Now begins the dance between the broken quarterback and the desperate suitors. The Washington Redskins seem like the perfect fit, but what about the Miami Dolphins or Seattle Seahawks or Arizona Cardinals?
Or what about this?
What if Manning just walked away for good? Strangely, retirement hasn't been discussed much in the endless debate about who has been the least fair to whom: the Colts to Manning or Manning to the Colts. But what remains for Manning to prove now that he is nearly 36 and at the end of a Hall of Fame career with his neck cut open multiple times by a surgeon's knife? What glory would he get from pulling the Cardinals to 8-8?
[ Wetzel: Peyton Manning-Colts divorce inevitable ]
Manning's injury was serious. The spinal fusion surgeries he underwent are often procedures retired players get long after their careers are done and the risk of greater injury from contact is gone. This isn't to say Manning can't play again after his operations. Obviously doctors have told him he can. But at what risk? Can he whip his head from side to side at the line of scrimmage as he once did? Will he be able to turn quickly and spot a receiver deep downfield, look to see his blockers or whirl around to find a tackler just before he's hit?
A man who saw Manning late last summer said he called to the quarterback from behind and Manning turned in an awkward Frankensteinish way to see who it was shouting his name. Yes, that was a few weeks following Manning's last surgery and presumably Manning is better. Those who saw him in Indianapolis during Super Bowl XLVI didn't describe a stiff monster walk. But they also didn't see Manning swirl his head the way he will need to on the field. Nor did they watch him throw. Few have seen him throw, and those who have are keeping those observations silent.
Still word leaks out. Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz, who has spoken with Manning in recent days, described Manning's passing arm as "a noodle."
And while Kravitz also said his sources have told him Manning could regain his throwing strength, nobody – not even the Redskins – will spend $20 million guaranteed for a quarterback with "a noodle" for an arm.
Is it worth watching Manning knock on NFL team doors, hat in hand, asking for a job?
He has a legacy, a fantastic legacy, as one of the best quarterbacks the game ever saw. He's won a Super Bowl, and forget all this silly talk about his younger brother Eli possibly being better because he's now won two. For years, Peyton has stood as one of the game's brightest lights. He made the Colts relevant. He won division titles. He did great television commercials. For many in America, he was Indianapolis. Why ruin that? Why not be the Sandy Koufax of his time and walk away before the recovery from this injury puts him in position to get hurt even worse?
[ Related: Kurt Warner says Eli Manning is not Hall-worthy yet ]
Right now he seems determined to plunge ahead even when his body should be telling him it is time to walk away intact. You almost wonder if he is like so many other players and afraid to retire. Football players hate the idea of leaving the game. They have heard the stories retold by so many who left and how those first two years after football are the worst of their lives. This is when they feel most vulnerable, hopeless and flustered. This is when they divorce their wives, lose old friends and learn that their great value to many of the people they know was their active football career.
Yahoo! Sports Radio: Les Carpenter on Peyton Manning's future]
Maybe the competitive side of Manning refuses to let him leave the game behind. Players, no matter how beaten or bandaged, always believe they have something to offer simply because of their presence. The Redskins and Dolphins weren't very good last year but superstar players (upon joining such organizations) are always sure the team just needed them and the leadership they brought. Usually this doesn't turn out to be the case, and the last thing the team needed was a battered, old player telling everyone how to do their job.
But here goes Peyton Manning, bright and funny with a future ahead as a broadcaster or executive or whatever he wants to be, opening himself up to a greater injury, to a worse post-football life, destroying something that most modern-day players are unable to claim: the fact he made one city his home.
Before he wanders into a hopeless future with a bad arm, he should wonder what is left in a career that can't get any better. Is it money? Is it competition? Can he just not quit?
The time has come to walk away.
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