Circumstances created the perfect storm for the release of Manning. They were: (1) the extraordinary financial commitment required to keep him, $35.4 million in this year alone; (2) multiple neck surgeries that put Manning's future level of performance in questions, and (3) a ready-made replacement in Andrew Luck, available to the Colts with the top pick in the Draft for a fraction of the price of Manning.
The contract, of course, also created the problem. Manning and agent Tom Condon leveraged a decision date from the Colts of this week that would force them to retain him or release him to the free agent market after paying him $26.4 million last season. As to Manning moving the option date backward, that was never going to happen. He had no reason to do that.
The signs were all there. Irsay had cleaned house with a new coach and general manager, both of whom uncomfortably avoided the topic of Manning at all costs. For them, this date couldn't get here soon enough.
In Green Bay in 2008, my sense was the decision was more about Aaron Rodgers than Brett Favre. And in Philadelphia in 2010, the decision was more about Kevin Kolb than Donovan McNabb. At some point the replacement is ready and it is time to move to the future. In Indianapolis, no one knows if Luck is ready but the feeling is that the gain that the organization receives by him waiting does not justify the cost.
In the end, Irsay's decision to part with Manning is an understandable business decision, ruling from his head rather than his heart. Organizations must evolve. Leaders must respect the past, but not be controlled by it.
Irsay just needed to communicate that to Manning in a professional and respectful way. We trust that he did.
Even for the best of the best players and the longest tenured stars aligned with one team, it rarely ends well. The business of football always wins.