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Luck “Running Out” for Manning

The Colts are definitely at a crossroads. With Colts’ owner Jim Irsay currently scanning the classifieds for a new a management team, having recently fired the Polian braintrust, the team also faces the dilemma of what to do with Peyton Manning and the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, presumably Andrew Luck. Rest assured, the Colts are in good hands with a great owner in Jim Irsay, who genuinely cares about his football team, but there remain some tough decisions ahead.

What I’m going to write may not be popular. For some Colts’ fans, it may even appear to be sac-football-rilegious. However, if it comes down to keeping NFL and franchise icon Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. I’m picking Luck. For Colts’ fans, this may be a stark reality that they should start preparing themselves for. Peyton Manning is due a 28 million dollar bonus on March 8th, just 5 days before free agency begins on March 13th. It’s all or nothing regarding the bonus. Once March 8th comes, you’re stuck with the bonus, as well as its salary cap ramifications for four years, the remaining length of Manning’s contract. There is the possibility that Manning could postpone the payment of the bonus, giving him more time to recover and prove his health to the Colts. However, it’s uncertain if he’d really want to, knowing that he’s only essentially keeping the seat warm for Andrew Luck. After the bonus date, Manning can’t be traded  or released without an exorbitant amount of “dead money” affecting the Colts’ salary cap. What I mean by “dead money” is money that cannot be used for player personnel purposes, but still counts against the salary cap as though it were. What this means for Manning is that he has to prove he’s healthy before the bonus kicks in, which is a big if at this time to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong. Peyton Manning has been the greatest thing to ever happen to the Indianapolis Colts. He’s put this franchise on the map, and it has paid dividends for the city of Indianapolis. In addition to bringing the city a Super Bowl championship, he’s helped to get a world class facility in Lucas Oil Stadium that will be hosting its own Super Bowl this upcoming year. As a player, he’s the consumate pro, a star whose working habits are just as great as his play on the field. I’ve grown up idolizing Peyton Manning. He’s a guy who’s the ultimate perfectionist. His knack for detail and hard work should be an inspiration to us all. For that, I’ll always be grateful to what he’s done and accomplished. He’s nothing short of a hero in addition to being an NFL legend.

Nevertheless, the NFL is still a business, and the Colts are still owner Jim Irsay’s long-term investment. He’s seen what having a great QB can do for a franchise for nearly 15 years. I’m sure he’s grateful for everything Manning has helped contribute to his organization. However, there’s also the dark side to the NFL, the “what have you done for me lately” side to the business. We’ve already seen the Colts let go of Peyton Manning’s hall of fame go-to guy Marvin Harrison because of salary cap issues. We’ve seen one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time in Joe Montana finish his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. What the right move is, isn’t always fair.

If it were up to me in a perfect world, I’d try to keep both of them in the short-term. Let Andrew Luck learn behind Peyton Manning for a year or two. Let him sit, but not for too long. He’s ready now, but anyone could withstand to learn a thing or two from a future hall of famer. Even if Luck isn’t warmly embraced by Manning as his apprentice, he would still learn a lot about his work and film habits just through observation. It would also allow the Colts to send out Manning the right way, not through the uncertainty of whether he’ll ever play again. However, let it be known that I’m keeping Luck in any and all circumstances. It would be foolish to trade 15 years of at least  a very good franchise QB for maybe 3 great years of Peyton Manning. Even if Manning comes back, one awkward hit to the neck, and it could be deja vu all over again.

It’s also time to accept that the window may have very well closed on this current roster. Two core and Pro-Bowl level players in wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis may be lost to free agency, and even if they were to be retained, it’s uncertain even then, if this team is truly good enough. It was just a year ago that this team lost to a mediocre Jets team in the Wildcard Playoff at home. Now, two years older and with bigger holes, this team is all of the sudden going to contend? Even if Manning proved his health and you went all in and traded Luck for a massive haul of draft picks, rookies typically take around 3 years to reach their peak. By that time, Manning may very well be on his last leg if not retired.

Consequently, I feel that this approach is incredibly short-sighted and would cripple the long-term success of the franchise for a number of years. Sure, the team could win 10 games and sneak into the playoffs only to be eliminated in the short-term, but that isn’t truly contending. I’d like to see Manning make one last run in a Colts’ uniform, but it has to be realistic. The Colts will have to look in the mirror of contention and be honest with themselves. There’s no reason to keep Manning around purely on sentiment, his legacy, or as a babysitter to Luck on a non-contending Colt team. It isn’t the right move for either the Colts or him. Let Manning try to finish a champion.

I also don’t think that people realize just how good Andrew Luck is. This is a once in a decade type quarterback talent. I’ve heard that history projects he’ll be as good as Drew Bledsoe, Carson Palmer, or Vinny Testaverde. However, does history have eyes? He’s clearly better than all of those guys. In the Fiesta Bowl, he threw only 4 incompletions on his way to 2 touchdowns and nearly 350 yards. Yeah I know, Vince Young had a great bowl game once upon a time too, but Vince Young doesn’t have the poise, accuracy, and intelligence of this young man. He’s been doing it his entire Stanford career, where he’s done nothing but win. The young man has everything you look for in a quarterback, he even can run if he has to, something that’s becoming more expected of NFL quarterbacks.

I’ve also seen just how hard it is to replace a legend and  hall of famer at quarterback. Ask the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos about how the search to find the heir apparent to Dan Marino and John Elway has gone. Does the following list inspire confidence: [Dolphins] Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, A.J. Feeley, Sage Rosenfels, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green, John Beck, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Tyler Thigpen, and Matt Moore; or [Broncos] Brian Griese (again), Chris Miller, Gus Frerotte (again), Jake Plummer, Steve Beuerlein, Danny Kanell, Jarious Jackson, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Chris Simms, and Tim Tebow.

Teams like the 49ers with Montana and Steve Young and the Green Bay Packers with Brett Favre and Aaaron Rodgers “lucked” out. The Colts can too in their own right. While it’s no guarantee that Andrew Luck is a sure thing, he’s the surest thing out of anything I’ve seen in recent memory. He may not be great, but worse case scenario, he should be a very good quarterback in this league for a long time, something that’s hard to say about many of the quarterbacks on the Dolphins or Broncos ever growing heir list.

What I don’t want to see happen is that fans think Andrew Luck ran Peyton Manning out of town. That can’t be further from the truth. Peyton Manning’s uncertain health, advancing age, and the Colts’ depleted talent level of their roster were the underlying causes. Let’s not make Andrew Luck the scapegoat, let’s embrace him as though he’s our good luck charm or our newly found pot of gold because all signs point that he is. Look, I think I even see a blue rainbow– there’s hope Colts’ fans, there always is, just believe in blue.



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3 Responses to “Luck “Running Out” for Manning”

  1. Bobby says:

    Great article, I feel the same way.

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