Trade Or Release: The Peyton Manning Question Looms Ever Nearer

Emotional impact can't be understated

By Drew Magary
|  Thursday, Dec 1, 2011  |  Updated 10:24 AM PDT
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Trade Or Release: The Peyton Manning Question Looms Ever Nearer

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INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts greets Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won the game 35-34. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Peyton Manning;Tom Brady

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As the Colts hurtle towards the worst season in NFL history (yep, even worse than the 2008 Lions), the presence of Andrew Luck on their roster grows increasingly inevitable.

Peyton Manning’s neck injury this offseason has exposed the flimsy cardboard house the Colts constructed for him the past few years. He’s not coming back. It doesn’t make sense for the Colts (who have a historic opportunity for a seamless transition between franchise QBs), and it REALLY doesn’t make sense for Manning, who could maybe get this team back to the playoffs on his own, but not much farther than that.

You’ve seen these Colts. They are monumentally bad. It makes no sense to bring back Peyton in hopes of delivering a Pyrrhic 10-6 season when this roster needs a full overhaul that will take longer than the rest of Peyton’s career.

There are two options for handling this split.

One is to trade Peyton, which could result in serious cap woes for the team in the short term (unless, if possible, Peyton willingly redid his deal to make the blow softer and make moving him easier), but would deliver the kind of draft picks the team needs to build around Luck.

Or they could release Manning outright, which feels so WRONG on the surface of things but may perhaps be the only option left for Indy.

There are two reasons for this. ONE: Health. There’s no telling if Manning can EVER play football again, and the team shouldn’t risk paying him an additional $28 million in roster bonuses if that’s still on the table and they’re rebuilding anyway. TWO: Manning and Luck can’t coexist in today’s NFL, where first round QBs are more ready-to-play than ever. And Manning certainly still has his pride. He isn’t going to want to be Luck’s setup man. He wants to win titles, and the best way to do that is by going elsewhere.

In a perfect world, Peyton Manning would retire an Indianapolis Colt. He would return from his neck injury fully healed, lead Indy to a few more playoff appearances, and then go onto his next career replacing Terry Bradshaw on the FOX set (I can dream, can’t I?). But sports have a cruel knack for abrupt endings: be it Joe Paterno’s firing, or Missouri leaving the Big 12, or Joe Montana getting traded. When things change in sports, they don’t do so gradually. They do so in a jarring, almost violent fashion.

Which brings us back to Manning. Though his exit from the Colts has become increasingly inevitable over the past 12 weeks, I assure you that Indy fans and the greater football community will still be left in shock when the split finally becomes a reality.

Talking about it is one thing. Seeing Peyton actually don a Jets jersey at a press conference in March is a whole other matter. People won’t believe their eyes. I know I won’t.

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