Should the Indianapolis Colts try to trade the face of their franchise, none other than one Peyton Manning, this offseason?
I say yes, only if the price is right - AND the Colts have already secured the rights to selecting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck by "earning" the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Manning holds all of the cards?
As it stands, the Colts' brain trust has to make up their collective mind about paying Manning a $28 million option bonus. He is essentially untradable without reducing that figure by restructuring his contract, so No. 18 would have to be willing to renegotiate his deal. The Colts will be on the hook for a $38.8 million salary cap charge in 2012 if they opt to pay the bonus and trade him. If he says no way to a restructured deal, Indy will be in a precarious spot.
Should they outright release him? The way it breaks down, according to NFL Network's Michael Lombardi, is the Colts could release him within an unspecified early 2012 window and be on the hook for just $1.5 million over the next two years. Manning's willingness to redo his deal will be telling - likely enough to give us an idea of where he will not be playing in 2012 (if he plays at all).
Manning talked about how it wasn't important to him to be the highest paid player in the league before he signed his five-year, $90 million deal last summer. He took less overall, but the upfront money is crippling. The Colts have free agents in wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Robert Mathis and center Jeff Saturday that make up key pieces of a potential title run in the next two years. For the team's sake, Manning would be stupid and selfish if he refused to rework his deal into an incentive-laden pact. Unfortunately, Manning holds the leverage, because 1) some team would take a chance on him if the Colts were to let him walk 2) his trade value is at an all-time low.
Respected Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz recently wrote:
"Let's say the Colts keep Manning for two years and then trade him. (I'm tossing out this option for conversation's sake; there's no way Luck is coming here, or should come here, if he's sitting for two years). In that case, the Colts will take an immediate $19.2 million cap hit on the remainder of Manning's contract. Add Luck's contract and a backup, you're looking at about $27 million in quarterbacks."
I don't buy this logic. Indianapolis had no problem paying more than that per year for just Manning, so including a highly touted replacement in the figure as insurance is not only feasible but smart. Remember, rookie players make far less than they used to with the new collective bargaining agreement.
There has been chatter about whether Manning and Luck can coexist for a year or two; I say they will have to find a way, because that is what professionals do. While Manning has the leverage, it would hardly surprise me to see Indianapolis decision-maker Bill Polian use this spring as a prime opportunity to get rid of one-time Super Bowl winner. The 36-year-old is coming off three neck surgeries in 19 months. Indy would almost be stupid not to put all of their eggs in Luck's basket at this point. However, that doesn't me this is what I think will happen.
My feeling is Manning will quarterback the Colts in 2012 if he physically is able to such. A healthy Peyton playing at a high level should rectify a lot of problems on both sides of the ball, but Indianapolis needs to improve their personnel along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.
Luck will serve as Peyton's backup and as an understudy in 2012. If the Colts were to somehow win the Super Bowl in '12, Manning could ride off into the sunset if he wished to. That would be the ideal transition into the Luck era, but it is unrealistic for a number of obvious reasons. Assuming the Colts do not win the league championship in 2012, Polian has an easy out on Manning - both financially and in terms of justification to the fan base.
Oddly enough, the injured Manning - who may never play again - has the team grovelling at his mercy. His response will go a long way in depicting how much of a team-first player he really is. Manning's long-running sense of entitlement still has one last major chance to dictate how the franchise runs their organization.
Adversity shows one's true colors. Manning hasn't faced much of it as a Colt ... I hope he does the right thing.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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