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Manning hits market with new determination to prove he's still got it

by | National NFL Insider

Where will Manning be signing autographs for fans next season? (US Presswire)  
Where will Manning be signing autographs for fans next season? (US Presswire)  

The news isn't surprising. Every corner of the NFL knew Peyton Manning was leaving Indianapolis. Still, the finality of it hits hard. It's over. Manning is gone.

The Colts and Manning will announce Wednesday that Manning and the team will end their 14-year relationship. One source close to the situation said the talks between Manning, his agent and owner Jim Irsay went down to the wire.

The focus of the last set of talks focused on the risk of Manning and his four neck surgeries. Irsay, the source said, wanted Manning to accept a contract that would deal with Manning's uncertain future. Despite a public stance to the contrary, Manning wanted Irsay to pay his $28 million bonus. The discrepancy between those two likely will be fought over for some time.

More on Peyton Manning

In the end, however, the parting was amicable. Manning and Irsay said heartfelt goodbyes. To be clear, the parting was not hostile.

Manning has made it clear to the Colts he intends to keep playing. He becomes a free agent immediately.

I'm also told that Manning is more motivated than ever before. A person close to Manning who has known him his entire career says he's rarely seen Manning so determined to prove people wrong.

Already, the body not even cold, a multitude of NFL sources says there will be almost a cattle call for Manning's services with Miami, Arizona, Washington, Kansas City, and Seattle leading the way. One team to monitor closely is the New York Jets. The Jets have had numerous opportunities to deny any interest in Manning but have refused to do so. And I'm told their interest is more than fleeting and that they're as interested as any team.

Manning has yet to make up his mind on a potential destination, the source close to Manning said.

Despite the fact the football universe knew this move was coming it's still stunning to see. The greatest free agent of all time might be Reggie White but the greatest quarterback free agent ever will be Manning. In a quarterback league where accurate throwers are extremely rare, Manning can instantly transform a franchise into a winner when he is healthy.

Manning spent 14 years in Indianapolis and perhaps the closest comparison is San Francisco parting ways with Joe Montana. Jerry Rice played in Oakland. John Unitas finished his career in San Diego, not Baltimore. Joe Namath finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram. Brett Favre finished everywhere.

This is the nastiness of the sport. Fourteen years means nothing. Winning a Super Bowl means little when it comes to cash and salary cap and neck issues. Consider Manning's numbers: 141 wins as a starter, 54,828 passing yards (third all-time), 399 passing scores (third all-time) and 63 300-yard games which is best in history. I used to call Manning "Stat Boy" because he put up incredible numbers without Super Bowl wins but he evolved into something bigger and more important both to the Colts and the NFL.

Despite Manning's greatness the Colts don't care about graceful exits. They'll have Andrew Luck. To them, it's time to move on. To them, and perhaps rightfully so, sentimentality destroys franchises.

"A friendly reminder," tweeted Chad Ochocinco, "that the NFL is a business."

Now comes the tough part for Manning. He has to not only heal his neck but prove to teams his body won't disintegrate with the first hard hit. It's likely if the neck does hold up Manning can play football at a high level another three or four years.

So, yes, it's over. A legend moves on just as the Colts hope Luck will create an entirely new championship arc.

Good luck with that, kid. You're following Sinatra.

And goodbye, Mr. Manning.

See you in Miami?


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