INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FILE: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was reported that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay doesn't expect quarterback Peyton Manning to play again until the 2012 season after Manning underwent his third surgical procedure on his neck in 19 months September 26, 2011. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Jim Irsay plays the fool on Twitter. But after firing Bill and Chris Polian, the Colts owner is free to fool us all, move on from Peyton Manning and into the future.
I follow Colts owner Jim Irsay on Twitter. He's easily the most entertaining tweeter in sports ownership. I like to imagine what he's doing while he tweets, like when he quotes lyrics from "I Am The Walrus" at 8 in the morning. It always seemed like a fascinating glimpse into the life of a carefree millionaire having the fun only second generation money can provide. I know he conducts serious business, but really...how serious could he be?
Dead ass serious, if your last name is Polian. And if your last name's Manning, you might want to watch your back.
With an empty front office, Irsay -- son of the man behind some of the worst PR in history -- has set himself up to quickly and coldly move the Colts into the future. And if it's done, there will be no blood on his hands.
"Fourteen years in the league is a long time," he said casually about the deposed Bill Polian, the architect of the best teams the franchise had seen since relocating 28 years ago. Just as easily, he could have been talking about Peyton Manning. But after Monday's carnage, he won't have to.
Who knows how calculating Irsay is? But looking back, from Peyton Manning's neck surgery until now, things have come together tidily. What has been deemed a dilemma most of the season -- what to do with Manning, and how to do it -- was just made easy.
Either Irsay cleaned house and, inadvertently, stumbled into everything he needs to smoothly let Manning go, or he's Keyser Friggin' Soze.
Bill Polian and his son, general manager Chris, had to go. The Colts have little talent, and what they have may not be there for long.
When explaining to media why the Polians were dismissed, Irsay was frank. "Clearly, we're in a rebuilding mode," he said. "There's no question about that."
My research hasn't turned up a rebuilding plan based on a damaged, expensive, 36-year-old foundation.
The only arguments for keeping Peyton, even for another season, are sentimental. With him, the Colts would not be Super Bowl contenders. Even with No. 18, this was a declining team who lost at home in the Wild Card round last season. Now, Reggie Wayne could leave via free agency, Indy may release Dallas Clark and it has a decision to make on free agent defensive end Robert Mathis. If Manning plays 2012 and the other guys are gone, he and Dwight Freeney could be the only really good players left on a roster where even pretty good players are few and far between.
It's possible Manning's presence could have brought the Colts to 10 wins for the 11th consecutive season, putting them in the postseason and a few breaks from a title. Losing lesser quarterbacks -- as the Falcons did when Michael Vick was lost for 12 games in 2003 -- has crippled teams before. But what were they really going to win in January with a defense designed to play with leads, but seemingly incapable of keeping them?
With his 36th birthday approaching and a bad neck, the Colts are supposed to pay Manning $28 million on March 8? Were we talking about any other player, there would be no need for discussion. Joe Montana, coming off injury, was 36 when he played his last game with the 49ers and was effectively run out of town. It can happen, literally, to the best of ‘em.
But the Niners also had Steve Young, who was first-team All-Pro the year Montana played his last game at Candlestick Park. When he finally got his chance, after being San Francisco's backup for four years, he had started for two years and was too good to displace. And you can't forget: Bill Walsh simply wanted a quarterback to do what the West Coast offense said to, and he didn't think you needed anyone special to do it. That mind frame made even Joe Montana disposable.
It's not that simple with Manning. Since the Indianapolis Colts are almost totally divorced from their Baltimore beginnings, Peyton is their Unitas. As of this moment, he and Irsay are the two left standing from the beginning of the franchise's only period of sustained success since it moved in 1984. On top of any emotional ties, most would argue no player has held more power at his team's facility than Peyton Manning.
A transition isn't about getting a new quarterback, and it's not just ending an era. It's time for an all-around regime change. And in spite of what Irsay said about maybe drafting a quarterback to sit for four years -- before eventually limiting the conversation to 2012 -- Irsay set up his franchise up to move on from Manning if it had to.
And it has to.
The brilliant part? Jim Irsay doesn't have to be the one to do it. If he plays this right, he can do the right thing for his franchise and cover his ass at the same time.
All that's left to do is hire a general manager.
Whoever the Colts' new GM is, he'll have one job: rebuild. He'll be expected to do it as soon as possible. If he's got any sense, from free agency decisions to all things NFL Draft, he'll want to get to that right away.
In 2014, no one's going to care who started at quarterback in 2012. They'll care only about wins and losses.
If you're that GM, what can Peyton Manning do for you? Would you receive credit for the team's success if you picked up his option and the Colts regrouped? Would you want to be on the business end of Brett Favre role play? Would you want to be the one to tell Manning that he could no longer monopolize practice snaps because the kid behind him needs reps? If Peyton's mentoring would be so helpful, why is Curtis Painter awful and Jim Sorgi on TV?
Would you want to ask Peyton Manning to teach his backup, a younger and cheaper option, all the tricks he'll need to take his job? Manning may be a good guy, but he's a prideful man. Plus, his daddy already said he wasn't really going for that (nor would anyone else).
What executive worth his salt would tie up so much of his cap space in one man -- and one position, adding Luck to the equation -- for a headache? Keeping Manning, the face of the era you're charged with leaving behind, sounds cooler than it really is. It doesn't make sense in a world where ego matters. To hire a GM, Irsay is going to have to turn over the decision of what to do at quarterback (and head coach).
If I were him, I'd turn it over like a hot potato. One could argue Irsay owes Manning input in the Colts' future. No one would say that about someone who just showed up from out of town. If you can't pass no-win situations off to someone else, what's the point of being rich?
If he wants, Irsay can get right with both sides. He can continue to speak publicly about everything Manning has done to improve the profile of his team and his city. He can do what CEOs do -- play the loving, fatherly role while someone else does the dirty work. He can be the guy on Twitter.
The GM goes on the clock. Irsay gets to evaluate his future decisions and marvel at how much better Manning and Luck turned out than John Elway and Jeff George, and tweet delightfully about keeping the faith while paying the price for years of personnel mismanagement. In five years, for being the first to name the first track on Quadrophenia, he may even pay a lucky fan's freight to Canton to see Manning receive his yellow blazer.
He is perfectly insulated from the most difficult decision in making a transition from a golden era. From paying Manning $26 million without knowing if he could play this year, to dismissing executives with whom it's been reported Manning had friction, Irsay has been able to stay firmly aligned with the most popular player of his tenure as owner.
Even though, since Manning signed his contract in August, he has been prepared for to move on. If Irsay is savvy enough to know the Polians should have been fired, he must know Manning can only make things but so much better.
Maybe Irsay really is the guy on Twitter, the rare guy goofy enough to bring his heart into a football decision. Call me cynical, but he resembles the usual suspects: always ready to do what needs to be done.
No one claims to know what Irsay will do with Manning. But when the easy play makes the most sense, why do anything else?