vowed to “vigorously protect the rights of all players.” … The Bills re-signed receiver Ruvell Martin.