Peyton Manning may have hurt his neck, putting his football future in doubt. But as Colts owner Jim Irsay tells it now, that was just a small part of why Indianapolis decided to move on from one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
While Irsay had nice things to say about Manning ahead of this week’s game between the Colts and the Broncos, he also dropped one of the biggest knocks against Manning that a person can give when he talked with Jarrett Bell of USA Today.
Irsay said a major reason the Colts moved on from Manning was that, despite his great statistics at quarterback, he was not winning championships.
“We’ve changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay said, motioning to his Super Bowl ring. “[Tom] Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these. Pittsburgh had two. The Giants had two. Baltimore had two, and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.
“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne]. Mostly, you love this.”
The criticism is one that has been used many times in the Brady-Manning debate, with Manning detractors saying he could produce gaudy statistics year to year but couldn’t win big games.
It’s something else for Irsay to be mentioning it, though — although he seemed to be pointing to it for more practical reasons. Manning’s MVP-quality play season after season meant he was commanding a huge salary. As the team continued to show weakness around Manning, Indianapolis could benefit from a cheaper quarterback as it tried to rebuild. The Colts had slipped considerably by Manning’s last season, and there were also concerns that needing players who could work in Manning’s complex offense was making it harder to maneuver.
“Circumstances created this decision,” Irsay said. “You have to understand there’s no way [the current Colts' success] occurs if [Manning is] in Indy. It’s just impossible, where our salary cap was — having him stay at the type of number that he expected and deserved to earn and all those things.”
Andrew Luck, whom the Colts took No. 1 in the draft shortly after ditching Manning, has led the team to similar success as Manning, and with strong statistics, too. But he’s on the rookie pay scale, meaning he’s making a little more than $5 million this year. Manning was due $28 million in the first year if he stayed with the Colts, and he’s counting $17.5 million against the cap in Denver right now. Irsay says there’s no way Indianapolis could have drafted Luck and let him develop under Manning, and he also sounded comfortable with letting Manning and his salary walk away.
In sizing up Manning’s total Super Bowls and statistics with the likes of Brady and others, though, Irsay may have done worse than the day he announced Manning’s time in Indianapolis was done. While Manning long had the bad luck of his numbers not translating into playoff wins, it wasn’t necessarily his fault that the rest of the team was bad while he was really good (a problem long before his salary became an impediment, with the exception being his tendency to throw interceptions in big games).
Irsay saying he had to get rid of Manning to win the championships Manning has long coveted is a rude way to recognize that the Colts didn’t have the best team-building for years.
Without Luck and the Colts’ current success, after all, this would be a very different discussion.