Peyton’s Super Soap Opera

Will Peyton Manning be with the Jets next season? Who has a better chance of signing the future Hall of Fame quarterback: the Dolphins or the Redskins?

What are the odds of Manning playing at all next season or ever again? Is he finished?

If anyone tells you they have the answer to any of the questions above, they’re lying.

Not even Peyton Manning knows where he will be next season. Not yet.

About the only thing for certain is that Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay both are aware that the franchise quarterback has played his last game for the Colts.

Soon the two men will sit down and make official what has become painfully obvious over the past few weeks. The Colts will decline to pay Manning the $28 million dollar roster bonus he would be owed in early March. In return, Manning will become a free agent. Free to sell his injured wares to any other team willing to gamble millions on his future health.

Manning and Irsay have been at odds since the quarterback gave the Indianapolis Star a wide-ranging interview in which he complained about the unhealthy atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Manning had been conducting his rehab.

Of course it was unhealthy. The general manager, most of the coaches and staff were packing their belongings into boxes after being let go. The ones who hadn’t been fired yet were wondering when the call would come. The team’s strength and conditioning coach found out that he was fired while working with Manning on his rehab.

Irsay called Manning a politician, someone who was campaigning to turn the fans against the owner. He criticized his star player for not keeping his feelings in-house.

It’s basically been a tennis match ever since, with both sides lobbing the issue in the other’s court. Finally the two sides agreed to a cease-fire, at least until the Super Bowl is over. But still the game goes on.

Word recently surfaced that Manning was finished. He would not be able to play again. Irsay’s name wasn’t behind it, but his message was: Retire as a Colt, Peyton. Manning responded by giving another interview, one in which he announced that he had no intention of retiring. He feels great and his rehab is right on schedule.

Basically, it comes down to this: Irsay wants Manning to take him off the hook. The owner remembers how his father stood by as Johnny Unitas was shipped off to San Diego at the end of his career. He doesn’t want to be the guy who forced Manning out of Indianapolis, but the numbers just don’t add up to keep No. 18.

Even if Manning is released, whether or not he signs with another team or retires, he still counts $10 million against the Colts’ cap next season. If the Colts paid him the roster bonus in March, the cap hit would be worse. And they still wouldn’t  know if the nerve in Manning’s neck would regenerate enough so that he could play at his former level.  

Irsay is telling Manning to look around. Interpret the signs. The Polians are gone, the coaching staff has been turned over. We’re drafting a new franchise quarterback in April. The Colts have turned the page. Now you need to do the right thing and retire as a Colt.

But Manning doesn’t like being shown the door in a place he helped build. He’ll say all the right things in the end, but Manning will let Irsay squirm awhile before he lets him off the hook.

Irsay said last week that he paid Manning $26 million last year although he realized that the quarterback would miss the entire season.

He didn’t say, “Isn’t that enough?”

But he didn’t have to. Apparently, at least to Manning, it’s not. The Super Soap Opera continues.

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