Given the current state of affairs in the NFL today, why would the four aforementioned prove worthy of discussion and what if anything, could be the connection?
With Peyton Manning, it's about the "contract talk"; subject of much scrutiny for as long as the question first became relevant.
With Jim Irsay, it's about keeping face amidst uncertain times until he manages to secure the future of his franchise.
With the rest of the Colts, it's about sitting back and awaiting the inevitable (sans the details); their saving grace.
And with Ray Lewis, it's about utilizing one's qualified credentials to state the obvious.
Allow for me if you will, to take you back to a video clip I caught on NFL Network earlier this week.
Perhaps nothing apparently out of the ordinary; "par for the course" as most would expect during the legal Super Bowl that is the owners vs. players.
When prompted to develop an explanation as to why future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning never accepted the Colts' most recent contract-offer, Jim Irsay expressed frustration filtered through a confusion brought upon by either poor analysis (very unlikely), or PR-related falsehood (a safer bet).
"You'd have to give me a reason why, you know, it wouldn't get done. In other words, you can't think of one negative you know: to be with a great franchise, with a legacy city. You know, I know those things mean a lot to him. The money is there. I'm already offering more than any player that's being paid in the league. So why wouldn't it get done? You know, you'd have to ask yourself or them."
Mr. Irsay, with all due respect (and I mean that sincerely); you cannot be serious.
As far as you’re concerned, "you can't think of one negative"?
I watched the product that you and Bill Polian (President of the Indianapolis Colts) put on the football field in 2010 and there were "negatives" aplenty; none of which were even slightest bit reminiscent of a "great franchise".
I'll start with the obvious.
The Colts' offensive line, running game, run defense, special teams, and head coach.
There's more; but I'll refrain for a moment and stick to the basics.
Where within the five above-mentioned aspects could any logical owner, analyst, or fan not find "one negative"?
Did you mean "great" by past association firmly affixed to the coattails of your own un-signed quarterback's success?
Yes, the Colts have won more games in a single-decade than any team in NFL history.
Yes, the same Colts who went 10-6 in 2002, 12-4 in 2003, 12-4 in 2004, 14-2 in 2005, 12-4 in 2006, 13-3 in 2007, 12-4 in 2008, 14-2 in 2009, and 10-6 in 2010 have extended an NFL record of consecutive seasons with ten or more victories, to which there is no close second.
Sure, two conference championships and one Super Bowl victory during that span might not be quite "up to par" with the golden glory of some of the truly "great" franchises; but it's nothing to scoff at either.
To me, a "great franchise" would remain "great" with the absence of one player; or at the very least, they'd have to remain respectable.
Which brings me to Ray Lewis.
Considered by many to be the greatest defensive player of his entire generation (heck, perhaps the past two); surely his opinion regarding the caliber of Peyton Manning and the Colts would be qualified enough to consider.
"You can put in whatever piece you want with 18, 18 will make it work; all he says is just find your way open, I'll get the ball there. And that's where the Reggie Wayne's, the Dallas Clark's, the Marvin Harrison's; that's how dominant he is. If you take him out of the game, no disrespect to nobody else on the Colts, but you make them a very below-average ball club."
Keep in mind of course that Ray's narration and comments were likely produced prior to the 2010 season; making his judgments at least partially reflective of a Colts team that had just made it to the Super Bowl.
Yet, he considers the same team that Jim Irsay called a "great franchise" to be "a very below-average ball club" without one player?
That's a monumental difference.
We're not talking about comparing the 2007 Patriots to the 2008 Patriots, where the drop-off in caliber was significant in the absence of Tom Brady; yet the team remained competitive (going 11-5) without him.
Ray Lewis just called a Super Bowl team (though he was likely referring to the Colts during the totality of Manning's tenure) a "very below-average ball club" if they were to ever be without their currently un-signed quarterback.
And Mr. Irsay cannot think of "one negative" that might detract Manning's eagerness to sign up for more of the same?
Peyton Manning is the most productive and consistent player in NFL history.
He moves his team up and down the field more than anyone in the 90-year history of the sport.
He puts more points on the board than anyone in the 90-year history of the sport.
He "coaches" and runs his offense more so than any quarterback in the league today.
He's led his team to more victories during the course of a single decade than any other quarterback in NFL history; and he didn’t have to take over a good team to do it.
He took over the worst team in the entire league to do it.
The actual quality of support provided to help Manning accomplish this has been discussed ad nauseum.
As poor front-office decisions have continued to cost Manning's legacy, personally.
Which brings us to the final contract of his career; his final opportunity to solidify the greatest legacy in NFL history to those who fail to comprehend its reality (unfair perhaps, but that's how it goes); and you wonder why he hasn't accepted this generous offer?
You lose potential Hall of Fame head coach in Tony Dungy, and look who you've replaced him with; a man who failed miserably at the NCAA level.
Bill Polian admits that the Colts offensive-line played a significant role in losing Super Bowl XLIV, yet they bolster up Manning's pass-protection with un-drafted failure.
Your running backs are terrified that they might run into their own confused linemen, as they sprint with caution and at times, a complete and utter lack of field vision.
You forget the defensive-tackle position even exists.
You abandon the special teams return game all together.
And you still can't think of "one negative"?
I've never seen an individual athlete so dedicated to his craft, so dedicated to his team, and you reward his efforts by offering him the keys to the mansion he built under the guise that you're being generous by giving him a place to live.
People act like it's all about the money; but do you really think that if there was stability in Indianapolis (which clearly, there isn’t), that Manning would scoff at the opportunity to become the highest paid player in NFL history backed by a truly "great franchise"?
