Peyton Manning's record-breaking run as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts ended Wednesday, when owner Jim Irsay announced the team would release its best player.
"We all know that nothing lasts forever," Manning said. "Times change, circumstances change, and that's the reality of playing in the NFL."
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."
The 35-year-old Manning will become a free agent, and is expected to generate interest from a half-dozen or so NFL clubs, provided he's healthy. Manning is coming off a series of operations to his neck and missed all of last season when his team's record, not coincidentally, plummeted to 2-14.
Indianapolis needed to cut him this week to avoid paying him a $28 million bonus, although both Irsay and Manning 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."
It's an end of an era. Adam Schefter lists four teams he believes will make a run at Manning in free agency: the Dolphins, Jets, Redskins and Cardinals. There's also a good chance that Reggie Wayne will follow him wherever he goes, which would help both players.