Both Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning addressed the media this week (highlighted by Stew here) to discuss Manning's injury and the idea of him playing football again. It sounds like Peyton may indeed play again in 2011, and it also sounds like he may never play football again. Depending on whose comments you've read and how you've interpreted them, your conclusion is probably somewhere in the middle. What caught me off-guard was Peyton's admittance that the deal was essentially a one-year deal with a four-year extension:
The contract, I was the one that helped construct it in the manner that it is. It’s a one-year deal with a four-year extension, if you will. It was my recommendation, that I wasn’t healthy when I signed the contract and if I’m not healthy in February I think it’s fair for the Colts to be able to make their decision there.
Such a contract gives both sides flexibility in dealing with Manning's recovery. If all goes well, Manning suits up again in 2012 (possibly even the end of 2011), and plays out the rest of his contract. If Manning's neck doesn't heal properly, he can retire from the NFL while leaving the Colts with an easy out from his burdensome contract. Unfortunately, his recovery isn't so cut-and-dry. According to Manning himself, the team will likely make a decision on his future in February. In my opinion, here are the two likely scenarios: Scenario #1: Peyton returns to practice at some point in December. He may or may not suit up in a regular season game, but he gets to practice with the Colts for nearly a month. He'll need clearance from the team doctors in order to practice, so then it becomes a matter of how his body reacts to throwing. Assuming everything goes well with Peyton's recovery, the Colts pay him the $28 million that he's due in 2012, and Peyton will play out the remaining 4 years on his contract. The only problem with this line of thinking: I don't think Manning will come back next season UNLESS he intends on playing out the final 4 years of his contract. He helped structure the contract. He called for the "4-year extension" beyond 2011. Believe it or not, that's the scary part for me. Can Peyton really trust his arm/neck/tricep for the next 4 years? Does he want to endure another 4 years of physical punishment in the NFL? It's one thing for his surgery to fully recover heading into the 2012 season, but it's hard to imagine Peyton trusting his health through 2015. What if this time off from football has opened Peyton's eyes to the rest of his family – and he decides he wants to be a full-time father and husband? Which brings us to the next scenario: Scenario #2: Peyton Manning retires from the National Football League. Mark my words: Manning will never play for another NFL team besides the Indianapolis Colts. If Manning can't play out the remainder of his contract, I firmly believe he will retire. If somehow he believes he can only play another year or two, I believe he'd retire. If the Colts aren't satisfied with Manning's recovery by February, he'd retire. If Manning realized that family is more important than football at this point in his career, he'd retire. Simply put: I think there's a good chance that Peyton Manning retires from the NFL in February. I hope I'm wrong, I hope he plays at an elite level for the remaining 4 years of his contract. But just about every step of the process has been worse than we've originally feared. First, we denied he was hurt at all. Later, it was reported that the injury bothered Manning for most of 2010, if not before. Then, we thought he'd get better this off-season with some rest and rehab. Then Manning needed surgery in May, with a 6-8 week recovery. 3 months later, Manning needed yet another surgery, and has been out indefinitely. What's been described as a minor tingling sensation in 2010 has now threatened the career of Peyton Manning. I'm bracing myself for anything at this point; and the way things have been trending, the outlook isn't very good. So what should the team do? Sit and wait. Like Manning said, a lot depends on his status in December and in February. If the Colts are to bring him back for 2012, than the team (and Manning) is likely committed to him until 2015. One interesting idea would be for Manning's contract to be re-structured. I'm not a salary cap/contract expert, but I believe the Colts could opt out of the contract's remaining 4 years, only to re-sign Manning to a smaller contract. It may be wishful thinking, but maybe Manning feels like he owes the team a discount after earning $23 million this season (like he owes this franchise anything more). If I were Jim Irsay, even with my allegiance to Peyton Manning, I'd be very wary of paying out the remaining years of his contract. If, and only if, Manning is 100% recovered by February, would I write him a check. So here's to a full and healthy recovery, Peyton. [poll id="10"]