In his most expansive interview in recent months, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning tells Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz that he still wants to finish his career in Indianapolis, that the atmosphere around the Colts is extremely depressing because of all the personnel changes, and that he’s still not fully healed from neck problems that have required three surgeries over the last two years.
Manning also said that team owner Jim Irsay, and not newly hired GM Ryan Grigson – or the yet-to-be-decided replacement for head coach Jim Caldwell – will decide his future with the team. Manning is due a $28 million bonus on March 8, and there is still some uncertainty about whether the Colts will make the payment, or will release him from the contract and make him an unrestricted free agent.
"I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that," he said, referring to the practice facility. "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."
Manning called the firings of Caldwell and the rest of the coaching staff, as well as the termination of team president Bill Polian and his son, Chris, the team’s general manager, “tough, very emotional. One of the things about football is, it's a relationship business," Manning said. "Sometimes guys get fired, it goes across the ticker, 'Jim Caldwell got fired' and that's that. But when it's every day in a relationship business ... with Bill (Polian), with Marvin (Harrison), Edge (James), guys who retire, get cut, traded or fired, it's just really hard. I don’t think I have an emotion for it. The new (management) team doesn't have a relationship with these guys like I do, and I know a lot of players feel that way about them (the departing coaches), too."
Manning said he reports to the team’s facility daily in an effort to rehab from his injury, which kept him out the entire 2011 season.
"I mean, it's 20 degrees, it's snowing, the building is absolutely empty except when you see coaches cleaning out their offices," he said. "I guess it's the reality of the football world, just not something I've had to deal with very often. But I'm in there every day, so I have to sit there and see it. Everybody's being evaluated and I'm no different. It's not the best environment.
"I just want to pay tribute to all those guys. It's unfortunate because so many of them have been such a big part of so many big wins here, and this is so ... sudden. Their keys didn't work the next day. There's no other way to do it? I don’t know. That's hard to see, all these people leaving.
"And I may be behind them. Who knows?"
Manning said he still wants to remain with the team in 2012, even though it appears the Colts are almost certain to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall draft pick.
“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," Manning said. "It's been a privilege to play here. I love the fans, the city, the transformation of the fans, how our place has become the toughest stadium to play in, the fact our fans wear more jerseys to games than anybody else. It's been fun to be a part of that.
"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. I've invested too much into this city for that to happen. We live here, we've given lots of time and money to the community and our church, and that's never going to change Nothing changes that.
"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."
Manning said that he’s already helping younger brother Eli with his Super Bowl preparations. But not in terms of talking strategy about how to play the Patriots.
"Well, I've already gone to work for him, getting all my teammates, trying to get their two-ticket allotments," Manning said. "That's what he did for me two years ago and I did that for him four years ago. And I'm helping any way I can, getting him restaurant reservations around town for him and his teammates. Jim (Irsay) called after the game and offered any kind of help he could give, which was generous.
“As far as helping him with the Patriots, really, he doesn't need to talk to me. He played them seven weeks ago. We'll talk about things they do when you face them a second time in the same year, but he knows them better than I do right now.”
Manning attended the Giants’ 20-17 overtime win against the 49ers on Sunday, and met with Eli afterward.
"It was fun Sunday, we talked about third and long situations, the defense San Francisco likes to play. They’ve got (former Colts defensive coordinator) Vic Fangio, and we were saying, 'In this situation, they run this particular coverage, three rushing and eight in coverage, and there are only certain places you can throw it.' I didn't tell him to throw that post route on the touchdown, but that was the kind of defense he was seeing. So it's kind of fun to talk about that stuff.’"