TORONTO - Who knew that Peyton Manning’s pain in the neck was contagious? It’s turned into an injury that took down the big players in the Indianapolis Colts’ front office.
It’s been hardly a secret for the past decade that Manning’s brilliance as a quarterback was central to the Colts’ steady string of successes, including a Super Bowl title.
Nobody realized, though, how quickly the house of cards constructed by vice-chairman Bill Polian and his son Chris, the club GM, would fall apart without Manning. Both were dismissed Monday.
“It’s a new era,” said owner Jim Irsay during a late-afternoon press conference.
“We’re moving into exciting times by my estimation. The search for a GM begins immediately. We have not talked to any teams or potential GMs yet. This is not like ’97 where we replaced the GM in matter of hours. It will be a matter of time, possibly a couple of weeks.”
After a season without Manning, who has had three neck surgeries in the last year, produced two victories and a chance at the Next Big Thing — Andrew Luck — Irsay came to the conclusion that maybe it was time for some new blood in the Colts’ executive suite.
“It was time,” said Irsay. “It was the right decision to make. Fourteen years is a long time in this league. It’s an intuitive decision. A lot goes into it.”
And, once Irsay gets rolling on this franchise renewal process, the broom could get even broader. He said Monday that head coach Jim Caldwell’s status is still under review.
So, less than 24 hours after the Colts put the capper on a 2-14 season with a loss in Jacksonville, Irsay sent the Polians packing, with the potential for vets like Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday, Ryan Diem and Robert Mathis, (all free agents) to follow in the not-too-distant future.
You might even be able to add Manning’s name to that list. The Colts have to decide whether to pick up Manning’s $28-million option in March and if this turns into a total rebuild, then what would Irsay want with a 36-year-old superstar quarterback with health concerns?
That becomes especially problematic if he has Luck waiting in the wings to be the centrepiece of the next generation of Colt excellence.
As far as Bill Polian is concerned, he was the architect of many moves in the late ’90s and into the new century that created the framework around which Manning could work his magic. His hiring of Tony Dungy was a coup, along with the trading of Marshall Faulk and the subsequent draft of Edgerrin James. The Colts won at least 10 games in every season but one from 1999 through 2010.
Unfortunately, the last five Indianapolis drafts have not produced many impact players as the core of the team got older. Still, Polian can be proud of his record that has earned him NFL Executive of the Year honours six times.
He built Super Bowl teams in both Buffalo and Indianapiolis, with a stop in Carolina in between where he constructed a team that went to the NFC title game.
The Colts were a broken franchise when Polian arrived in 1997 but he ended up with the No. 1 draft pick that he used to select Manning, an immediate star, over Ryan Leaf, a massive bust.
It is difficult to predict how the Manning/Luck situation is going to play out. If Irsay, or his new GM, is able to confidently judge that Manning is going to be able to stand the rigors of regular NFL play again, then there is no reason why Luck couldn’t take a backup role for a season or two before growing into the role as Manning fades into the sunset.
Manning has suggested that he could work with a young quarterback.
“I think I can co-exist with any player I’ve ever played with,” Manning told reporters on Sunday. “I think I’ve always been a good teammate in that way.”
The elephant in the room is not so much Luck but the $28 million that must be paid to Manning early in March as part of his contract. There has been talk of a renegotiation — but not by Manning.
The alternative would be to cut Manning but it would be a very sad way to part company with somebody who was, and remains, an Indianapolis icon.
The futures of Wayne, Saturday and Mathis, as well as several other high-priced veterans, probably rest with Manning.
If he is back and ready to play, then the expectation will be there to contend. But if he’s not in the picture, then many of those veterans will not be there, either, as the rebuild begins.