After taking a day to survey the landscape of reactions from around Colts Nation regarding the release of Peyton Manning, one recurring sentiment needs to be addressed: there is no "bad guy" in Peyton Manning's departure from Indianapolis. As much as we as a culture crave a scapegoat in situations like these, in this case, there simply isn't one.
Indianapolis Colts fans are understandably upset with Manning's departure of the Colts. We've written several times this season about the significance of Manning's career in Indianapolis. There can be no understating his impact on both the franchise and on the city. The reality of his leaving is indeed a bitter pill to swallow. There's just not one person or cause to find fault with.
Most have chosen owner Jim Irsay as the target for their grief-induced anger. Irsay tweeted while Peyton left town, some have contended. Irsay lied or misled Colts fans, others say. Irsay was stingy or didn't recognize Manning's real value is a common refrain. None of thes are true.
The divorce between Peyton Manning and the Colts was a mutual decision. Jim Irsay was being completely sincere when he said a healthy Manning would stay in Indianapolis. The fact is, despite Manning's improvements lately in his rehabilitation, he's still not completely healthy. Moreover, it's not known when or if he will be completely healthy. Is a mostly healthy Peyton Manning a big enough attraction for other teams? It would appear to be so, but the Colts, in their present situation, were not in a position to take that gamble.
It wasn't about the $28 million either. Jim Irsay would have gladly paid that sum for a healthy Manning. He would have paid that if they didn't have the number one overall pick. It was the backloaded contract, the one that looked so cap friendly back in August, that was the culprit here. As circumstances changed, that contract became an albatross to the team. It certainly was in the franchise's best interests to insist that Manning renegotiate the terms of his deal in order to remain a Colt. Fans can't blame Jim Irsay for taking that stance.
Manning is so beloved, and rightfully so, that fans won't blame him, but it was his unwillingness to renegotiate that finished their relationship as well. Not that Manning should be blamed for this. Had he not progressed before the deadline this week, who knows whether or not he would have been more willing. But the fact is that Manning's recovery had progressed to the point where he can now get something close to his fair market value and the opportunity to play for one last championship.
At 36, Manning is taking his last shot at glory. Whether or not that will happen is speculative, but fans can't blame him for doing so. It's easy to discount the vast sums earned by professional athletes, but their earning "window" is very brief. Manning will never in his life have the opportunity to command the salary that he will earn at this point in his life. It's easy for fans to demand loyalty, but given the same situation to realize one final payday, who among us would turn down that chance?
We've contended all along that the "best" course of action for both sides would have been to work out a new deal. That was the ideal. In the end, they weren't able to do that. As Peyton Manning pointed out, the third party in the discussions, circumstance, wouldn't allow it.
So Colts fans, it's alright to be upset, sad, angry, all of those things. Perhaps grief is too strong a word to describe how fans feel, but it certainly is a loss for the team and the community. The fact is the Colts probably won't be very good next season, and maybe not for a few seasons. Their deficiencies are very real and won't be fixed with just a new quarterback.
This will be a test of Colts fans mettle, however. We're all still fairly new with this process. While teams like the Packers have a legacy of transition from Starr to Favre to Rodgers, Peyton Manning is all Indianapolis has ever known.
Take heart, Indianapolis. There will be brighter days. The Colts once had a legend named Unitas behind center. He eventually left. Bert Jones took the franchise to the brink of the Super Bowl. He too was gone. After a long interim came Peyton Manning. Now he has gone on.
It doesn't look like Colts fans will have to endure the long interim this time. The next "era" of Colts football is beginning. True fans of the team will pay their respects to the past while anticipating the future. It's what we do.
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