- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Now that Peyton Manning’s 14-year run with the Indianapolis Colts is over, the only four-time MVP in NFL history will turn his attention to finding a new team.

Manning and the Colts ended their successful partnership with a tearful goodbye Wednesday, when team owner Jim Irsay released the star quarterback rather than pay a whopping $28 million bonus while there are lingering questions about his health.

“We all know that nothing lasts forever,” Manning said. “Times change, circumstances change, and that’s the reality of playing in the NFL.”

Another reality: Manning is sure to command plenty of offers on the open market as one of the most coveted free agents in league history — assuming he shows he is fine after a series of neck operations that forced him to miss all of last season.


Arizona, Miami, Seattle, Tennessee, Washington and the New York Jets all have been rumored as possible destinations; Manning’s former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, Tom Moore, worked for the Jets as a consultant last season.

“I’m throwing it pretty well. I’ve still got some work to do; I’ve got some progress to make,” Manning said. “But I’ve come a long way. I’ve really worked hard. I can’t tell you the hours and the time I’ve put in.”

He turns 36 this month, but his importance to the Colts’ success was never more apparent than in 2011, when their record plummeted to 2-14 without him.

“Peyton is on the mend to try to resume his career,” Irsay noted.

Manning and Irsay each paused frequently, fighting tears and their voices shaking, as they appeared together at a news conference at the Colts’ team complex. It was an unusual and awkward scene, two men whose NFL lives have been so closely intertwined, standing side-by-side in jackets and ties as they told the world they were splitting up.

“This has not been easy for Jim,” Manning said, “and this has certainly not been easy for me.”

A few hours after the news conference, the Colts issued a statement giving the official news. The stark first sentence: “The Indianapolis Colts today released quarterback Peyton Manning.”

Indianapolis needed to cut Manning this week to avoid paying him a bonus from the $90 million, five-year contract he signed in July, although both owner and player insisted the decision was not really about money. The Colts are widely expected to begin moving on by taking Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in April’s draft.

Irsay repeatedly used the word “rebuilding” and acknowledged: “We’re definitely a few years away.”

Manning won’t retire and hopes to be playing in the NFL at the start of next season.

Still, he said Wednesday: “I’ll always be a Colt. I always will be. That’ll never change.”

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