Colts Fans, It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Number 18
I'm not going to lie, it makes me a little nauseous just writing the headline, but after giving it some thought, I've come to the realization that if there ever was a time for the Colts to move on from the man who made them relevant, that time is now. It's a thought I'm OK with that and one I think other Colts fans should be OK with as well.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see Peyton Manning playing for another team, but what hit me this week is that I don't want to see the Colts make a futile attempt at holding onto the past in hopes that it may bring another championship to the Hoosier state.
It's time to face the facts. Manning is coming off 3 widely publicized neck surgeries and by the various reports I've read, he has been throwing to receivers as part of his rehab, but isn't close to being where he needs to be strength-wise to play one game of football much less a full season. He's also pushing 36 years old which still fairly young for most occupations, but by football standards, he might as well be pushing 70. The other elephant in the room is a March 8th deadline that requires the team to pay him a $28 million dollar roster bonus that kicks in the remaining 4 years of his current contract or release him.
Here's the way I look at it:
Let's say for argument sake that Manning is told by his doctors that he will be back to his old self by the time training camp rolls around in late July (although a report by NBC Sports yesterday makes that unlikely), the team he comes back to will not be the same one he's been with for the majority of his career. For starters, nearly the entire coaching staff and front office has been overhauled over the past few weeks, then there's the guy's who actually take the field with him. 22 players are scheduled to become free agents in March if they're not offered new contracts with the team. Among them, 33 year old Reggie Wayne, Manning's go-to receiver the past few years along with the man who has literally put the ball in Peyton's hand for the past 13 years, 36 year old Jeff Saturday. Again, age is significant because of the toll football takes on a players body. Saturday himself has even gone on record as saying he's considering not playing anymore.
Much like everything else in life, the problem in trying to retain a majority of these players is money. Without going into explicit detail (mainly because I don't know them all), they simply can't afford to keep them all on the roster for another few years under the league's salary cap rules. Keep in mind that the annual draft is coming up in April which means adding more players to the roster and more money to the books. At some point, something has to give and that something, as painful and sad as it is to say, is parting ways with the guy(s) that made the last decade so enjoyable to watch.
Change is always a difficult thing for people to accept, especially when talking about changing something that has been so successful and brought so many people together. We never want the good times to end, but from time to time they have to. I think we all know how the old saying goes.
I think fans miss the bigger picture. As much as I'd love to see the team keep-the-band-together so to speak for one final Super Bowl push over the next 3-4 years, there's no guarantee it will happen. And if it doesn't, then we're back at square one more than likely without the prospect of another Andrew Luck available in the draft.
If you think about it, the Colts are in the midst of a perfect storm to some degree. They have the ability to end one highly successful era and start a potentially equal or possibly more successful one by letting Peyton and the other free agents go, drafting Luck, and building a team around him. Most teams struggle to catch that "lightning in a bottle" once in their history, much less twice.
In the end, the decision must be one that's in the best interest for the team moving forward regardless of how painful it may be. Will it be weird to see someone other than number 18 lineup behind the center and lead the team? Of course it will. But the sooner we all come to grips with the reality that it's the right decision to make, the easier it will be to rally around the new version of our beloved Colts.