Peyton Manning bid an emotional farewell to the Colts today, ending a 14-year relationship that began as the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and ended with his team deciding to part ways after he missed the 2011 season because of a neck problem that required four surgical procedures over the last two years.
“In life and in sports, nothing lasts forever,” Manning said at a news conference at the Colts’ headquarters in Indianapolis. He spoke with team owner Jim Irsay, who made the decision to release the quarterback, by his side. “It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans and I will always enjoy having played for such a great team. I’ll always be a Colt. That’ll never change.”
Manning, who turns 36 on March 24, said he wants to continue his career, but isn’t sure where he’ll play next. Among the teams that are expected to have interest: the Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals, Seahawks, Chiefs and possibly others. But before moving on, he thanked the people of Indianapolis.
“I haven’t thought yet about where I’ll play, but I have thought a lot about where I’ve been,” Manning said. “I’ve truly been blessed to play here, to be in the NFL. And as I go, I want to address Colts fans everywhere: Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
Manning has been working out the last several months in an attempt to resume his career, and he has improved to the point where he is nearly ready to resume his regular regimen.
“I’m feeling closer and closer,” he said. “It sure feels comfortable, feels kind of like home being out there [on the practice field]. For me not being able to go out on the field, October, November, December, that was difficult. I still have some work to do, but I look forward to doing that work and to keep making progress.”
Manning will be put on waivers this afternoon, and teams will be free to sign him as soon as they are notified that he has been released.
"I don't want to retire,” Manning said. “I still want to play. I love playing quarterback."
Irsay said the circumstances surrounding Manning’s situation, not the least of which is the Colts’ salary cap limitation, led to today’s decision. Manning was due a $28 million roster bonus by tomorrow if the Colts wanted to retain him.
“I think people lose track of the salary cap,” Irsay said. “Just to sign our draft picks, we’re going to have to make more roster moves.”
Irsay said he had many discussions with Manning in recent weeks to review the quarterback’s situation as it related to the Colts’ future. In the end, Irsay felt he had to move on and resume a rebuilding phase the team hasn’t experienced since Manning first came to the team as the top pick in 1998. The Colts, who have the first overall selection in this year’s draft, are expected to select either Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, who won this year’s Heisman Trophy.
“In the history of sports through the last century, there’s been in team sports a handful of Hall of Fame great players that have done incredible things for franchises,” Irsay said. “In my heart and the hearts of our fans, it’s unparalleled [what Manning has done]. It’s a difficult day here of shared pain between Peyton, myself, the fans, everyone.”
Irsay announced that the Colts would retire Manning’s No. 18 jersey. The four-time MVP set all of the team’s key passing records during his career, and will go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, almost certainly on the first ballot once he is eligible five years after his final season.
“This day is difficult because of the greatness Peyton has done for our city, our state and our franchise,” Irsay said. “There will be no other Peyton Manning.”