Peyton Manning is no dummy. No one has to tell him. The whole team that was built around him, because of him, in his likeness and for his skills, has been dismantled and sent home. Coaches, front-office types, Polians.
Now it’s Manning’s turn. The Colts haven’t said so yet, but it’s clear they have decided not to bring Manning back next year. He can see it every time he walks into the practice facility. It doesn’t feel good kicking your legend to the curb, but that’s the NFL. And it’s the right move.
“I mean, it’s 20 degrees, it’s snowing, the building is absolutely empty except when you see coaches cleaning out their offices,’’ Manning told Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz in a lengthy interview.
“There’s such a complete and total change.’’
Well, almost complete.
We still don’t even know if Manning’s neck will be good enough to play next year. He has had three surgeries in about a year and a half. Colts owner Jim Irsay has until March to decide whether to keep Manning and pay him $28 million. Nothing is new there.
What’s new with Manning in this interview is the way he disconnects himself from the Colts. He paints such a lonely picture, of him working out in the building to get his body back and ready to go, while everything else is taken away.
Manning was working out in the practice facility last week with strength and conditioning coach Jon Torine when word came that Torine was out, fired as part of the purge. The next day, the Star said, Torine cleaned out his office and decided to work out with Manning one more time for old time’s sake.
“It was tough,’’ Manning said. “Very emotional . . .
“I’m not in a very good place for healing, let’s say that. It’s not a real good environment down there right now to say the least.
Everybody’s walking around on eggshells. I don’t recognize our building right now.’’
This is never an easy thing, finding the time to say goodbye to a legend. They stay too long and it’s ugly. They go too soon, and you’re embarrassed. Timing is a guess. But Irsay has already made his guess, firing Bill Polian, who pieced the team together around Manning; firing coach Jim Caldwell and assistants; saying they would take a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.
The next generation starts around that pick, Andrew Luck, and the Colts have to feel, well, lucky, to have a centerpiece ready for drafting.
But where does that leave Manning? The Colts can look at sentiment, or they can look cold-hearted and think about the best way to win another Super Bowl as soon as possible. That coldness is part of what makes the NFL great, honestly. No one is supposed to have a job on merit.
After going 2-14 this year, the Colts need to start over, and it’s going to take some time. In today’s game, rookies can play quarterback.
There is no need to pay Luck a bundle to hold a clipboard while paying Manning a fortune to play.
Irsay curiously went on Twitter Tuesday, saying, “Knowing medical situation last yr. n still paying $26,000,000.00 to #18, I’ve got no regrets. It was right thing2do, I’m not pissed, contrary2rumor.’’
I hadn’t actually heard the rumor he was upset about paying Manning last year for doing nothing. That tweet might have been about public relations and next year, reminding fans who might want Manning back that ownership has already paid out an awful lot.
No need to fork over 28 million more thank yous.
Manning could play PR games here, create a stink about what he deserves. He could drum up even more support and get Indianapolis fans to pressure Irsay into keeping him. But while Manning says in the interview that he would like to play his whole career with the Colts, he also seems to be creating his own exit.
It’s a classy thing to do, rather than putting it on the Colts. He is avoiding controversy again, letting the Colts off.
If Manning is healthy, then he can still have a few excellent years left. Not enough years for the Colts to win another Super Bowl with him, but enough for some other team that’s a QB short. Maybe the New York Jets, where he can compete with brother Eli in the same town. But the Jets aren’t a match for his personality.
Whatever, there will be a spot for him if he wants. And if he doesn’t want, and this is the end? Then he goes down as a legend.
That said, he has won only one Super Bowl. He is a little like the old Atlanta Braves, or the 1980s Chicago Bears that way: A dominant force who won a lot of games, but didn’t get enough championships.
Well, Manning said he hasn’t had The Talk with Irsay yet, and doesn’t know when he will. He has called other teams to make recommendations for the coaches he has worked with for so many years with the Colts.
“I just want to pay tribute to all those guys,’’ he said. “It's unfortunate because so many of them have been such a big part of so many big wins here, and this is so . . . sudden.
“Their keys didn’t work the next day. There’s no other way to do it? That’s hard to see, all these people leaving. And I may be behind them. Who knows?’’