The Peyton Manning Problem

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A divorce between Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts appears imminent and necessary. Not only has the recent war of words between the three-time MVP and team owner Jim Irsay begun to severe the frays, but in the National Football League, it is as much about business as it is about football.

By March 8, the Colts must decide whether or not to pick up Manning’s $28 million option. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Dude has been a Super Bowl MVP, been invited to Pro Bowl 10 straight years, and without him, the offense dropped from fourth to 28th (points) and 30th (yards). He practically earned MVP honors without taking a snap, so what’s the hold up?

Days after the Colts decide to pick up his option or cut ties with him, Manning will turn 36. He just had his third neck procedure in the last two years, one so unconventional it required him to travel to Asia. Essentially, the continuance of his career is contingent on a nerve regenerating.

With the front office and the coaching staff gutted out, it’s a new era in Indy. Chuck Pagano, the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, is now in charge. And the trend in this league for rookie head coaches looking to turn around a franchise is to draft a new, young quarterback. In this case, it’s Andrew Luck.

A healthy Peyton Manning may be the better option, but where’s the insurance he’ll be at 100 percent? With luck, and Luck, the Stanford quarterback many consider the next Peyton Manning will be just that, and pioneer the resurgence of the Colts. Pagano should model his team like the Ravens – tenacious defense, tough in the trenches, and if Luck is the real deal, the offense should take care of itself.

For Manning, his departure from Indy will not only do him good, but the team as well. The Colts have to decide the future of 14 free agents, including wideouts Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon, defensive end Robert Mathis and long-time stalwart at center, Jeff Saturday. Paying Manning’s $28 million option would ultimately mean sacrificing other key players the team needs to build around.

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As the Colts embark on the Pagano-Luck era, Manning will have the opportunity to give it one last go-around with another team. In my opinion, 26 of the other 31 teams should make a phone call to Manning’s agent. Of those teams, however, he’s already been linked with the Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks, Redskins and Dolphins.

But why would Manning sign with the Seahawks? At 7-9 in the NFC West, would Seattle be a Super Bowl contender with Manning behind center? There’s a similar argument for the Cards, Skins and Fins; but what about the Jets?

Please excuse me if I’m a bit biased, but as a disgruntled New York Jets fan I believe Manning donning the green and white puts the team ahead of the Patriots – the same team playing in the Super Bowl next week. Manning makes everybody better around him – he pilots the offense, he keeps characters in check and his teammates won’t question his work ethic. Cough, Mark Sanchez. Cough.

Relocating to the Big Apple would also benefit the league. Imagine two primetime matchups between Manning and Tom Brady each year. What about the fun the New York papers would have with Eli and Peyton battling for back-page headlines. Oh, and Rex Ryan would certainly appreciate it; now his Super Bowl guarantees each August would have some substance.

Manning wanted to end his storied career in a Colts uniform. Unfortunately, that’s just not happening. Now his health, his next team and his career resembles more of a thunderstorm more than a clear summer sky. But if there’s one player who can disprove the naysayers, well, isn’t in Peyton Manning?

Sam Spiegelman

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