Look, I am not a sentimental sports fan. At least not very sentimental. I won’t expect my team to pay a player based on what he has done for the team since the last contract I made already paid him for what he was going to do. In Peyton Manning’s case, he has been paid handsomely for that work. I am also not all that sentimental towards a player entering the twilight years of his playing career, keeping him on the team just because the fans like seeing him drag himself out there “one more time.” If the player’s value goes beyond the playing field to the locker room and makes his teammates better that can make up for diminishing play, but only to a point.
But in Manning’s case, it isn’t so much that he is being shown the door in Indianapolis, but he is instead like the houseguest who has worn out his welcome without knowing it. His host will ask small questions like whether he misses his brother out east and whether he has considered another line of work while Manning thought he lived there all along. Peyton has allegedly gotten approval from two doctors, including the surgeon who operated on his neck, to resume playing and is on the path back to the football field. Meanwhile the Colts’ only reply was that he hasn’t passed any physical and has not been cleared by them to play for the Indianapolis Colts. This all of course coming on the heels of Manning’s statements on the desertedness of the Colts’ facilities and the subsequent Manning-Irsay joint statement dispelling any rumors of tension between them. So much for open communication, huh?
Perhaps the past part of Irsay’s tweet is what is most important to him, “for the Indianapolis Colts.” He can get as many doctors as he wants, but the Colts aren’t going to play him. Clearly Manning wanted to get the message out that he was ready to play before he went through the team, showing that perhaps he doesn’t trust the team to provide accurate information on how healthy he really is to play. This is not the act of a well-managed franchise, playing out their drama in front of the media.
I have heard this compared to the Brett Favre retirement drama in Green Bay, but there are a couple key differences. Unlike Brett Favre, Manning is clear- if he medically can play he wants to play. I am not sure at this point even he wants to play for an organization that increasingly puts him at arm’s length. But people are also making a great leap to compare a rookie Andrew Luck to a well-groomed Aaron Rodgers.
I will assume at this point that the Colts are unable to keep both on the roster for salary purposes and have to pick one. Luck is a great prospect, but there have been a lot of great prospects. Manning on the other hand has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. The Colts should probably know by April if Manning will be able to keep playing and if so there is no reason to think that Manning will have an awful season. His skills have not deteriorated in the last few season and aside from his neck he has had few signs of his age. There are countless quarterbacks that have failed to live up to expectations, and even those who have are of the Matt Ryan variety- very good but no Peyton Manning.
There is a lot to be said however for having a stable quarterback situation for decades, and if the Colts choose to part ways with their four-time MVP for a promising rookie with a long career ahead of him I can understand that a hundred times over. What bothers me is how they are doing it. This slow, inexorable break reminds me of a car crash in slow motion, with Irsay and Manning trading increasingly tense barbs that could just as easily be sent behind closed doors rather than in front of the media. If the Colts have determined that Manning is not going to be their starter next season or they are not comfortable with his health, they can easily tell him so. If they haven’t decided, nothing Manning can tell them is going to change their minds. If they have decided that if he is healthy he can play, then they need to wait it out and tell Manning to get his doctors in touch with them.
At the end of the day this is about communication within a business organization. It is stunning to me the way companies of this success can manage to let their egos get in the way of even the most basic business operations. We don’t see executives calling out the board of directors on their way out after being fired and we don’t hear about the possibility until they are almost gone. These individuals care enough about the bottom line in their business not to add that kind of uncertainty to the mix. The NFL is a guaranteed profit and feeds off of the same drama that would torpedo a stock. The only thing the franchise stands to lose is respect for the way they do business. The Colts have long been considered one of the best-run franchises in professional sports. With a little adversity they may be revealing that they have far less professionalism than previously imagined.
Photo Courtesy of the Associated Press