Wiedmer: Is Peyton's place in jeopardy?

Wiedmer: Is Peyton's place in jeopardy?

January 4th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game against the Washington Redskins in Indianapolis, Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during the...

A week ago Tuesday, former Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht stood on the Tivoli stage singing Christmas songs in pianist Jim Brickman's holiday tour.

Performing such classics as "O Holy Night" and "the First Noel" is now his day job because the sixth concussion of his football career forced him to make a difficult decision about the rest of his life.

"I made the choice to walk away," the former University of Minnesota star said. "I started a family and now have three little daughters and want to do what's best for them."

Sometime in the next few months, a fairly famous current Colts player who recently became a father may have a similar decision to ponder.

Making Peyton Manning's options all the more uncertain was Monday's possibly related news that Indy owner Jim Irsay fired team vice chairman Bill Polian and his son Chris, the general manager.

Given Manning's close relationship with Polian over the years, it could be argued that Irsay is paving the way for the Colts to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick of the April NFL draft.

Or maybe Irsay had merely decided that Polian running the show for 14 years was long enough, given that the Colts were 10-6 last year with Manning at quarterback before going 2-14 this season with his four-time league MVP QB sidelined the entire campaign with an injured neck.

Irsay's comments indicated it might be a little of both.

"Fourteen years is a long time in this league," he said, then added, "to think that just less than two years ago we were getting ready to go to Miami and play in the Super Bowl ... it has been a very sharp decline."

But what do overall decline and Polian's outster mean to Manning, who told the media he was "stunned" by the longtime executive's dismissal?

According to an ESPN.com article Tuesday evening, Irsay intends to meet with Manning within the next few days to get a better feel for how the former Tennessee All-American believes he's doing with his rehab.

"The key thing for me has always been -- and particularly since the fusion -- is it safe for [Manning] to go on the field," Irsay told the cable giant.

And that should be foremost on everyone's mind, including Manning, whose career already includes one Super Bowl ring, another Super Bowl appearance and a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame induction.

"It's a very difficult choice," Utecht said, "because he's just started a family. It's not just about Peyton, or Peyton and his wife anymore. There are children to consider, and that certainly changes your perspective about life and football. I'm sure he wants to be healthy for them in the future."

But Irsay can't worry about Manning only. He has an entire franchise to run, and his view of the Colts is decidedly realistic at the moment.

"There is no sugar-coating the fact that there are areas of talent that we need," Irsay said during Monday's news conference. "The decisions that are coming up are crucial, and obviously when you're looking at a general manager, a head coach, having the No. 1 pick in the draft and knowing you're rebuilding in some areas, that is about as massive as it gets."

Head coach Jim Caldwell is still employed at the moment, but Manning's future with the Colts is more complicated. He just signed a new 5-year, $90 million contract last year. He's also due a $28 million bonus in March. Given the rather large unknown concerning his neck -- remember Irsay's line, "Is it safe for him to go on the field?" -- is hanging your quarterback future on Peyton a sign of loyalty or lunacy?

Especially with the massive rebuilding Irsay envisions throughout the organization.

All of which brings us to Luck. Anyone who saw the Stanford quarterback carve up Oklahoma State in Monday's Fiesta Bowl despite the Cardinal's inferior talent knows what a special player he is.

How special? Soak in this final quote from Irsay on Monday:

"When you see something that you know is going to have greatness with your franchise, you go after it. That is always the way I've been. When I've talked about pillars of a franchise -- quarterback, general manager and head coach -- if you have a chance to get a great one, you get it, because there are not a lot of great ones."

Sounds like Irsay is going to pick the expected next great one in Luck. Sounds like Peyton's place with the Colts could be over.