As one would expect, the final decision between three complex options when it comes to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning — stay in Indianapolis, cut loose and play for a different team, or retire — is a complex call that will be made by team owner Jim Irsay to a degree and by Manning in the end. But when talking to Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star about the recent and wide-ranging changes in the organization, Manning seemed to leave a few clues of his own.
"I'm not in a very good place for healing, let's say that. It's not a real good environment down there right now, to say the least. Everybody's walking around on eggshells. I don't recognize our building right now. There's such complete and total change.''
Manning and new general manager Ryan Grigson ran into each other at the Colts' facility last week while Manning was trying to adjust to all those changes. Personnel czar Bill Polian is gone, his son Chris is gone, head coach Jim Caldwell is gone, and Manning isn't the only potential big-name free agent that could be leaving the team. Receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive lineman Robert Mathis might find other homes, or the Colts could choose not to pick up Manning's $28 million option for 2012 and deal with personnel with far more flexibility (not to mention with Andrew Luck under center.) For Manning, it's just about getting used to the new feel in the building.
"I just want to pay tribute to all those guys. It's unfortunate because so many of them have been such a big part of so many big wins here, and this is so ... sudden. Their keys didn't work the next day. There's no other way to do it? I don't know. That's hard to see, all these people leaving. And I may be behind them. Who knows?''
Manning had been working with Colts strength and conditioning coach Jon Torine until Torine was recently fired. More and more, the faces Manning knows are leaving. Does he see writing on the wall?
The Colts must make a decision on Manning's future by March 8, when that option bonus comes due. Manning's rehab is progressing, but everything is still up in the air — no matter what Rob Lowe says. For now, his focus is more on his concierge role, as little brother Eli comes to Lucas Oil Stadium to meet the New England Patriots on Feb. 5.
"Well, I've already gone to work for him, getting all my teammates, trying to get their two-ticket allotments. I'm helping any way I can, getting him restaurant reservations around town for him and his teammates. Jim [Irsay] called after the [NFC championship] game and offered any kind of help he could give, which was generous."
Was that gesture an olive branch extended to a franchise quarterback the organization wants to retain, or a consolation prize in advance of a major reality check? After Eli's Super Bowl, Peyton's future will become the NFL's main story once again.
There's one thing we DO know about Manning the elder — he's watched Francis Ford Coppola's 1983 adaptation of "The Outsiders," S.E. Hinton's seminal book that this writer read about 100 times growing up. Rob Lowe's recent pseudo-announcement of Manning's retirement brought the quarterback to Lowe's role as the middle brother in that movie.
"I never thought `Sodapop Curtis' would announce my retirement. I always thought I would be the one to announce it. I'm a huge fan of the movie, but that caught me way off guard. I can't explain it. I know [Lowe] is a friend of Jim's, and Jim sounded surprised.''
More and more, though, one gets the feeling that the Colts understand what Soda's younger brother Ponyboy said frequently in that story: "Nothing gold can stay."
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