Peyton Manning's career in Indy appears over after 14 seasons and four MVPs. (Darron Cummings/AP)
The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis will come to an end on Wednesday afternoon, as the team is prepared to release its long-time quarterback rather than pay him the $28 million roster bonus he's due on March 8. ESPN's Chris Mortensen first reported the news, which has been expected for some time now. Both team owner Jim Irsay and Manning will attend noon a press conference to announce the news.
The Colts hold the No. 1 pick in April's NFL Draft, which they could use on either Stanford's Andrew Luck or Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Manning, however, has been trying to work his way back from a neck injury in order to play again.
SI.com's Don Banks reported in February that Manning needed a fourth medical procedure on his neck, which had required three earlier surgeries, including one to fuse two vertebrae. Manning's father, Archie, said last week that he watched his son throw and that he "looked like Peyton," but that alleged improvement was not enough to convince the Colts to hold onto him.
Also coming to light last week was a video of Manning throwing at Duke University, which appeared to show No. 18 throwing game-ready passes:
For a Colts team coming off a 2-14 season and potentially facing mass departures in free agency, it's not hard to understand why Manning's 2012 price tag was too high. Indianapolis managed to sign DE Robert Mathis to a contract extension, but still could lose Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and others.
Manning, though, has been the face of the Colts franchise since he was selected No. 1 overall in the 1998 draft. He started all 16 games during his rookie season and never missed a single outing, until he had to sit out all of 2011. Without him in the lineup, the Colts struggled to find a viable starting QB, cycling through Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky and Curtis Painter.
That unending struggle plus Manning's lingering health issues led to Luck and the Colts being linked together for months. While Griffin's stock continues to rise, Luck has long been considered one of the premier quarterback prospects to enter the draft -- one on the level of Manning in '98.
"Guys like that come along so rarely," Colts owner Jim Irsay told Yahoo Sports' Jason Cole back in October.
While Indianapolis will have its choice of a new QB at the draft, what's next for Manning will be the top storyline of this NFL offseason. Even prior to Manning's forthcoming release, his name has been linked with several quarterback-needy teams, including Miami, the Jets, Arizona and Washington, to name a few.
And since Manning is being released, as opposed to reaching the end of his contract, he would be eligible to sign with a new team immediately -- free agents must wait until the new league year begins on March 13.
Manning has already etched his name all over the NFL record books. He currently has more completions, pass attempts, yards passing and TDs than any other active quarterback and is a sure bet for the Hall of Fame down the road.
However, the soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback wants to prolong retirement for as long as possible, meaning he has his sights set on starting again next season. Where he will do that will be a major talking point if the Colts go through with their release of him on Wednesday.
Manning is not the first superstar player to switch teams in the twilight of his career and he certainly won't be the last, but the shock of such a drastic change never quite wears off. Assuming Manning suits up for a different NFL franchise in 2012, he'll join the likes of Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice and Joe Namath, among others, who spent their final seasons with franchises other than the ones with which they built their careers.
All of those moves were met with varying degrees of success.
However, it's worth noting that Manning still played at an extremely high level in 2010 -- he threw for 4,700 yards and led the league in completions (450) and passing attempts (679), while guiding the Colts to their ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
If Manning's new team get anywhere near that quality of play, then the Colts' decision to send Peyton packing could have a major hand in how the 2012 NFL season unravels.