The 2011 NFL season has entered a bizzarro world. The Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions (winless 3 seasons ago) are undefeated. Tom Brady with a 21p point lead, threw 4 interceptions and lost to the Bills. And most importantly, a grizzled, gray-bearded veteran  left retirement for one more chance to play and a big salary, but his name isn’t Brett Favre. Still, the biggest contribution to this bizarro world is the absence of one of the most dominating players in the past ten years: Peyton Manning.

Manning is sidelined by a neck injury that caused him to undergo three surgeries in the past 19 months. The constant recurrence of the surgeries has raised doubts about Manning’s return to the 2011 season; some have even questioned his return to football at all. In an effort to alleviate concerns about Manning’s status with the Colts Jim Irsay, the Colts’ owner tweeted, “I didn’t say Peyton out 4season FOR SURE, keeping him on Active Roster n taking it month by month/Outside chance of return n December possible.” Although this helps Colts fans breathe easily that Manning may come back, this doesn’t point to the fact that at the start of the 2012 season Manning may not be dressed in the white and blue at all.  

This past summer Manning signed a 5-year $90 million contract (the contract averages $23 million over the first three years of the deal, with $21 million split over the final two) tying him to the Colts franchise for the rest of his career. But an escape clause within the contract creates a tempting door for the Colts to open and usher Manning out to the pastures given his age and injuries. More specifically, the Colts have until the fifth day prior to the end of 2011 season to either cut or trade Manning to avoid paying $28 million roster bonus.

Parting with a franchise quarterback who built your team to a point of prestige is not an easy thing to do, but may be a necessary evil for the future. If the colts did act to save for the future, I believe Manning would not hold any grudges; he entered the contract with eyes-wide open understanding the possibilities of not being with the team in 2012. After the contract was finalized Bob Irsay tweeted (July 30) praise for Manning for “[Putting] Colt fan, teammates, Ind. n winning ahead of all else.” Manning’s nature as a team player is exemplified by his contract which gives the Colts breathing room within their salary cap, but also includes a clause which could ultimately force him into free agency,  and the NFL into another bizzaro season with a vacant spot in the premier quarterback club.