The only story with the Indianapolis Colts is Peyton Manning

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Just so you know, the Colts have made a few major changes this offseason.

Bill and Chris Polian are gone. In their place is new general manager Ryan Grigson, formerly a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ front office.

Oh, and former coach Jim Caldwell also is out of town. The new guy? Chuck Pagano, who spent the 2011 season as the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator. Word is he plans to do away with the Colts’ familiar Tampa 2 defense and install a hybrid 3-4 scheme.

The Colts have some new coordinators too, you know. Bruce Arians, who was the team’s quarterbacks coach from 1998-2000 and previously served as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is back in Indy to conduct the offense (Clyde Christensen isn’t gone, though. He’s quarterbacks coach now). Greg Manusky, who in 2011 was the San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator, now has that position here.

Any other offseason, these would be HUGE stories that would command their own blog posts. But this offseason? We hardly have heard a peep from or about any of these guys. There’s only one story surrounding the Indianapolis Colts right now: the very public dilemma between Peyton Manning and owner Jim Irsay that eventually will lead to the four-time MVP’s exit from town.

Seriously, it’s all anyone’s saying about the Colts right now. And really, who can blame the media?

Through the local media outlets, most notably the Indianapolis Star, Manning and Irsay have sought to make gains in each’s public relations department, but in all honesty, each party has made this already unbearably difficult situation even much more unnecessarily unbearable.

I know most Colts fans will side with Manning in this perceived battle for Indy’s loyalty. True enough, it’s hard to win a PR battle against the greatest and most significant player in the history of your franchise. What those fans don’t seem to realize (other than that this isn’t a battle at all) is that Manning started it (unless you count the tweet from actor Rob Lowe, a buddy of Irsay’s, that expressed disappointment that Manning wouldn’t be returning to football).

The future Hall-of-Fame quarterback contacted Star columnist Bob Kravitz — Kravitz himself admitted he was rather surprised at this — and expressed his discomfort with the environment at the Colts’ headquarters with so many of his coaches being shown the door. No doubt it’s probably uncomfortable when people you’ve worked with for so many years are all of a sudden packing their offices. But whether Manning meant to do so or not, he portrayed the Colts in a negative light, and Irsay didn’t take it well at all.

A few days after Kravitz’s column featuring Manning’s interview was published — a little more than a week before Indianapolis was to host its first Super Bowl — Irsay fired back immediately following Pagano’s introductory press conference. Calling Manning a “politician,” the Colts’ eccentric owner said his quarterback shouldn’t talk that way about “the Horseshoe” publicly and should keep such concerns “in house.”

Problem is Irsay hasn’t done a good job of practicing what he preached.

Every week — or every couple of days, it seems — we get a new news report with comments from Irsay regarding the understanding he and Manning have with one another, like this one. For a while, the things Irsay was saying would lead one to believe he’s completely shut the door on the Manning era in Indy; he’s talked about having an eye on the long-term future and not being sentimental in a business. He’s even routinely used phrases like “a new era” in introducing Grigson and Pagano.

But he’s also taken the opposite side. He even came out and said Manning could come back if he so desired, essentially placing the ball in Manning’s court as far as remaining with the Colts.

Seems as if Irsay is taking real issue with his being made out to be the bad guy in this situation. But then so does Manning.

The week leading up to Super Bowl XLVI, hosted right in Indy, passed with hardly as much mention of the two participating teams — one of which, the eventual champion New York Giants, feature Manning’s younger brother Eli at quarterback — and instead passed with tedious debate regarding Peyton’s future with the Colts. A report even surfaced the Thursday before the Super Bowl that Manning had been medically cleared to play. That seemingly would make it tougher on Irsay to stand by his December comments that health, not the $28 million option bonus due Manning on March 8, would determine whether the quarterback would remain in Indy in 2012.

Look, folks, this posturing, while becoming quite irritating, is only natural. Each side wants to look good in a situation that can’t look good. All their efforts are backfiring.

If I might serve as a voice of reason on such an emotional topic, the only move that makes sense for either party is to part ways. The Colts are much too cap-strapped to invest the rest of that massive contract in Manning, who will be 36 and coming off four neck procedures (per Don Banks of Sports Illustrated) in less than a year with uncertain triceps strength in his throwing arm. Indy also has its potential quarterback of the future waiting right there with the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL Draft, whether it’s Stanford’s Andrew Luck or Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (likely Luck). No matter which one it is, the Colts simply can’t afford to keep both Manning and the rookie on the roster simultaneously despite the new rookie wage scale. If the team keeps Manning, it also has to pay up to keep a core that can contend with Manning. This would leave no cap flexibility in the near future to rebuild around the rookie, and one might argue the Colts need to rebuild NOW.

Then there’s Manning’s side: I know Manning has said many times he wants to retire a Colt, but if he wants to continue playing, does he really want to be part of a rebuilding project? Especially when he could go somewhere like Miami or Arizona, each of whom arguably has a nucleus that can contend with an elite quarterback? Rest assured, there will be no shortage of suitors for Manning if he becomes available.

It’s inevitable at this point: Manning is on his way out of Indy. It could be as simple as a mutual understanding, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that will be the case. We could be going through this until March 8.

 

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