Peyton Manning’s 208 (227 with playoffs) consecutive games played streak snapped this past Sunday and along with it went the ease of playing for the Colts. He essentially controlled the offense from the field making the offensive coordinator position close to useless. At times he would send the punt team back to the bench and basically go against the coach’s decisions. He was able assimilate young players quickly into the offense by breaking up complex play calls into code words. While trailing or playing a close game, the defense didn’t have to play with the weight of the world on them knowing #18 is waiting to strike.
And during the 13 year reign of Manning behind the center, who had the best job in the world? Peyton Manning’s backup. It was funny…until now. From 2004 to 2009, his primary backup was Jim Sorgi (now with the New York Giants) and since then it has been Curtis Painter. Sitting behind Manning may have been easy but I’m sure they, specifically Painter, picked up a thing or two, or a hundred things, on how to play in this offense. How fortunate are you if you can learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks ever? Did Manning focus so much on next week’s opponent and being in sync with the first unit, that he neglected teaching his backup? I would think the risk of placing someone with knowledge of the offense into the starting role is less than picking up the “retired” Kerry Collins. Maybe the organization thought Painter just didn’t have the skills to give the Colts a chance to compete. So why hadn’t they taken more of an active role in drafting a developmental quarterback for scenarios like we have today? Surely, as Manning considered offseason surgery this year, the thought had to cross their minds for the 2011 draft more than ever. In a way, the Colts are lucky this injury didn’t occur mid-season or during the playoffs. A backup quarterback is the most valuable backup a NFL team can have. Last year, the Eagles turned backup Michael Vick into a starter and he led them to the playoffs. Similarly, in 2001, Drew Bledsoe got hurt, and in came Manning’s “frienemy”, Tom Brady. In 2008, a season ending injury to Brady catapulted Matt Cassell’s career and he led the Patriots to an 11-5 season.
The Colts have taken for granted the health of Manning and in return laid the fate of the franchise on his shoulders. Now the Colts must decide if Manning, at 35 years of age, can maintain his level of play upon his return. Coincidentally, Manning’s new contract has an option for the Colts to void his contract next year, something Manning asked his agent to include protecting the Colts. It’s hard to imagine the Colts being the absolute worst team in the NFL with teams like the Bengals and Seahawks still playing. In addition, Kerry Collins managed some nice throws towards the end of last Sunday’s game to give them some hope for the season.
But let’s imagine Colts have the option of drafting Andrew Luck. They could (mildly) entertain the thought of letting Manning go and rebuilding with Andrew Luck. Or they could draft and pay Luck top pick money, not void Manning’s huge contract and place themselves in a situation similar to the Packers with Favre and Rodgers. In about 6 months, the Colts will start to ponder these scenarios and probably make the biggest financial decision in franchise history. They’ve let Manning, directly and indirectly, control so much of the franchise for the last decade that it makes me wonder if the Colts have ever considered Plan B, not only on the field but from a management and fan perspective. According to Bloomberg, the value of the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped nearly 200 million dollars once LeBron James left for South Beach. The product on the court dropped and ticket sales diminished. Fans are now left to wonder when, or if, they will see a team that brings the same championship hope.