Of all the storylines swirling around the National Football League this offseason, from the upcoming NFL scouting combine to the possible return to the NFL of wide receiver Randy Moss, none have loomed larger or been more surreal than the seemingly rapidly disintegrating relationship between Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and team owner Jim Irsay.
After well over a decade of success that included a Super Bowl championship, what once seemed unthinkable now appears inevitable, as with each passing day it looks more like Peyton Manning has played his last down as a member of the Colts.
This comes even as Irsay and Manning are reportedly in negotiations to restructure Manning's contract, with Irsay telling WISH-TV, "[Peyton] and I will continue to always be great friends, and I hope it’s with him still being in a Colt uniform, but we’ll see."
We'll see indeed.
In order to figure out where things go from here, we need to look back at how things got this bad to begin with, so let's take a look back at the back-and-forth that has gone on between the so-called "great friends" in the media over the past several months.
Speculation as to Peyton Manning's future was rampant throughout last season, as Manning's multiple neck surgeries cost the four-time MVP the entire season and sent the Colts spiraling to a 2-14 record and the first overall pick in April's NFL draft.
However, everything was amicable enough, and while it was fun to talk about, most people thought that at the end of the day Manning would remain, as he has for his entire 14-year career, a member of the Indianapolis Colts.
That all changed on Jan. 24, when Manning gave an extensive interview to Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, in which Manning candidly addressed his future with the Colts and his feelings about the state of the organization during these tumultuous times:
I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that. ... It's not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least. Everybody's walking around on eggshells. I don't recognize our building right now. There's such complete and total change. ...
I don't want to get into some kind of fan campaign with the owner, but I think it's well documented that I want to play in the same place my whole career. ... But I understand how it works. I understand tough decisions have to be made. There's personal and there's business, and that's where we’ve got to separate the two. I've seen other guys leave places and it was personal. ...
Whatever happens, happens. I can't give you a prediction because Jim (Irsay) and I will sit down at some point and he'll get a feel for where I am and I’ll get a sense of what direction he wants to go. Right now, I have no idea.
I theorized at the time that Manning, frustrated by not being consulted regarding the direction the Colts were headed in as much as he was accustomed to, may have been grousing a bit but that it was unlikely that he was trying to force his way out of Indianapolis.
I may have been mistaken in that regard, but regardless, the interview didn't seem to sit well with Colts owner Jim Irsay, who took to Twitter that day:
Knowing medical situation last yr. n still paying $26,000,000.00 to #18,I've no regrets.It was right thing2do,I'm not pissed,contrary2rumor
Irsay then gave his own interview to the Star on Jan. 26, in which he labeled Manning a "politician" and took issue with Manning airing the team's proverbial dirty laundry in public:
I don’t think it’s in a good interest to paint the horseshoe in a negative light, I really don’t. ... He’s such a big part of that and everything else, but the horseshoe always comes first.
I think one thing that he’s always known, because he’s been around it so long, is you keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem, you talk to each other. It’s not about campaigning or anything like that.
As the two men traded snipes, the $28 million roster bonus due Manning on March 8 began to loom larger and larger, and even as the two men issued a joint statement wherein they appeared to kiss and make up, the winds emanating from Indiana appeared to grow colder and colder:
We would like to dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us.
Since 1998, we have enjoyed a great relationship, based upon mutual respect and trust. We have always been able to talk and address matters we’ve faced over the years, not just as owner and player, but as friends.
We had a long talk today and we want to assure Colts fans everywhere that we are both committed to maintaining our close relationship and to working together through any challenges the future may bring.
Irsay, not about to be outdone in a war of words, took to Twitter again:
Peyton has not passed our physical nor has he been cleared to play for The Indianapolis Colts. Team statement coming on Friday.
Then, just to be sure there were no misconceptions (can't have that), Irsay fired another salvo across Manning's bow (on Valentine's Day, no less), telling the Indianapolis Star (who must be simultaneously distraught and giddy about this media brouhaha) that the Colts were "open" to having Manning back if the star signal-caller is open to taking a pay cut:
We can make it work if he wants to be here. ... We’d be excited to have him back and finish his career with us.
I want him to be able to make the choice. We would love to have him back here if he can get healthy and we can look at doing a contract that reflects the uncertainty of the . . . healing process with the regeneration of the nerve.
In other words, Manning has about as much chance of seeing that $28 million on March 8 as I do.
Throw in new reports that indicate that Manning had four operations on his neck (and not the three that had originally been believed), casting more doubts over whether he may ever play again, and you're more or less caught up with the mess that seems to be heading towards Manning's unceremonious exit from Indianapolis and that has sullied the legacies of both men with the Colts.
While the futures of both Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are very cloudy right now, one thing has become pretty clear.
If Manning and Irsay were any better "friends," they'd likely be standing in a field 20 paces apart pointing flintlocks at one another.
Emotion has no logic,rhyme or reason...it just rolls over the helpless,defenseless mind..like tidal waves of passion
—Jim Irsay, Feb. 16, 2012
You can say that again.