ANDERSON – Sunny skies and warm temperatures welcomed the Colts to Anderson University today for the opening of the 2011 training camp.
On hand as well were Owner and CEO Jim Irsay and Vice Chairman Bill Polian. They had a prominent presence on Sunday.
The pair was there to talk about the signing of quarterback Peyton Manning and to put his signing in context.
"It's been a historic journey in some ways, this whole off-season. When we began, we knew we had to get a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) done. We knew how important it was to the franchise to have Peyton (Manning) here and get that done as well," said Irsay. "Like the CBA, when the principles get involved things can move along a little bit faster. From talking to Peyton, his intentions once the lockout ended (and) we started getting ready for football, was to get this (his contract) done, to want to be in Indianapolis, Indiana (and) want to be a Colt the rest of his career, to understand and really want great teammates around him like he always has had. That sincerity was there.
"From my perspective when I said I wanted to make him the highest paid player in the league, that was really a symbolic way of showing respect. To me, he deserved that. I didn't want there to be any debate about what Peyton has done for the franchise. It's a blessing as an owner to have such a great player on and off the field, and he's represented himself (well). I told him when we got this done, the thing I've always loved about him is he hates losing as much as I do, and Bill Polian does. I think we detest it (losing) here with the Colts. His intensity to win and really putting his actions where his words were, we got this thing done. I'm happy it's done. He's going to be here a long time. The contract made sense for the full five years. He gave us a chance to continue to sign players like Joseph Addai and others. We're really looking forward to the season and really glad to see him here getting ready. I know he's working hard each day to get ready and go."
Manning was the first draft pick by Polian when he took the reigns as Colts president in 1998. Polian helped framed the history of Manning's first and third contracts with the franchise.
"Fourteen years ago, we did Peyton's (first) contract at 56th Street, and we rode up here together to training camp. It's kind of fitting that while this isn't the last ride, we can see that day coming. Hopefully, not for five years," said Polian. "The timeline on this is that we were preparing to go ahead with the (franchise) tag, if necessary. It had been a very difficult transition because we knew it was going to cause us to lose some players. Peyton called me on Thursday. We had a long talk, discussed a lot of issues. He made it clear that he didn't want to be the highest paid player in the league. He didn't want to have his contract interfere with the ability to put the best team possible on the field, and that he wanted to end his career as a Colt. I transmitted that information to Jim (Irsay). Subsequently, Peyton, Jim and I got together and met on Friday. We worked through all the aims and aspirations that everybody had. The one overriding goal was that Peyton would finish as a Colt, and go directly from here to Canton. Over the weekend, we worked very hard to make that happen. It wasn't easy. The contract was difficult to do because we were doing something that really almost never had been done before in terms of the kind of player Peyton is, which is one-of-a-kind. It did get done. As a result, because of what he decided to take and because of the case room he created, we were able to sign Joseph Addai, Mookie (Antonio) Johnson and Ryan Diem. We're a much better football team because of the sacrifice and the leadership position he took. That's probably as good a description of him as you possibly can find. From the day he arrived here, we've been better as a football team, because of his sacrifice, because of his hard work and his leadership, and that goes on for five more years."
Manning has been associated with numerous people during his years with the Colts. His appreciation starts at the top. His original goal of starting and ending a career with one franchise now is a reality.
"I can't thank Jim Irsay enough for his support throughout my entire career. I can't tell you what an honor it is to be able to go start-to-finish with the same organization here in Indianapolis," said Manning. "That's something I always wanted to do as a rookie coming out. Of course, you never know if it is possible. After yesterday, it is official that I will be an Indianapolis Colt my entire career. I won't play for another team (for) my last down. I'll always be with the Colts. That means a great deal to me. I just can't thank Jim enough for his support. I can't thank Bill Polian enough for his work on making this contract happen and getting it done. The three of us started in Indianapolis in 1998…It's been a real privilege to be with these two gentlemen for my entire career. To finish my career here, that just means a great deal to me."
The club long has held the belief that its aim is to re-sign its own players, develop its culture. The contract with Manning has allowed the club to follow that blueprint, while still know the cap is snug and the future seasons come quickly.
"The priorities have been our veteran free agents," said Irsay. "We did create cap room to the tune of $7 million. When you look at what we're doing with signing other players, including Melvin Bullitt and Adam Vinatieri and then you start making allowances for injured reserve players and bonuses owed on other aspects of the cap, there's not a lot of enormous room. You always look at 2012 now. We always talk about next year (and) where we're going to be with the cap, what type of situation we're going to be in because it's going to come quickly."
The club's history of taking care of its own is well documented. It has paid dividends for the franchise for an extended period of time. The broader moment of Irsay and Polian ensuring that Manning finished as a Colt helped carry the day. Manning inked the deal at approximately 1:45 p.m. Sunday, moments before the first team meeting of the season.
It is the dedication and support to the program by Irsay and Polian in moves like the Manning signing and the re-signing of the club's prominent veterans at the right time and whenever possible that has allowed the Colts to earn playoff appearances in 11 of the past 12 years, won 12 or more games in a league-best seven consecutive seasons during the 2000-09 decade, a period that saw the club win an NFL-best 115 regular-season games and 23 consecutive outings. Last year, they saw the club notch a ninth straight post-season appearance and extend a streak of consecutive seasons with 10 wins to nine.
The appreciation of the past has its place. The planning for the future is in place. The commitment for the present is at hand as practice starts on Monday.