Peyton Manning's illustrious career with the Indianapolis Colts has reached an inglorious end.
The Colts will hold a news conference today to announce they are releasing the NFL's only four-time MVP and the most prolific passer in franchise history, according to former Indianapolis vice chairman Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst.
Manning's older brother, Cooper, also confirmed that the Colts would take a new and surely controversial direction. Peyton, who turns 36 on March 24, missed all of last season after his third neck operation in 19 months. He was owed a $28 million payment by Friday if the Colts chose to retain him.
"I don't think Peyton's done any personal diligence on what the next step is," said Cooper, reached by phone at his New Orleans home. "Until it was over, he was a Colt through and through.
"Now, he'll have to re-evaluate and see what this next chapter reads like."
Cooper added, "It's hard to believe he won't be back there in Indianapolis. It's hard to imagine."
Although the Colts own the top pick in the draft and can take a promising new direction by selecting either of two highly rated passers, Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, the rebuilding of what had been a perennial power will surely be painful for the team and its fans.
"You could argue among all the players that ever played in the NFL in terms of contributions to a franchise, Peyton's up there in the top five," Polian said.
Manning was selected by Polian atop the 1998 draft and took Indianapolis to the playoffs 11times in his 13 seasons, including two Super Bowls. He was the MVP in a 29-17 triumph against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI to close the 2006 season. The Colts fell short vs. the New Orleans Saints three years later, falling 31-17.
Manning, set to become possibly the most coveted free agent in history, holds club records for passing yards (54,828), touchdowns (399), attempts (7,210), completions (4,682), completion percentage (64.9%) and passer rating (94.9).
He is 141-67 as a starter to rank fourth in history, trailing Brett Favre (186), John Elway (148) and Dan Marino (147). He is third in NFL annals in passing TDs, yards and completions.
"Peyton's legacy in Indianapolis is absolutely secure," Polian said. "Lucas Oil Stadium is there. The Lombardi Trophy is there. All the records are there. And, most importantly, Peyton Manning's Children's Hospital is there.
"So if he goes and plays somewhere else, all it will mean is that he's going to finish his career in another uniform. What he's done in Indianapolis will never be erased and will always be appreciated."
But after he cuts ties with the Colts, focus will turn to where Manning will play this fall. Among the possible teams are the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos, whom Polian sees as a sleeper.
"I wouldn't be shocked about any place he would end up," Polian said. "John (Elway, Broncos executive vice president) certainly knows quarterbacks."
Manning will have to show suitors that his neck and the nerve damage he suffered are healed and his health will hold up under game conditions. Concern about his arm strength has fueled questions about the strength, velocity, consistency and range of his passes -- and thus, his long-term prospects for a complete comeback.
Manning did not miss a start during his tenure with the Colts before the 2011 season.
Polian said he watched the video from a throwing session by Manning on Saturday at Duke University that made its way to YouTube. "I recognize that throwing motion even from a distance," Polian said. "He looked darn close to the original Peyton Manning. I felt great when I saw the video."
Cooper Manning said the triceps nerve in Peyton's throwing arm was recovering at such an encouraging rate that he fully expected his brother to compete again in what would be one of the most scrutinized comebacks in history.
"A lot of guys who have watched him throw for a long time have been making really positive comments," the older brother said.
Now, the NFL and fans will wait to see if he can get his groove back.
Dilemma for Irsay
For weeks, the buzz around the NFL has been all about Manning, with Colts owner Jim Irsay teetering on a high wire. It is evident in this case that business, health, practicality, politics and public relations don't always mix. So while recognizing the contribution Manning made to the franchise's extended success that led to the construction of $720 million Lucas Oil Stadium, built largely with public funds, Irsay also was confronted by the reality that in the world of football, good timing doesn't last forever.
Irsay has contended -- when he didn't maintain that Manning would make the call on his future in Indianapolis -- that the decision would hinge on Manning's health rather than the prospect of paying two high-profile quarterbacks under a $120 million salary cap for the 2012 season.
While it's true that in the new world of a rookie salary pool the Colts could squeeze Manning and Luck or Griffin under the cap, it would not be practical.
So "P-Money," as former star Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison has called him, won't finish what he started -- a remarkable, Hall of Fame-credentialed career -- with the Colts.
Last legs or renaissance?
How will Manning's final chapter play out?
Maybe it will resemble Joe Montana's trek, following his exodus from San Francisco. After guiding the 49ers to four Super Bowl crowns during the 1980s, Montana was derailed by elbow problems. When he regained his health, his job was gone.
Montana went off to play with the Kansas City Chiefs for his final two seasons. He finished his career with dignity, proving he had something left.
Manning undoubtedly hopes that his career swan song won't compare to that of Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts legend whose career ended in 1973 at 40, with one broken, arm-shot season with the San Diego Chargers.
The same could be said of the route taken by one of Manning's contemporary gunslingers, Brett Favre, one of the two men (along with Marino) who have passed for more career yards and touchdowns than No. 18.
For Manning, when he has been at his best, his timing has been an advantage, not unlike the legs that elevate Michael Vick's game or the ability to extend plays by shrugging off defenders that makes Ben Roethlisberger special.
Manning will need time to adapt to a new system, receivers and environment. He will have to play catch-up, to establish his flow.
Of course, Manning might still be better than most quarterbacks. If he's healthy enough.
Contributing: Mike Chappell, The Indianapolis Star
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