Colts’ Polian Does Not See Value in Trading Top Picks

Brett Mock breaks down Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian’s latest statements regarding the potential use of the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Polian suggests that trading the pick might not be worth it.


For a large portion of the season, Colts fans and football analysts have been pondering the best options available should Indianapolis “win” the “suck for Luck” sweepstakes and earn the top overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. While the options are truly limitless for any team holding the number one pick, three primary courses of action have been discussed at length. The first option is to draft Andrew Luck and have him sit behind Peyton Manning for one or more seasons to get acclimated to the Colts offense. The second option is to draft Andrew Luck and either cut or trade Manning, inserting the rookie as the day one starter — which will likely start a short- to mid-term rebuilding process for the franchise. The final option is for Manning to return completely healthy with a four-five year window remaining in his career, trading the top overall pick for numerous picks or players from a willing trade partner, and a focused effort to infuse the Colts with talent for Super Bowl runs to close out Manning’s career.

The first two options are highly debated amongst fans and analysts who disagree on whether it makes any sense financially or practically to draft the most highly touted quarterback to enter the NFL Draft in many years with the top pick only to sit him behind Manning, and those who think that doing so is not a financial concern and the only logical choice — often referencing the successful transition between Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. The final option argues with the other two by insisting that if Manning is healthy, there is no justifiable reason to take a quarterback who should sit behind a player who may be the greatest quarterback to play the game, keeping that player from having the best possible weapons — utilizing all available salary cap space to do so — to close out his career with the best opportunity to win. While speculation has run wild, recent comments from Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian have started to modify the discussion in meaningful ways. Polian discussed the possibility of drafting a new quarterback throughout the month of November. Generally speaking, he suggested that team finances would not deter him from selecting a quarterback, that carrying two quarterbacks with high draft credentials was not a deterrent, and that Peyton Manning had even given the okay to draft a quarterback. Specific quotes follow. . . On November 14, 2011, posted quotes from the Bill Polian Show where Polian said:

The bottom line is that if the right person is there, and it has to be the right person, then now is the time to make that choice. Peyton and I have spoken about that, and he’s OK with that. I have said publicly on a number of occasions that if the right person was there, we would make that pick. We were prepared to do that last year and came awfully close to doing it. Who that person is, right now, I couldn’t tell you. [Speaking of the search for potential quarterbacks] I’m around the country scouting this week, and I will ironically finish up at Stanford, but it has nothing to do with any choice we’ve made. That’s just how it worked out. We won’t make it (a decision) until April.

If anything is clear from Polian’s statements it is that the Colts are not opposed to taking a quarterback in the upcoming draft. He refuses to openly consider players who have not yet declared for the NFL, and will probably not acknowledge any declarations prior to the January 15, 2012 deadline he mentions often. It is also clear that while media and fans are hyped to learn anything they can about the team’s intentions in the upcoming draft, there is very little legitimate chance that kind of information will be made available in any form for months. Even then, one must assume that any statements made by the team are subject to change if circumstances change. The dialogue grew more interesting in quotes from a radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio reported by ESPN’s AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky earlier today:

I can’t imagine that there are players that we could afford under the salary cap that would come in and help our team, veteran players that would be available in such a trade. And if you traded it for picks, which you probably would be wise to do, those picks would be very high picks, the highest picks perhaps, in a lot of future years, which means that they wouldn’t be on the team in the short run. Somehow or other, that theory, people have asked me about that, but it doesn’t hold water with me. I don’t know what you get out of it. If you’re assuming that you trade one of the top three picks in the draft for a bunch of second- and third-rounders in that same draft, I don’t buy that one at all.

It appears that fans of the third option, trading a top pick in the draft for high draft picks in the future and/or a collection of later picks in the upcoming draft were dealt a blow by Polian’s comments. The Colts Vice Chairman suggests that it does not make sense to him to trade the pick for later picks, nor does it make sense to him to trade out of one of the top picks in 2012 because doing so means that the team will only see benefit from the trade down the road. If the idea is to get better now, one would have to assume a scenario where the Colts either don’t select a quarterback with the top pick in the draft and choose to use it on a player who will benefit a healthy Peyton Manning in the short-term future, or a scenario where the Colts select a quarterback like Andrew Luck with the top overall pick and intend to use him within the next two seasons as the starting quarterback. Another interesting thing to note, if the quotes are taken at face value, is the reference to the salary cap as a limitation on any trade scenarios. The only way the salary cap is an issue is if a handful of moves are intended after the year. It suggests, to me, that Polian believes Manning will be healthy and ready to take the field again in 2012. If he was not confident in that, a chunk of the salary cap would be freed to sign just about any veteran free agent the Colts wanted to bring into the fold. It suggests to me that there is at least some initial intention to re-sign many of the Colts own free agents, which is not surprising given the team’s history of focusing on retaining its own players over going after players from other teams. If Wayne, Mathis, and Garcon were not retained, if players like Jamaal Anderson, Ernie Sims, and Tyler Brayton were not retained, the salary cap opens up for the team to be more creative. If all of these interpretations are correct, and if Polian’s perceptions are accurately stated and understood, it seems highly likely that Manning will remain the starting quarterback in 2012 — and likely beyond — and that the team’s turnover will not be as large as some may have predicted throughout the year. It also creates a new scenario for discussion and controversy around how long it is okay for Indianapolis to sit Andrew Luck if he enters the draft and is selected, and how fans will react if the Colts choose to go another direction with the top pick. Of course, all of this discussion from the Vice Chairman could be intentionally vague and somewhat contradictory. After all, in the business of football the NFL Draft plays a significant role. Tipping one’s hand prior to the finish of the season or indicating to other franchises exactly which direction you plan to take your team is not strategically wise. It is probably best for Colts fans and analysts to continue focusing on the one thing that puts all of these discussions and quotes in context. At the end of the day, the Colts do not intend to make any permanent decisions about the team’s short- and long-term future until April. Much can happen between Week 16 and April. The decisions made then will be a product of a lot of things that the Colts front office will not know for weeks or months. Every kid wants to open their Christmas presents early. Every kid wants to know what they got for Christmas. But the holidays are funny like that, you don’t get to find out until the appropriate time. It’s not Christmas yet. Don’t worry though, it’ll be here quicker than you think.