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Colts owner says Peyton Manning makes the call on returning

By Reggie Hayes, The News-Sentinel (Fort Wayne, Ind.) –

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is losing his nerve on ending the Peyton Manning Era. Now he wants Manning to do the dirty work for him.

For much of the last month, all we’ve heard from Irsay is “rebuilding” and “new era” and saying tough goodbyes, shedding tears and letting it all hang out on Twitter.

Now, suddenly, Irsay says it’s up to Manning whether he remains with the Colts.

“We want this to be his decision,” Irsay told ESPN on Tuesday. “We want him back if he wants to come back. We can work out the contract if he wants to work it out. It’s going to be Peyton’s call.”

Well, there is one catch: Manning won’t be getting that $28 million or the rest of that contract he agreed to last summer. If he wants to stay with the Colts, Irsay says he’s going to have to renegotiate, take a pay cut and tie it into when and if he’s healthy again. And, of course, he’ll need to be prepared to give some helpful tips to Andrew Luck. Does this feel like a hug to you?

After Irsay (via Twitter and impromptu interviews) and Manning (via agent and ESPN sources) went back and forth and overshadowed some of the Super Bowl, they vowed to meet and hash out Manning’s future.

That meeting has yet to take place. Irsay should have shown restraint, waited to meet with Manning, come to an agreement with Manning and then told the world. But, no, he has become some sort of mixture of George Steinbrenner and Mark Cuban, unable to keep his mouth shut or stay out of the limelight.

Irsay talked to both ESPN and the Indianapolis Star about the Manning situation on Tuesday and the gist was the same: Manning can come back to the Colts if he reworks his contract to reflect the uncertain nature of his health.

On the surface, this is a logical idea. After all, the Colts have paid Manning handsomely over the years and he was unable to play in a game last season. The healing of Manning’s body from neck surgery and the necessary nerve regeneration has been slower than some expected.

So it would seem fair for Manning to re-work his deal, take less if he can’t play and put some incentive pieces in there if he returns to form. On the other hand, there’s something odd about Manning, one of the all-time greats, being forced to prove how much he’s worth.

This seems as if Irsay is simply trying to back off the decision he had already made to blow up the Colts and start from scratch. He fired vice chairman Bill Polian. He fired general manager Chris Polian. He fired coach Jim Caldwell and his staff.

There’s a new GM in Ryan Grigson, a new coach in Chuck Pagano, a new staff and a new quarterback on the way.

Manning didn’t seem to fit anymore, and Irsay’s statements along the way reflected that.

Now, it seems, some mixture of nostalgia and cold feet has Irsay trying to force Manning to make the decision whether to return. In Irsay’s new scenario, if Manning decides not to rework his deal and the Colts pass on picking up his option, Manning becomes a free agent of his own choice. Irsay can then talk about how he tried to keep Manning with the Colts and the quarterback opted out.

I don’t know what Manning is thinking these days. He wants to play again. That much seems certain. He has said on multiple occasions he’d like to finish his career with the Colts. He has mentioned that he could coexist with Luck.

Luck, to his credit, has not made any demands about starting immediately, etc. In fact, I’d say Luck is the only one in this drama who knows how to keep from talking too much.

But if Manning would agree to rework his deal and stay with the Colts, won’t we be faced with more drama a year from now, when Luck (or maybe Robert Griffin III, if this story takes another twist) needs to get moving into the “new era”?

It’s best for the Colts and for Manning to part ways. Let Manning find a place to finish his career, if he can return to form, without feeling he’s in the way of the Next Big Thing quarterback behind him.

Let the Colts move on with their rebuilding project. Considering how this team is on the verge of an overhaul (the Colts have not called free agent receiver Reggie Wayne to talk, for example), Manning will be too old to matter by the time new pieces are in place.

Irsay’s latest maneuver seems intended to take some of the guilt off the owner for the eventual parting of ways with Manning.

Irsay shouldn’t feel guilty, actually. It’s a business. He has to do what’s best for his team’s long-term health. Manning’s short-term health is too unpredictable to base the future on him.

Irsay will lose the public-relations battle against Manning, as Manning remains America’s favorite funny commercial sports star.

This can still end peacefully, if a bit sadly. But it needs to end behind closed doors, not in a media feeding frenzy of sound bites and verbal volleys.

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