At the conclusion of the 1992 season, the San Francisco 49ers front office was faced with a decision that would ultimately shake up their franchise forever.
Would they keep their veteran 36-year old four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback who had only played half a quarter in the last two years due to injuries, or would they go with their current starting quarterback, who at 31-years old was much younger and had just been named the Most Valuable Player of the 1992 season?
The 49ers chose the latter, and in April of 1993, traded away the great Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs. The move ended any and all questions regarding who was going to be the starting quarterback for the 49ers in the near future.
The team was now in the hands of Steve Young, who had been the 49ers quarterback since Montana had gone down with an elbow injury in 1991.
Exactly 20 years later, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves in almost the exact same situation.
Peyton Manning, who turns 36 in March, is a four-time NFL MVP, an 11-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl MVP, was lost for the entire 2011 season due to a neck injury, and as a direct result, the Colts finished with the worst record in the league, earning the number one pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
That pick should, is, and will be Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
During his junior season, Luck was already being touted as the next Peyton Manning, and now, the Colts have a chance to draft him.
The problem however, is that Manning is still on the roster, and owed $28 million if he's on the Colts roster come March 8, 2012. The question now is, would the Colts be willing to pick up the roster bonus for Manning and then turn around and draft Luck with the first pick paying him top money.
The answer is, yes, if the Colts want to, they can. The realistic answer is no, and the Colts and Peyton Manning both know the end is near, it's just a question of how exactly will it end.
The end of Manning's career with the Colts ends three ways:
One, Manning retires due to his neck injury, which has not fully healed. This would be the least stressful move for the Colts since they wouldn't have to do anything on their part. Manning out, Luck in, plain and simple.
Two, Colts pick up the tab on Manning and see how the 2012 season plays out then either trade him in 2013 or keep him on the roster and eat up the money. If he's healthy and can play, then Manning is the starter and Luck sits and learns from one of the very best in the game, just like Aaron Rogers did with Brett Favre in Green Bay.
What the Colts cannot do however, is pick up the tab, then trade Manning. Peter King of Sports Illustrated magazine recently reported that such a move would cost the Colts almost $39 million against the cap, while waiting until 2013 would cost $28 million.
That leads to the most common sense option on the table for the Colts; releasing Peyton Manning prior to his roster bonus on March 8, and ensuring a clean slate for Andrew Luck to take over.
Since being drafted back in 1998, Peyton Manning had never missed a single start in his NFL career, 208 regular season games, and 227 with the playoffs included. He was the NFL's version of Cal Ripken Jr, a regular Iron Man, nothing could bring him down.
In the end, the writing is on the wall and Peyton Manning's career with the Colts will soon by over. But like Montana did with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993, Manning's career may still have some magic left. As one city looses a legend, another city has the opportunity to gain one.
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