At some point before March 8, the Indianapolis Colts will release Peyton Manning to avoid paying him a $28 million roster bonus. That would leave Manning free to go ahead and sign with another team in desperate need of his services (coughJETScough).
The problem is that Archie Manning went on the radio the other day and expressed doubts as to whether or not his son will be ready to play next season:
Appearing on Yahoo! Sports Radio on Monday, Archie Manning said he was unsure if his son would be able to play in 2012 after missing the entire 2011 season while recovering from his third neck procedure in less than two years.
To say that Manning's injury complicates his future is a mild understatement. It virtually guarantees his release from the Colts, since the Colts will have to draft Andrew Luck and will be unwilling to restructure Manning's contract if they know he's not guaranteed to play next season. That's too much salary cap space devoted to one position, with the real risk of Manning's cap number going toward another wasted year. And certainly, there's no way the Colts will be able to trade Manning, not with the cap implications, and not with other teams fearful of trading for damaged goods.
That would leave Manning out on the open market, signing with a team that's willing to take a chance on him despite the severity of his injuries. It could be that a team like the Jets would be willing to sign Manning as a free agent now, hope he can play in 2012, and at least have him in the fold for 2013 if he can't.
Given Manning's age (36), I doubt any team will take that kind of risk, and will instead sign Manning only when he's proven to be healthy. That could leave Manning out of football for all of next season, and back on the open market for 2013.
Or Manning could retire and forget all of it.
It's amazing to think that Manning, who many would argue is the finest quarterback of his time, if not ever, could have his career end so abruptly (the only equivalent I can think of is the hip injury that ended Bo Jackson's career). And it's amazing that Manning could find himself unwanted by every NFL team come this spring. That's how fast the NFL changes from year to year, from week to week.
That's always the great trick that pro athletes pull on us: They're so good, we think they'll go on forever.