You get another child please.
Assuming Manning ends up with another million or two per-season added to his contract; that's a blip on his radar.
The money he makes from endorsements will overshadow any "additional" salary that might be earned by holding out.
Try this one on for size: if you hire competent coaching-staff to ease the need for Manning to "over-coordinate" on the field, those extra hours out of the film room (which would still leave him as the most studious player in the league) could be invested into a few more commercials that would certainly prove to be more lucrative that what he’s already doing.
Misinformed people have been salivating at the opportunity to paint Manning as "selfish" at the defense of his poor Colts who now have to pay well for a solid foundation to hold up their very shaky home.
The same "selfish" Manning who sat back, kept his mouth shut for years as less qualified quarterbacks were rewarded with greater contracts. There was no escalation with Manning who could have demanded re-negotiation in light of an ever-evolving salary cap.
Yet, some insist that it is Manning who owes the city of Indianapolis a hometown discount.
Keep in mind that we're not talking about an actual "great franchise" that has provided an un-qualified Manning to ride the coattails of their success.
If ever there were a team that didn't deserve the proverbial hometown discount, it's the Colts.
If ever there were a player that does deserve to be compensated for his overtime, it's Peyton Manning.
Though it may be politically incorrect, though it may violate the idealistic notion that being “team-first” is always the correct standard of thinking, there are exceptions to the rule.
If you really want to be “fair” that is.
Manning’s too classy to ever verbally detail the team’s shortcomings in public and because of such, Mr. Irsay has been enabled with the opportunity to create a public-perception of generosity towards his star quarterback, all the while the media has been served up a fresh opportunity to paint the legend selfish.
Right now, there is plenty wrong in Indianapolis.
And truth be told, if Peyton were given the opportunity to do the unthinkable, to explore options with more competent franchises, just imagine the possibilities.
Could you imagine Peyton Manning playing for the New York Jets?
What kind of conversations would we be having today if last season, Peyton Manning ran the Jets offense while Rex Ryan ran the Jets defense; all the while Mark Sanchez was blessed with the opportunity to play behind the Colts vaunted offensive line, backed on the other side of the ball by Indy's suffocating defense?
And while better opportunities might have very well become available had the Colts not placed the franchise-tag on Manning (that’s of course assuming the tag is even legally applicable given the current state of affairs between the owners and players), the bottom line is that Peyton suffers from “Marinoism” and will remain loyal to the franchise until the very end of his career.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing as loyalty (especially in the face of adversity) is an admirable trait.
What bothers me about Manning remaining so loyal is the innuendo that suggests that he owes it to the Colts, and that anything that deviates from that notion should be branded a selfish act on Manning’s behalf.
The situation is what it is: you have a future Hall of Fame quarterback coming off an under-appreciated season (perhaps more impressive than even his MVP year in 2009 given the circumstances), being faced with a contract situation in which he himself remains under the microscope.
Due to Manning’s over-compensating performance for years, the franchise has been able to run-rampant with an inflated perception of caliber, all the while using that belief to paint an inaccurate picture of what they’re offering their greatest benefactor during his hour of need.
The countless members of the media, reporters, and analysts alike with little ability to rationally evaluate Manning’s career have forced the need for him to adhere to a flawed criteria in order to firmly establish a legacy that is in actuality, already complete.
But given the reality of the above-stated situation Manning faces as a result of incompetent analyzation, logical critics should then forfeit the right to criticize the ways in which Manning handles his means to get there.
No doubt he will remain active in the NFL for years to come; but while his passion for the sport he was born into will always serve as the primary motivation for a continued dedication to his craft, he still plays for the naysayers who demand he live up to their billing regardless of their own inability to comprehend the circumstances he’s played (and will continue to play) under.
Could it be possible that while Manning is without question the best thing for the Colts, the Colts might not be the best thing for Manning?
Sacrilege, I know; and I’m speaking as a Colts fan who very much wants our star quarterback to remain with the team for the rest of his career.
But if it be his destiny to dedicate the final years of his career to the city of Indianapolis, I’m being generous by stating that the franchise could do a lot more for Peyton.
Within no team will you find every aspect of their roster to be perfect, but if Jim Irsay and Bill Polian can sit back and sincerely tell themselves that they’ve done everything they practically could to provide the team with the best head coach available, best offensive line available, best running game available, best run defense available, and best return game available, then I must say that it’s time for a serious wake-up call.
The Colts were once a formidable team that even beyond the efforts of their star quarterback, possessed a talented roster with a heart and passion to become competitive in our modern-day NFL.
Whether or not they can recapture that is yet to be determined.
But if you want to put your best foot forward, you cannot begin by playing oblivious to the fact that there might actually be legitimate reasons why you’re quarterback isn’t enthralled with this alleged “great franchise” you’ve offered him.
Most (if not all) of these discussions will be made behind closed-doors; so for those in the media scratching their heads in confusion as to why Manning hasn’t signed a contract-extension yet, I suggest that you lay off the senseless and impractical notion that money is the heart of the matter and take a greater look at the issues that stand to plague Manning’s future if he does indeed make the decision that everyone else has already decided for him to be the “right” decision to make.
There’s a lot to consider, opinions will differ, and the truth might lie somewhere in between.
But just understand that when it comes to Peyton Manning and his contract-talk, there’s a lot more at stake than most people will take the time to concern themselves with.
It’s just easier to paint the dedicated selfish.
It just “sounds right”, which is all most ever needed to begin with.