Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy speculates that owner Jim Irsay's decision on Peyton Manning might have been different if Irsay knew in early 2012 what he knows now.
Irsay released Manning in the spring after Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck issue. The Colts went 2-14 that season and landed the No.1 pick in the NFL Draft.
Irsay decided to rebuild the team, starting with top draft pick, quarterback Andrew Luck.
"I don't think it was ever a no-brainer in (Irsay's) mind," Dungy said in an NBC Sunday Night Football conference call Tuesday afternoon. "I guarantee you if he knew Peyton would be healthy and play this kind of football at this point, I don't think he would have done it.
"Knowing the scouting report on Andrew and the percentages of Peyton coming back and playing well at this point, it was the right thing to do."
Manning, of course, is playing perhaps the best football of his career in his second season with the Denver Broncos and returns to play the Colts at 8:30 p.m. Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Dungy coached Manning for eight seasons, including seven-straight seasons of 12 or more wins and Manning's sole Super Bowl win.
Asked what Irsay might have done had he been able to predict Manning could be fully healthy and play at a high level, Dungy said there were two options.
"They could have kept Peyton, paid his salary, drafted Luck No.1 and sat him like Aaron Rodgers sat to go on down the road," Dungy said. "They could have kept Peyton and made that big trade (of the No.1 pick) and got some cheap labor with No.1 draft choices and inexpensive guys just coming into their own right now."
Dungy implied the Colts could have possibly held on to a core of players they had then -- players such as Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Joseph Addai, etc. -- and remained successful if Manning had returned. The Colts also fired coach Jim Caldwell after the 2011 season.
"Keeping Peyton and the system, they could have won 10 or 11 games for sure if Peyton came back and was healthy," Dungy said. "A lot of things went into Jim's thought process. In the end, he did the prudent thing with the information he had."
Dungy said he expects Manning to be quite emotional when he returns to play against the Colts, although he'll likely try to hide it.
"I promise you this means a lot to him, coming back there and playing in front of those fans," Dungy said. "It's more than just a game against a faceless opponent. I know him and the way he's going to prepare and try to keep himself in that mode all week, but it's going to be difficult."
Dungy still finds it hard to fathom the idea of Manning playing against the Colts.
"I never thought I would see him in a different uniform," Dungy said. "I certainly didn't think he'd be coming back, playing maybe the best football of his career, undefeated and putting up such gaudy numbers.
"It'll be an emotional night, a fun night. We'll see a great quarterback on both sides of the field."
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