In 2009 the Indianapolis Colts were the champions of the AFC, as quarterback Peyton Manning was named the National Football League MVP for the fourth time while leading the Colts to a 14-2 record before eventually falling to the New Orleans Saints in Super XLIV.
Fast forward just over two years, four procedures on Manning's neck, and fewer wins the past two seasons combined then they had in 2009 and the Colts have now begun one of the most extensive overhauls in the recent history of the NFL, blowing up a team of high-priced veterans that has been one of the most successful squads in the NFL over the past decade after a catastrophic 2-14 season a year ago.
The rebuilding started at the top, as team owner Jim Irsay fired team president Bill Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell after the season, and kicked into high gear when the once unthinkable happened Wednesday when the Colts released Manning after he missed all of last season rather than paying the 14-year veteran a $28 million roster bonus.
Manning may be the first high-profile Colts player to be jettisoned this offseason but it appears he will be far from the last, as the team followed up Manning's release with a frenetic round of full-on house cleaning Friday, releasing a bevy of veteran players including linebacker Gary Brackett and tight end Dallas Clark according to a report on ESPN.
The Colts also released halfback Joseph Addai, tight end Dallas Clark, safety Melvin Bullitt, linebacker Gary Brackett and quarterback Curtis Painter.
"These players all made tremendous contributions to the organization and will forever be members of the Colts family," Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. "It's always difficult to make these decisions which the nature of the salary cap requires. Their legacies with the Colts will be forever remembered by the organization, fans and Indianapolis community. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors."
The purge could be far from over, as the Colts are also apparently shopping the services of defensive end Dwight Freeney, who will likely be released or traded due to the fact that his 2012 salary cap number is a gaudy $19 million, and wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon as well as center Jeff Saturday will likely depart the team in free agency.
This exodus of stalwarts is a bittersweet time for fans that enjoyed both their individual exploits over the years and the success they brought on the gridiron to the city of Indianapolis, but as saddening as these moves are they were also necessary, as although Manning's absence was a huge blow to the team a year ago it was far from the only reason that the Colts struggled, as Peyton Manning's injury simplify magnified an alarming number of holes in the Colts defense, offensive line, and running game borne of an aging team and several questionable personnel moves over the past several seasons.
Once the decision was made to move on from Manning it made sense to blow up the team and start from scratch so-to-speak, beginning by drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in the NFL draft and continuing by adding young talent around him with the financial flexibility that these cuts will provide in the future, including the nearly $20 million that the team will save against the 2013 salary cap with Friday's cuts.
2012 may not be a much better season for the Indianapolis Colts than 2011 was but Colts fans can take a bit a solace from the franchise's past, as the last time the team was in this position they drafted Peyton Manning with the first overall pick in 1998, lurched to a 3-13 record, traded star running back Marshall Faulk that offseason, and by the end of the 1999 season were a 13-3 team that won what would be the first of eight division titles over a 12 year stretch.