Broncos fall to Colts: What if Irsay was right about Manning?

Denver Broncos
The Broncos' Peyton Manning, right, meets with Andrew Luck, the new quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, the team Manning led for 14 seasons, after the Colts handed the Broncos their first loss of 2013. (Photo: CNN / SI)

The Broncos’ Peyton Manning, right center, meets with Andrew Luck, left center, the new quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, the team Manning led for 14 seasons, after the Colts handed the Broncos their first loss of 2013. (Photo: CNN / SI)

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Editor’s note: The following column was published on Friday, Oct. 18, two days before the highly-anticipated matchup between the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts, featuring the first return to Indianapolis for second-year Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Broncos dropped that game 39-33 on Sunday, with the Colts handing the Broncos their first loss of the season.

Before the game, Colts owner Jim Irsay voiced his frustrations about not being able to consistently win Super Bowls with Manning at the helm. Despite the admirable numbers posted by his former quarterback, Irsay suggested the Colt’s old model — one that focused on Manning and his offense in lieu of defense — may have been flawed.

Most in Colorado — and across the nation, for that matter — considered Irsay’s comments inflammatory, suggesting that to do anything but praise the a future Hall of Fame quarterback before his first return to a stadium he helped build was classless.

But our Will C. Holden suggested Irsay may have been on to something when he offered a cautionary tale about investing heavily in your team’s offense and relying on it to carry your team to victory week after week.

Following the Broncos loss to the Indianpolis Colts on Sunday, in which the Broncos’ offense sputtered and was not able to erase mistakes made by its defense, we felt Holden’s question was worth asking again:

What if Irsay was right about Manning?

Read the original column below, and then weigh in on the poll question on the left edge of this page.

DENVER — On his worst day, Colts owner Jim Irsay is the curmudgeon son of an NFL villain whose dad stole Baltimore’s team. On those days, it would seem smart for one of his staffers to change his Twitter password without telling him.

On his best day, Irsay is Indianapolis’ favorite adopted son, beloved for his persistent and proven pursuits of NFL championships. On those days, marketing staffs everywhere take notes on his ability to generate buzz on social media.

That’s why Irsay’s comments on his former quarterback Peyton Manning aren’t all that surprising.

At their worst, the words about the Colt-turned-Bronco were classless. At their best, they were right on the money.

And Denver’s got every right to be upset about them either way.

Irsay’s proceeding comments appeared in a USA Today story. These are the words that sparked tizzies from Denver Broncos head coach John Fox, Manning’s buddy Todd Helton, most of Colorado, a host of third party observers and Manning himself, even though (and especially because) the future Hall of Fame quarterback chose not to respond to them.

“We’ve changed our model a little bit (in Indianapolis), because we wanted more than one of these,” Irsay says, flicking up his right hand to show his Super Bowl XLI championship ring.

“(Tom) Brady never had consistent numbers, but he has three of these,” Irsay adds. “Pittsburgh had two, the Giants had two, Baltimore had two and we had one. That leaves you frustrated.

“You make the playoffs 11 times, and you’re out in the first round seven out of 11 times. You love to have the Star Wars numbers from Peyton and Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne). Mostly, you love this.”

Then Irsay flicks up his right hand again.

Irsay might as well have flicked up the middle finger on that right hand at Manning and his new town and team.

Irsay can’t seem to comprehend how his comments and actions implied such negativity, and insists he was misinterpreted. That’s “Worst Day Irsay.”

But if you can divorce yourself from the emotion he stirred up inside you as his monologue deteriorated into name-dropping, bling-flashing and confusing pop culture references, you’ll find “Best Day Irsay’s” central thesis:

“We’ve changed our model a little bit.”

It’s not that Irsay doesn’t appreciate what Manning accomplished with the Colts. Quite conversely, Irsay’s biggest issue with Manning appears to be that he is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game — and that he insists on being paid that way.

That’s not to say Manning is a diva. But it’s not like he’s ever taken pay cut, either. The same can’t be said about the four other quarterbacks mentioned in Irsay’s diatribe.

A year after Manning signed his Broncos contract, the one that is currently paying him $20 million a year, three-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady signed a contract that put him on schedule to make $27 million total over the span of the next three years.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has won twice as many Super Bowls as Manning, is currently the seventh highest-paid player on his team.

During the Baltimore Ravens last two Super Bowl-winning seasons, the team’s quarterbacks were paid millions less than the team’s top defensive players.

Initially, Eli Manning followed in his big brother Peyton’s footsteps, signing a massive contract after winning his first Super Bowl. But a year after winning his second, Eli took a $6.75 million pay cut in an effort to help his team remain competitive.

Peyton had an opportunity to take a similar pay cut following the 2010 season, one in which he and the Colts fell one win shy of a Super Bowl title. He even said he’d be willing to take one.

Several days after making those comments, Peyton signed an unprecedented 5-year deal that guaranteed him $23 million over the first three years. The Colts cut starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden a day later.

Manning proceeded to miss the entire ensuing season with a neck injury and the Colts went 2-14. Manning then refused Irsay’s requests to take a pay cut the following offseason, the Colts took Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the draft and the rest is history.

So sure, Manning’s good. Maybe even the best ever. But has he proven to be worth the hefty investment that he has so consistently commanded? After 14 years of watching his high-paid offense trying to make up for the inefficiencies of his low-paid defenses while other more-balanced teams won Super Bowls, Irsay no longer thinks so.

That’s why the Colts have changed their model.

So though “Bad Day Irsay” may be worthy of your scorn today, if Manning and the Broncos, with their top-of-the-barrel offense and bottom-of-the-barrel defense, fall short of another Super Bowl, you might just find yourself agreeing with “Good Day Irsay” come February.

And if the Colts down the Broncos this Sunday, that 180 might come even sooner than that.

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