Peel away the layers of the ongoing Peyton Manning-Indianapolis Colts drama, and you get more layers. After the verbal tennis match between Manning and team owner Jim Irsay, and the alleged reconciliation/resolution, it seemed that we were back to watching and waiting to see whether Manning's neck and nerve injuries would heal in time for Irsay to decide whether to pick up the quarterback's $28 million roster bonus on March 8, and make him the face of the team's rebuild.
At least, that's what we thought. We may have been wrong, and the decision may have already been made. According to Jason La Canfora of the NFL Network, this is a done deal — and Manning will indeed be playing somewhere else if he ever plays again.
"According to sources who were involved in the Colts' GM search, the organization was planning to move on from Manning weeks ago, well before this public squabble between the quarterback and his owner," La Canfora said on the NFL Network's Friday afternoon "Total Access" show.
La Canfora also said that the decision will almost certainly be made before the 2012 scouting combine in late February. Like the Super Bowl, the combine will be held at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. Basically, Indianapolis will be the center of the NFL universe for at least the next month.
As is his custom, Irsay took to Twitter to refute the report.
We'll see. The changes continue to roll in Indy — the most recent coaching move Irsay made was to hire former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to do the same job for him and new head coach Chuck Pagano. Potential free agents and former franchise cornerstones Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday, and Reggie Wayne might be finding new homes, and the Colts are clearly ramping up for a major construction project.
Wayne recently told the Indianapolis Star that he's in the dark about the team's plans - just like most everyone else.
"I have no clue, man. I'm leaning on you guys (the media). You're all saying it's a new regime and that's what it is. This is one time all of the players are outside of the loop, even 18 (quarterback Peyton Manning). Nobody has a clue."
"It's like a soap opera. You're wondering, 'OK, what's next?' You hear something, then you see it on the ticker, that the Colts are doing this or that. At one point we were thinking Jim Tressel was going to be the coach. All of a sudden it's Chuck Pagano."
No matter how Irsay's handled this, that's the one thing he's right about — the last five years of questionable drafts and free agent moves under Bill and Chris Polian have left the Colts in a state of extreme disrepair. And it doesn't make a lot of sense to have two expensive quarterbacks on that roster, as the Colts would if they kept Manning and drafted Andrew Luck with the first overall pick. Which they almost certainly will do.
At the same time, Irsay doesn't want to be known as the man who ran the most important player in the history of the Colts' time in Indianapolis out the door with half a thought in mind.
The reckoning is coming soon, and it looks more and more like the new Colts will be without Peyton Manning when they start the 2012 season.