Fallout of Colts Quarterback Situation: Mountains Made of Mole Hills and Ripples in the Pond

With the news breaking yesterday that the Colts brought AFC South rival QB Kerry Collins on board to help shore up the QB spot, a pair of ripples have turned into tsunamis via fan reaction, where — per usual — ‘expert’ opinions continue to feed the flames. The first ripple is that fans and experts believe Manning will not start Week 1 against Houston. The second ripple is that Bill Polian no longer knows how to manage and run a football team, and has set the Colts up for disaster.

While “Chicken Little” Syndrome is expected of the news media and from the copious amounts of bandwagon fans that are attached to any successful team, the breadth and consistency of the lament for the Colts has astounded me. A casual observer who doesn’t follow football regularly, or even just the Colts would be hard pressed to not read the prevailing opinions now and not feel as if the Colts are now on a level with the Cincinnati Bengals.

A diversity of opinions is always healthy in any rational discussion, and my head and heart are both telling me the same thing right now… The reports of this franchise’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

RIPPLE #1

The first thing that always sticks in my head is the timetable for Manning’s return. He had surgery in March on his neck. At the time it was expected his recovery would take on the order of two to three months. With that timetable, Manning should have been fully recovered by June. Manning admitted to not physically rehabbing during the lockout because he trusted his trainers to get him back on track and get him healthy. Still, even if Manning did no independent conditioning, his neck should have been fully healed when the lockout finally ended. This meant all that was left was strengthening his arm and then doing the rehab on his neck to remove stiffness.

At this point, no one has said anything about Manning having a setback. Quite the opposite has happened actually. Reports have been released showing Manning has been throwing since July, and was seen at Anderson stretching with the team and doing some work during the break between practices. This is the team that drafted Anthony Gonzalez before Marvin Harrison left, Donald Brown while still having Joseph Addai, Jerry Hughes despite most indications pointing to the Colts retaining Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Is there really a belief that the Colts wouldn’t bring in a viable backup for Manning if they were not absolutely sure Manning could start against the Texans in Week 1?

Is there a belief that the training staff wouldn’t have made an indication about problems in Manning’s conditioning and suggest to the team to have a backup plan in place for Manning? That there could be a collective collapse in the coaching staff to the point where no one, not the Polian’s, not Caldwell, not Christensen, not the training and conditioning staff, not the QB coach, none of the people who would talk with Manning fairly regularly would have stepped up and said, “Manning may not be ready, we should have a backup plan in place if we need a starting QB Week 1.” I defend Painter a bit more than he deserves, but even I had no desire to see Painter starting any time in his career.

So that leaves my head with two possibilities. The first option is that the move to bring Kerry Collins in this late in the game is an acceptance that having cheap, yet crappy young QBs simply will not work anymore, and that a real backup — one who can perform if needed — is appropriate. The other option is that every member of the Colts staff that has any contact with Manning has deluded themselves into thinking Manning was the anti-Sanders, and that Manning’s had multiple setbacks that didn’t prevent him from throwing, stretching, or working out on his own, yet pushed back his rehab from 2 months, to over 6 months, AND that people close to Manning, including his teammates and former coach all colluded to lie about their perception of whether Manning would start.

I simply do not feel that the second option is anywhere close to being as believable as the first option. We’ve seen two straight preseason games where neither Painter nor Orlovsky have been able to post a QB rating over 80 — or where either could complete more than 50% of their passes. A team like the Colts doesn’t leave things to chance, and with neither Painter nor Orlovsky panning out at the moment, the decision seems to be to find someone better — even if he does cost more money.

RIPPLE #2

Even if we believe that Manning has had a recent setback that no one could have foreseen, and that everyone close to Peyton is simply lying, the perception that Bill Polian is a horrible GM simply isn’t tenable. Bill Polain is about as far away from being a bad GM as can be imagined. I even feel that the greatest addition to the Colts franchise in the past 2 decades hasn’t been Peyton Manning. It has been the addition of Bill Polian. He may not stock up first round draft picks like Bill Belichick does, but Bill Polian has crafted 6 Super Bowl teams, and has single handedly built a franchise from being the worst in the NFL to a team with more victories in the past decade than any other team in NFL history.

