Colts release all-pro receiver Harrison

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Harrison can play wherever he wants now.

In Indianapolis, he will always be a Colt.

Team owner Jim Irsay on Tuesday grudgingly honored Harrison's request to be released, a move that becomes official Wednesday.

Team officials turned the news conference to announce Harrison's release -- the receiver didn't attend -- into an emotional tribute to one of the most identifiable players in the franchise's Indianapolis era.

They took turns recounting stories that stretched back more than a decade. Irsay's halting words at the start and team president Bill Polian's reddened eyes at the end were indicative of how hard it was to let go of one of the best receivers in NFL history.

"I've always treasured the time I've had with him because I respected him so much as a person," Polian said. "He worked so hard at his craft, he was always so prepared and he did every little thing he could to win. And he did it with quiet dignity, superb professionalism and with a sense of contribution to the team, that really is second to none."

Irsay saw the announcement as more of a temporary goodbye than a permanent farewell.

He plans to induct Harrison into the team's Ring of Honor after he retires, and expects Harrison to return to the city where he became a star.

Irsay also wants to re-sign Harrison again, one day, so he can leave the game as a Colts player.

The move was made because Harrison's price tag was too expensive.

Harrison is the second member of the Colts' original triplets -- Edgerrin James and Peyton Manning were the others -- to depart.

"It will be strange to line up under center and not see No. 88 out on my right," Manning said in a statement issued by the team. "He is a Hall-of-Fame receiver, I am proud to have played with him, and he will always be an Indianapolis Colt in my book."

The 36-year-old receiver would have counted $13.4 million against the cap in 2009, the highest of any NFL receiver. Although Indy wanted to restructure Harrison's contract, Polian said there was no feasible way to do it.

Releasing Harrison saves the Colts about $6 million, with about $7.4 million in prorated bonuses still on the books. With three-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez ready to make up for Harrison's absence, they couldn't afford the luxury of keeping three former first-round picks.

Over the past two seasons, Harrison hasn't played up to his usual standards.

He missed all but five games in 2007 because of injuries, underwent offseason knee surgery and then caught 60 passes in 2008 -- less than half of his NFL record 143 in 2002.

Yet Colts coach Jim Caldwell and Polian continued to insist that Harrison hadn't lost a step.

The decision may have been hardest on Irsay, who remembered Harrison as the only remaining player from his early days as owner in 1996, following his father's death.

Before filing the paperwork and publicly announcing the decision, Irsay had a private conversation with Harrison. It was billed as a final effort to get Harrison to stay, but that's not how the discussion went.

"I wanted to make sure Marv and I had a chance to talk this afternoon and really thoroughly go through things together," Irsay said. "I know he wishes to go forward and pursue opportunities in the National Football League and that's something we honor with his release."

Harrison was the Colts' first-round draft pick in 1996, out of Syracuse, and it didn't take long for him to make an impression.

Polian, then with Carolina, called Harrison's personal workout that year the most impressive he's ever seen from a receiver.

Harrison proved better than advertised with his delicate toe-taps and penchant for acrobatic catches. Of the five first-round receivers drafted in '96, Harrison was easily the most productive over the longest period.

He caught 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns -- all rank in the NFL's top five. He broke all of the Colts' major single-season and career receiving records, most previously held by Hall-of-Famer Raymond Berry, and teamed with Manning to form the most prolific passing duo in league history.

Harrison won a Super Bowl and was selected to eight Pro Bowls.

But it's not the numbers or the accolades Indy fans will remember; it's the moments.

"I'll never forget the catch at Tennessee, which in my mind is the signature play of his career," Polian said. "He was suspended in mid-air, reached out with one hand, hauled it in and then got up and waved the rest of the players down the field. That was quintessential Marvin."

After Manning's arrival in 1998, he spent countless hours trying to get the timing down perfectly with his new quarterback. And when he scored touchdowns, he usually flipped the ball to the official.

Around teammates, he was nearly as quiet as he was with reporters, skipping Tuesday's news conference, Polian said, because he didn't want to slight anyone at the team complex.

"The best way I'd describe him is there's an old saying that goes lead by example and when necessary use words," Caldwell said. "That's what Marvin did. He rarely used words."

Harrison stayed out of the spotlight, refraining from the headline-grabbing antics that have made other star receivers famous.

Last year, for the first time, Harrison was involved in some high-profile off-the-field trouble.

Philadelphia police believe one of Harrison's guns was used in an April shooting in his hometown. No charges were filed against Harrison, and the man who made the accusation was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of lying to police.

Harrison does not believe his career is finished.

He hopes to sign with another team, possibly as early as Friday when the free-agent market opens.

Polian did not rule out the possibility of bringing Harrison back at a lower price, either, though there has already been speculation that Harrison might be interested in playing for the Eagles and reuniting with former college teammate Donovan McNabb.

"I had a chance to reflect on a lot of what has happened over the last 12-plus years," Irsay said. "I really look forward to the time he goes into the Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor at our stadium."