Forget Tim Tebow. The biggest story in the NFL this coming offseason is going to be the conclusion of Peyton Manning’s relationship with the Indianapolis Colts. If Manning does play again, it won’t be with the Colts.
A year ago this idea would never have entered my mind. At the beginning of 2011, Manning was finishing his 13th season as the quarterback for the Colts, and his (future) Hall-of-Fame-type stats and status were unquestioned. If Manning were to simply continue playing near the same level for another three to five years, he would finish atop the record books in many quarterback categories.
Age and injury have a way of altering reality, however, and Manning is no exception. On May 23, 2011, Manning had surgery on his neck to relieve symptoms surrounding a pinched nerve in his neck. Following surgery, Manning didn’t recover the way he thought he would, with weakness in his arm persisting from a damaged nerve. While Manning attempted to work through this issue, he began to feel pain again in his neck and a third surgery was needed. Because of the repeated problems with this particular disk, Manning underwent an anterior cervical fusion procedure that removed the damaged disk and fused a couple of cervical vertebrae together.
Manning ultimately missed the entire 2011 NFL season while recovering from the fusion procedure. While he has progressed with his rehabilitation post-surgery, there have been no indications that Manning’s recovery is going well or even on schedule. Ultimately, Manning’s total recovery depends on that damaged nerve regenerating and giving him back the strength in his throwing arm that has been lacking since the end of last season.
Let’s assume, for the purpose of this debate, that Manning does heal and he is back to typical form by the start of next season. Let’s also assume that, considering Manning’s age/injury history, and the fact that the Colts have the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft (where they will undoubtedly select quarterback Andrew Luck), Manning is released to go find another team on which to play.
No matter where Manning goes, it’s highly unlikely that he will find more than a few offensive players that he has played with before (unless the Colts release a few after he’s gone). He will have a hard time finding any offensive coaches that he has played with before. The Colts were so insular about their offensive scheme that they loathed bringing in outsiders, and that will make it hard for Peyton to pick up where he left off with another team.
Peyton is going to find himself on an island offensively. As his new coach/team, would you rather completely shift your offense over to Peyton’s scheme (no-huddle with a myriad of signals/audibles called at the line) that he’s used his entire career, or would you keep your offense the way that it is and force Peyton to adapt to it?
You could look at it both ways. First, Peyton’s system has worked for him for a long time, and he’s clearly highly successful with it. On the other hand, he’s going to play only a few more seasons at best and would you want to totally upheave your offense to appease Peyton? Obviously, there will need to be some sort of fusion of ideas no matter where he goes.
Peyton is skilled enough as a quarterback with his accuracy and intelligence that he could adapt to a new system if forced. I believe he should be forced, and you only have to look at the 2011 Colts to know why. Without the master at the controls, that offense was lost. It was a complex offense to begin with, and, as a Manning creation, it was something that only Peyton could really run successfully. If you’re his new coach, you don’t want to put yourself in a hole with your offense should Peyton become hurt again.
I definitely hope that Manning plays again, and I hope that he goes to a team that will truly appreciate his talents. I actually look forward to Manning playing a more conventional offense just to see him in a different light. It won’t diminish his legacy. It will only enhance it.
Julie is a longtime fan of the NFL and Peyton Manning. She thinks the Colts did him a great disservice over the past decade by not putting together a better team.