Peyton Manning, unarguably one of the best quarterbacks ever to play in the NFL, was been released today by the Indianapolis Colts. Recovering from a series of neck surgeries, the Colts’ owner, Jim Irsay, decided that it was time to release Manning outright, while also saving $28 million on an option Manning was due.

You often hear about how players in professional sports are overpaid and, in most instances, I wholeheartedly concur. Paying Manning that kind of money does seem questionable, especially considering the salary cap, Peyton’s surgery and ability to play again at age 36.

But it just feels wrong, and I think I know why.

Since he was drafted by Indianapolis in 1998, Manning has been the face of the “Horseshoe.” Until last year, he never missed a game, led his team to the playoffs in all but two of his 13 seasons (not including 2011), including winning a Super Bowl, and five MVP awards. He has led the league in nearly all categories for a quarterback, is a leader in the locker room and generally accepted as an all around nice guy with his head on straight. (He’s also the best actor among all great quarterbacks, judging by his many hilarious commercials.) Last year without him, the Colts had the worst record in the NFL.

What is at issue here is the value of Peyton Manning beyond his playing football and his value to the Indianapolis Colts brand. I am not arguing that Manning should be paid $28 million dollars because of this. It doesn’t feel right even though today’s news conference was emotional from both sides – and retiring his jersey was a nice touch.

But it can still be hard to let go, just from an emotional standpoint as a fan. Imagine what Apple would be like if the moment Steve Jobs got the news of his cancer, the board decided to fire him. Or if the Chicago Bulls opted not to take Jordan back after he retired the first time (he led the Bulls to three more NBA championships after his return).

Peyton Manning deserves better than this, probably not $28 million better. But better to some measure. Yes, there is always some young buck (Andrew Luck) that can come in and maybe replace him on the field as Indy reboots. The Colts are hoping this is akin to Brett Favre being released and Aaron Rodgers taking his place.

But Manning’s value to the Colts brand goes beyond what happened on the field and I fear that we won’t feel the same about the Colts.