Despite cutting him during the 2012 offseason, Colts owner Jim Irsay is thrilled for Peyton Manning's success in Denver.
The former Colt is in the midst of a major playoff run that will culminate at the Super Bowl in New Jersey on Feb. 2. Manning was able to join the Broncos after Irsay decided to cut him loose in favor of drafting Andrew Luck. Both teams have been successful, which Irsay claims is what he wanted to come out of Manning's departure from Indianapolis.
On Wednesday, he told the Indianapolis Star this was all a part of the plan:
"I just couldn't be more excited. This is what we were hoping it was going to be — a win-win situation for everybody. I'm so happy for him. We've already talked this week about getting him some extra (Super Bowl) tickets and I told him, 'You've got it, buddy. Go get 'em. Go win it.' I wish him all the best.
"I couldn't be happier because he will forever be a Colt and a part of so many years of greatness here. I'm just really rooting for him to get that second ring. That would be awesome.
"And we're obviously on track; actually we're past where we thought we would be with Andrew (Luck). If Peyton had stayed, it would have been a joke with what we could have been able to field in 2012. It would have been crazy to think we could have put a team together with Peyton.
This is not the first time that Irsay has acknowledged having no regrets about the decision to move away from Manning. He spoke about being fine with the move back in October, when the Broncos were in the midst of an incredible winning streak and putting up ridiculous offensive numbers. Irsay wanted to bring in youth to sustain success and not be handcuffed to short-term winning:
"We've changed our model a little bit, because we wanted more than one of these," Irsay said, displaying the Super Bowl XLI championship ring on his right hand.
"I think it's perfect," Irsay said. "What's happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended. And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning."
Irsay also alluded to the salary cap forcing his hand in the decision to let go of their once-franchise quarterback:
"Circumstances created this decision," Irsay says. "You have to understand there's no way this occurs if he's in Indy. It's just impossible, where our salary cap was. Having him stay at the type of number that he expected and deserved to earn and all those things."
Manning was scheduled to make a $28 million bonus before his exodus from Indianapolis. Coming off an entire missed season and a possibly career-threatening neck injury at the age of 35, it would have been a huge risk to keep Manning and pass up Luck in the draft. Had the Colts kept Manning with so many question marks and a relatively inadequate roster, Indianapolis could have been in awful shape for quite some time if he was not fully-healed from his injury. Instead, the Colts cut ties with Manning and drafted Luck with the first-overall pick.
While the move to drop Manning freed up a ton of cap space, the Colts failed to add high-priced free agents to their roster. Instead of big name veterans, then-new general manager Ryan Grigson surrounded Luck with several low-cost weapons with low expectations. The Colts re-signed veteran Reggie Wayne to a team-friendly deal before adding NFL journeymen like Mike McGlynn, Donnie Avery and Samson Satele.
Fortunately, the Colts overachieved with a solid draft class, as Luck led them to the playoffs after just a one-year absence from the postseason. Manning, who signed with the Broncos in the offseason, led Denver to the playoffs as well. Both teams were eliminated by the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The Colts failed to use the excess salary cap again in 2013 and currently have $34 million in space for this upcoming offseason. Keeping Manning would have caused an annual struggle to maintain space. In fact, Grigson has acknowledged that Manning was one of the people who encouraged a departure for the sake of the franchise:
"He said, 'You've got to take Andrew,'" Irsay said. "'You have to. You're crazy if you don't."'
While the youth movement in Indianapolis has far exceeded expectations, the Broncos experienced the greatest single-season performance from a quarterback by Manning in 2013. The seemingly ageless passer threw for 55 touchdowns and had a career high with 5,477 passing yards. The Broncos are also the favorite to win the Super Bowl, according to OddsShark. If Denver wins, Manning could choose to stick around and try to win a third championship.
Both sides have clearly benefited from the move and that is exactly what Manning and Isray wanted. As a matter fact, this is exactly what Irsay envisioned when he said goodbye to Manning at his farewell press conference:
"I just think that as a franchise, where we are right now, with the salary cap, we're rebuilding, we're definitely a few years away. I want to see him come back and play great. There's no question about it. It's just here, like in 2001 when he was completely healthy and everything else and we didn't have everything to surround him. I want that opportunity for him as well, to succeed at the end of his career."