Brett Mock breaks down the heavily discussed quarterback quandary that now faces the Indianapolis Colts.
Prior to launching Colts Authority, I took the time to break down some of the issues that will face the Colts in the coming off-season as the team prepares for the 2012 NFL season. New developments, such as the firing of Bill and Chris Polian and hiring of new General Manager Ryan Grigson have occurred that make the stories worthy of re-publication and revision. We hope you will enjoy the series as the 2011 season moves closer to its conclusion.
For Indianapolis Colts fans, the 2011 season started on its head. Fans and experts all around the league were so unconcerned about Manning missing a start or meaningful game-time due to injury that the only conversation was really about whether or not he would play long enough to surpass Favre’s consecutive games record. When Manning had neck surgery over the summer, few were really concerned that he wouldn’t return to the field in time for the start of the season.
As preseason reached Week 3 and Manning still had not spent meaningful time in pactice, though, fan confidence rattled. When it was announced the Manning was undergoing spinal fusion surgery and that the team signed retired veteran Kerry Collins, most expected that Collins would be the best quarterback on the roster — even with such little time to prepare for the regular season. Instead, Collins played horribly and Curtis Painter was thrust into the starting role. Props to Reggie Wayne for calling it all from the start.
Fast forward to today. It is clear that it was a mistake to sign Kerry Collins. It is also fair to speculate about how the team’s record might be different if the Colts stuck with Dan Orlovsky, instead of Curtis Painter, at the start of the season. There are legitimate reasons to believe that the Collins’ “concussion” was really an effort to save the veteran from embarrassment — and possibly the since-departed front office as well.
Of course, the back story of the 2011 quarterback quandary is growing less relevant to the team’s future. Now, the issue surrounds whether or not Manning will return healthy and capable of competing at an MVP level.
If the team feels he can play at an elite level for the duration of his five-year contract, what other decisions will be made as the draft approaches? Some suggest that the best option is to take Andrew Luck. Others say that keeping Manning with confidence that he will compete for another four years at an MVP level makes using the team’s first selection on a quarterback as touted as Luck, only to sit him for four years, makes no sense.
Will there be another “Luck” by the time Manning’s career comes to a close? One quarterback who is the recipient of a great deal of hype is Gunner Kiel, the top high school quarterback entering the NCAA — who has committed to Notre Dame, which is just up the road from Indianapolis. Kiel could be ready to enter the draft in three or four years and may give Indianapolis a shot to grab a superstar down the road. Or… he could not pan out and fail to live up to the hype that surrounds him now — or if he’s as good as advertised and the Colts are successful with Manning, the team could miss out on the pick due to low draft positioning.
Financially, it is very difficult to justify carrying Manning’s large contract and paying top pick money for his successor. Orlovsky would be a far more cost-effective option at backup quarterback, and it would allow the team to address other positions that are beginning to deal with age concerns.
The Colts front office will be forced choose the team’s long-term fate when the 2011 season ends. If Andrew Luck is in the Colts plans, the only thing that makes any sense is to cut Manning — using the one-year exit clause written into the contract to free up the remainder of the money. Doing so will very likely weaken the team’s chances to get back to the Super Bowl in the next two or three years — meaning veterans like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, and Dwight Freeney could have the bulk of their remaining years as elite players squandered.
If the team chooses to stick with Manning, trading out of the top pick is the only thing that makes sense — assuming there will be teams interested (there will be). Players like wide receiver Justin Blackmon, cornerback Morris Claiborne, or defensive end Quinton Coples would be huge talent infusions to the 2012 roster and they could be available as late as picks 5-10.
For the first time since Peyton Manning joined the team in 1998 Indianapolis has an uncertain future at the most important offensive position in football. How the team navigates through this dilemma will significantly alter the face of the team, the sports culture Indianapolis, and will likely change Manning’s lasting legacy in NFL history books.
No pressure Mr. Grigson or Mr. Irsay. No pressure at all.