Indianapolis Colts Release Manning From Team

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are parting company. The team released the star quarterback Wednesday, rather than pay a $28 million bonus required by his contract. Manning missed last season with a neck injury and any teams interested in signing him will look closely at his health.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis football is over. Today, the Colts released their longtime quarterback. Manning is 35 years old, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history; but he missed last season after multiple surgeries on his neck. And the Colts were due to pay him a $28 million bonus in the next few days if he remained on the roster.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports on today's emotional announcement.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It wasn't a shock. With questions about Peyton Manning's health; with the Colts' disastrous 2-and-14 record in 2011 earning them the right to pick a prized quarterback in the upcoming college draft; with Manning's $28 million bonus looming, even the most diehard Colts fans knew today was a distinct possibility.

So, too, did Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay, but that didn't make it any easier for both men as they proved even in the rough-and-tumble business of the NFL, breaking up is hard to do.

It took Irsay a little over four minutes before he lost it.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

JIM IRSAY: You know, the good times we've had together, the laughs we've shared together...

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

IRSAY: You know, growing up together in the organization...um...

GOLDMAN: Manning, muted in a gray suit and dark-blue, striped tie, was emotional the moment he stepped to the microphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

PEYTON MANNING: I've been a Colt for almost all of my adult life. But I guess in life and in sports, we all know that nothing lasts forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRYING)

MANNING: Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL.

GOLDMAN: It's not that the two men didn't try to make it work. Both say they had long conversations on how best to deal with those changing circumstances they couldn't have foreseen, even a year ago. An Ironman quarterback who started every game since his rookie year suddenly fragile, with disk problems in his neck; a Colts team that was a perennial playoff participant with Manning, suddenly in rebuilding mode.

Irsay says the Colts are a few years away from on-field success, which is why he says he advised Manning it might be best to make his playing comeback elsewhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

IRSAY: Just like in 2001, when he was completely healthy and we didn't have everything to surround him. You know, I want that opportunity for him as well, you know, to succeed at the end of his career.

GOLDMAN: Success somewhere else depends on health. Manning's neck is strong. Prospective teams are on nerve watch - waiting to see if the nerves regenerate so he can get his throwing arm strong again. Here's what he said today.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

MANNING: I'm throwing it pretty well. I've still got some work to do; I've got some progress to make. But I've come a long way.

GOLDMAN: In his career as well. Since joining the Colts in 1998, Manning led his team to the playoffs 11 times; two AFC championships; a Super Bowl victory in 2007; four Most Valuable Player awards. Beyond the numbers, he became the most famous and popular professional athlete in Indianapolis - which says a lot in a basketball state.

Well-mannered, his name on a children's hospital, now Indy fans are preparing to go through what San Francisco 49er fans went through when Joe Montana finished his career in Kansas City; or when New York Jets fans watched Joe Namath finish with the L.A. Rams.

Last month, before the Super Bowl - in Indianapolis - Indy resident Jeff May (ph) pondered the possibility of Manning wearing other team colors.

JEFF MAPE: I think it would be rough. I think people will still root for him, but I don't - I - it would be tough.

GOLDMAN: Miami, Washington, Arizona are considered some of the front-runners in what could become a Peyton Manning sweepstakes, as the quarterback who once seemed destined to be a Colt for life becomes one of the biggest potential free-agent prizes in NFL history.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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