Thursday, March 08, 2012

Indianapolis – no longer Peyton’s Place

The Indianapolis Colts made a great business decision on Wednesday, releasing the most beloved athlete in Indianapolis sports history – Peyton Manning. Manning played for the Colts of the National Football League (NFL) for fourteen seasons from 1998 to 2011.

He won a record four NFL most valuable player awards, was the most valuable player of Super Bowl XLI, has been named to eleven Pro Bowls, has eleven 4,000-yard passing seasons (including a record six straight), and is the Indianapolis Colts' all-time leader in passing yards (54,828) and touchdown passes (399). In 2009, he was named the best player in the NFL and Fox Sports along with Sports Illustrated, who named him the NFL player of the decade of the 2000s.

In February 2011, Manning signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Colts. In May 2011, he underwent neck surgery to alleviate neck pain and arm weakness he dealt with during the previous few seasons. Manning had hoped to play in the 2011 season, but in September 2011, he underwent a much more serious second surgery: a level one cervical fusion procedure. Manning had never missed an NFL game in his career, but was forced to miss the entire 2011 season.

If the Colts had not released Manning before Friday, Manning would have received a $28 million bonus and he would have become a free agent when his contract expires on March 13 if the Colts didn’t exercise their 2012 option on Manning. His 2012 salary would have been $7.4 million. Peyton Manning would have cost the Colts $35.4 million if he been an Indianapolis Colt in 2012.

Manning is now an NFL free agent. There is no guarantee Manning will play football in 2012. Manning hopes to play several more seasons in the NFL but given his age (he turns 36 this month) and the four neck surgeries he has undergone in the last few years, whether Manning plays in the NFL remains questionable. As much as Peyton Manning has meant to the Colts, he wasn’t worth the $35.4 million to the Colts taking the risk on his health and ability to play.

The top pick in April's draft (the Colts have the first overall selection in the NFL Draft) – is expected to be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck will cost the Colts $23 million over four years, front-loaded to include approximately $15.6 million in 2012.

“Today is a very difficult day for every Colts fan,” said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. “Peyton Manning has meant so much to the organization, the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana and to Colts fans worldwide. We salute Peyton for all he has accomplished on and off the field, and we wish him health and happiness as he moves forward.

“Peyton represented what we aspire to have in our players. He promised to win for the Colts years ago, and he did. His achievements are as notable as those of any athlete in any sport, and I offer him my sincerest thanks for his outstanding service and example.”

Irsay and Manning appeared together during an afternoon press conference.

“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. “We all know that nothing lasts forever. Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”

Peyton Manning was very well paid during the 14 seasons he played for the Colts: Rookie contract: $48 million. Second contract: $99.2 million. Last year: $26.4 million. Total: $173.6M.

An athlete like Peyton Manning is a once in a generation athlete. Super Bowl XLVI, played earlier this year in Indianapolis, showcased how much Peyton Manning has meant to the city of Indianapolis.

Media covering the Super Bowl reported time and time again the number of people wearing Manning’s #18 jersey. The Indianapolis population is only 784,118, one of the smaller markets to be home to an NFL team. Manning was the face of the Colts, the face of the city, a football player with a larger than life persona both on and off the football field.

When Derek Jeter retires from the Yankees, they will still have household names playing for their baseball team. Jeter will be missed, but he’ll be replaced quickly.

What Peyton Manning represented to football fans in Indianapolis can never be replaced. Andrew Luck may become a great NFL quarterback, but he will never come close to representing who Peyton Manning was to the people of Indianapolis.

“For those of us who are so used to him being there day in and day out, it would be a little like (Yankees captain) Derek Jeter changing teams. He really is that iconic guy that represents the franchise. It’s a hackneyed phrase, but he truly is the face of the franchise, and has been,” said former Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, who drafted Manning out of Tennessee with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft and was fired this January. “It will be a little strange not having him there.”

"This is difficult because of the things Peyton has done for our city, our state and our franchise," Irsay said. "There will be no other Peyton Manning."

Irsay said Manning's No. 18 "will never be worn again by a Colt on the field."

Both Irsay and Manning claimed money wasn’t a factor in the decision. Irsay was saying what he had to say and Manning was showing why he is one of the best men to ever play in the NFL. So Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts career ended on Wednesday – because it was a good business decision.

The NFL’s 2012 salary cap (what a team can pay their entire squad) is projected to be between $121 million and $125 million.

If the Colts had kept Manning and drafted Andrew Luck, the two starting quarterbacks would have cost the Colts $51 million against the team’s entire payroll. The team needs only one starting quarterback. Manning’s age and injured neck made the decision to release him the only decision the Colts could make.

“I went through it with Edgerrin (James), knowing we’re close to winning the Super Bowl and the way the money is and the roster’s going to be structured. For the good of the franchise you have to do it and move forward,” former Colts Coach Tony Dungy told the Indianapolis Star.

“Personally and emotionally and all that it’s so tough and you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, but it is. It’s going to play out that way. For the (San Francisco) 49ers to let go of Joe Montana and go with Steve Young and rebuild, as hard as that seems and you don’t think it’s right, it is. It was right for them and it probably will be for the Colts.”

James was the Colts career rushing leader when Dungy released him after the 2005 season. The Colts won their only Super Bowl the following year.

There is a lesson that can be learned from the Peyton Manning story. Peyton Manning will forever be a hero to football fans in Indianapolis. However, he will also serve as an example to sports fans in Indianapolis and everywhere else. It’s the team’s name on the front of the jersey that counts, not the player’s name on the back.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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