Peyton Manning to Broncos: 2 Franchises Hang in the Balance After Signing

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistMarch 20, 2012

Great googly moogly.
Great googly moogly.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay loves to play guitar in his office.

Today, as he sat and listened to Denver Broncos press conference introducing Peyton Manning as their new quarterback, I'd like to think he was strumming some John Lennon.

"Borrowed Time?" Nah. Nothing that smug.

"I Just Can't Face It?" Closer, but not quite right.

"Instant Karma?" Hell yes. It's gonna get you.

John Elway introduced his franchise quarterback to Denver Broncos fans today as details of a five-year, $96 million contract were released. The money was staggering, but it was the length of the agreement that sent a dagger through the collective heart of Colts fans everywhere.

Five years.

About two weeks ago, the Indianapolis Colts parted ways with Peyton Manning after declining to pay him what can now only be considered fair-market value. Irsay and the local press spun the decision as good business. After all, there's the future to consider.

With the Colts sitting on the first overall pick in the draft and the complex on West 56th Street purged of most everyone loyal to Manning, the Colts elected to move on.

"Don't worry! He's finished!" came the whispers. Even today, Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star mused that only the Colts know the true extent of Manning's ailments. I'll be the first to confess that there was a time when I believed that was true.

I don't anymore.

As Manning held up a bright orange jersey, my entire city cringed. It might as well be a horseshoe with a bulls-eye on it. Not only is Manning determined to play in 2012, but he also sounds every bit like a man who is determined to play for another five years.

A few weeks ago, the apologists asked if you would trade 10 years with Andrew Luck for two or three more years with Manning. The math seemed so simple and obvious. 10 is greater than three. Of course, they forgot to mention is that 18 is greater than 12.

Someone, either Elway or Irsay, has made a horrible mistake. If Manning truly isn't as healthy as he lets on, then Elway just committed the most egregious mistake of his career. For this deal to work out, Manning can't just be healthy enough to play. He has to be healthy enough to truly be Peyton Manning.

If there's one thing we've all learned through this ordeal, it's that Manning has absolutely no clue as to his own limitations, according to Sports Illustrated. This was a Super Bowl signing, not a 9-7 Wild Card contender signing. If Manning can't be what he was, this will be a disaster for the Broncos.

If Manning is truly healed, then Elway has just welcomed five years of the beautiful game to Denver, Colorado. At the height of his powers, there is no one more fun to watch than Manning. When he catches fire, he burns hotter and brighter than any star in the NFL galaxy.

If Peyton Manning is truly Peyton Manning again, the only thing at risk in Denver is Elway's status as the greatest quarterback the Mile High City has ever seen.

If that happens, then a glorious time for the Broncos will be just as bitter for the Colts. Manning is more to the city of Indianapolis than just a quarterback. He was the de facto monarch. His helmet was a crown and the football was his scepter, and his loyal subjects will not be pleased to watch him succeed elsewhere.

Irsay was lauded by the national media for making the safe, smart choice in cutting Manning. He played the long game. He bet on the future. He bet against Manning staying healthy. If Manning retires in 2014, Irsay is golden.

But five years? Five years is an eternity. If Manning indeed plays that long, then it would have been more than enough time for the Colts to retool, especially armed with the bounty that the No. 1 pick would bring.

No, what Irsay did was not safe at all. He gambled with affections of his patrons, many of whom love Manning as much or more than the team itself. If Manning is out of the game in two years, then Irsay will have won the day. It doesn't much matter what Andrew Luck does at this point.

Winning with him would not be as meaningful to thousands of Colts fans as winning with Manning would have been. Luck could be a five-time All-Pro and a Hall of Famer, but he still won't mean to Indianapolis what Manning meant.

Five more years.

If he plays that long, Colts fans will forever feel cheated. Not by Peyton Manning for leaving, but by Jim Irsay for letting him go.

No one in Indianapolis felt much like joining Jimmy in song today. Colts fans should have been playing "Grow Old With Me," but instead are left "Crippled Inside."