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All good things inevitably come to an end. Or perhaps in this case, all great things. Earlier this week the Indianapolis Colts cut former quarterback Peyton Manning in the most dramatic move of the offseason. His release and new life in free agency creates many different scenarios of how the league will be affected, mostly accounting for where the four-time MVP will play next.
There’s no question Peyton Manning will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not the greatest in the history of the Colts franchise. In 14 seasons, he led the team to 11 playoff appearances including eight division titles and a Super Bowl championship in 2007. He transformed a lowly franchise into winners, earning fans throughout the country to watch him every Sunday.
In 1998, former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian drafted Manning out of the University of Tennessee with the number one overall pick. Since that time, the franchise rose into arguably the best of the 2000s almost entirely due to Manning’s work as a precision passer with an amazingly gifted arm and knowledge for the game coming from a football family including father Archie Manning and brother younger brother Eli who led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl title last year against the Patriots.
Peyton Manning is the only four-time MVP in the history of the sport, winning the award in 2003, 2004, 2008, and 2009. He ended up playing his last game for the Colts in a 17-16 loss to the New York Jets in an AFC Wild Card game. His last drive was successful, marching 48 yards down the field trailing 14-13 with 2:36 remaining in regulation. He and the high powered Colts offense set up a 50-yard field goal for Adam Vinatieri, who gave the team a dramatic 16-14 lead. However the Jets kicked a field goal of their own as time expired, ending the Indianapolis season.
Manning signed a five-year $90 million contract prior to the 2011 season after receiving the franchise tag, but would never get back on the field. Complications after an initial neck surgery kept him off the field long enough for the Colts season to become a lost cause, finishing 2-14. They did earn the overall number one pick in the upcoming draft, with which they plan to restructure and rebuild the team.
Approaching age 36, if Manning is truly ready to play after recovering from his neck problems he should have some playing years left in him. The big question left is which teams will have serious interest in acquiring the quarterback, and how the Colts will fair without him.
The Colts will likely use their first overall pick to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who could be NFL ready this upcoming season. But he’s not Peyton Manning. And there’s little doubt the Colts are going to struggle next year as they begin the rebuilding process. In fact no team has ever finished with a winning record after drafting a quarterback with the number one pick, except for the San Diego Chargers when they drafted and traded away Eli Manning.
The entire face of the Colts beyond Peyton could be changing as well, as wide receiver Reggie Wayne will become a free agent on March 13th and the team is reportedly shopping defensive end Dwight Freeney.
As for where Manning will play next season, there seems to already be plenty of buzz concerning possibilities. According to sources, he could sign with a new team within a week, and prefers to continue to play in the AFC though he’s keeping his options open. It’s unlikely he’ll end up signing in the NFC East with his brother simply to avoid continued confrontation and conflicting interests in his both he and his brother succeeding.
Some of the teams with notable interest include the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Redskins. Free agency is new to the veteran, and no matter where he lands it will be strange to see him in a new uniform. But no matter where he plays or how he performs, he will always be an Indianapolis Colt at heart.