Peyton Manning is a big reason for that success, but he isn’t the only reason. We’ve all seen teams destroyed by a failure of management to surround promising young QBs with talent. Polian could have lucked into Peyton Manning and still had a fairly respectable team as a result. Instead, he made the right choice in Manning over Leaf, then proceeded to add ever more talented pieces like Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Cato June, Joseph Addai, Jeff Saturday, Antoine Bethea, Ryan Diem, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and even oft-injured Bob Sanders. That list of exceptional players who were, and still are top players in the league should not be underestimated. It was the work of Bill Polian that added all of those players to the Colts roster, not dumb blind luck.

Yes Polian has had a string of misfires recently. Tony Ugoh imploded. Mike Pollak has fizzled. Donald Brown can’t see with the ball in his hands. Jerry Hughes wasn’t able to wrack up 10 sacks on 50 snaps last year. Anthony Gonzalez has caught Sander’s Fever. Recent draft struggles have left the Colts without their veteran LT of the future, without their successor to Jeff Saturday, Joseph Addai, and Marvin Harrison, and without a cost-cutting measure for Robert Mathis or Dwight Freeney. In their stead, though, Polian has found guys like Kyle DeVan, Joe Reitz, Austin Collie, and Eric Foster. These guys may not be the decade plus answer to those questions, but they give the Colts time. Bill Polian works his magic on making a system out of the scraps of what he can get from the perpetual tail end of the draft, and it has succeeded in the longest streak of 10 win seasons and 12 win seasons in NFL history.

As I said with Manning’s injury, it would take a belief that Bill and Chris Polian were seemingly duped by everyone into thinking that Manning would be OK for Week 1. Otherwise, they would have brought in more serious QB competition initially in case Manning couldn’t play. This is the guy who drafted Donald Brown just on the off-chance that Addai wouldn’t pan out, and Jerry Hughes on the thought that maybe the Colts wouldn’t have the money to keep Robert Mathis. Painter showed he can’t handle NFL pressure once already, and so if Bill Polian felt that Manning wouldn’t be able to play Week 1 would Dan Orlovsky and Nate Davis be the first choices for a backup QB ‘competition’ with Painter given who else was out there for relatively cheap money?

No, everything about this situation says one thing. The Colts had liked the development of Painter last year and had thought he would be acceptable, and so brought in Tom Brandstater and Drew Willy-esque competition to compare Painter against. But despite being impressive in Training Camp, Painter has once again flopped while still being the least crappy of the available options. With multiple millions of dollars in cap space, the Colts have now decided its time to stop being cheap and actually bring in someone who won’t be a constant embarrassment behind Manning. If Manning gets a sizable lead in the 4th quarter the first few games, the team wants someone who won’t lose the game for them automatically. They want someone who can manage the clock and keep drives going more than 3 plays. At this point that isn’t Painter or Orlovsky.

The signing of Kerry Collins may indicate that Manning feels he may be too rusty to finish off a game Week 1, but with the signing being the ONLY indication, it seems very premature to assume it means that Manning is somehow incapable of starting. No other indications from teammates, coaches, or from practice itself indicates anything other than the opposite of that premise. My opinion is just one of millions at the moment, but with my belief in Occam’s Razor, I just have trouble believing that the ‘correct’ interpretation of the signing requires assuming that one of the best GMs in the NFL is actually one of the worst, that all the staff working with Manning are mindless drones, that all of Manning’s teammates and a close friend and former coach are patently lying for some unknown reason, and that a 2 month rehabilitation is taking well over 6 months despite no signs of a setback while visible, physical signs of a return to normalcy have become common for Manning.

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In all of this we are missing one key point in the discussion… What is Kerry Collin’s mentality for coming back? He made it obvious he doesn’t think he can handle a full season, and was rather adament about being retired. He did not want to have to go through the preparation for another season, similar to Favre, and so he retired. The Colts only contacted him on Saturday, following another dismal performance from both Painter and Orlovsky on Friday.  Given that Manning was unlikely to do any serious rehab work either Friday or Saturday, indications continue to point to the Colts simply looking for a real backup. That said, I am not sure Collins would agree to terms with the Colts with the knowledge he would be the starting QB (and subsequently the guy carrying the brunt of the load) for any length of time. Maybe Collins just had a change of heart.

The simple fact is that fans can only speculate on these decisions. We do not know whether the Colts have been perusing real veteran QBs and have simply been unable to nab one for the right price. We don’t know if Collins has agreed to join because he knows he won’t be asked to be the starter, only the ‘In Case of Emergency’ backup. We don’t know if Manning will miss the season with some unknown complication, or if he is actually physically ready to go back onto the field now. All we know is that Kerry Collins is now a Colt, and provides the team with a better, more talented option at QB than either Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky.

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