Chuck Pagano: Why New Indianapolis Colts Coach Must Keep Peyton Manning

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIJanuary 26, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 06: Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (R) and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano (C) talk with the defense during training camp at M&T Bank Stadium on August 6, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Chuck Pagano, welcome to Indianapolis.

First order of business: Keep Peyton Manning.

Second order of business: Keep Peyton Manning.

Third order of business: Shave your goatee, and then keep Peyton flippin' Manning.

You have the one thing every NFL franchise wants—an elite quarterback—so do not let him loose. Don't fall victim to hype and prospecting and clouded strands of recency.

Peyton Manning—who is, let's remember, one of the five greatest quarterbacks in NFL history—gives you the best team possible over the remaining four years of his contract.

That's the most relevant piece of information in this decision.

People will try to district you from that simple fact. They'll say you have to plan for the future. They'll say you need to make a clean break. They'll say you need to move in a new direction.

Don't believe them. Or at least, don't believe them past the point of trading/releasing Peyton Manning.

It's easy to break things into dichotomies—to reduce this argument into a red-pill-blue-pill choice between the "future" and "now." But you don't have to do that. You can have both. Draft Andrew Luck. Keep Peyton Manning. Have it both ways.

Those in opposition to the above statement fall, generally speaking, into two lines of logic.

The first line of logic considers personality. It says Manning and Luck cannot play on the same team because one or both of them are too proud to share the stage with another top-flight quarterback.

That's ridiculous.

I'm not saying their playing together wouldn't engender some bitterness or resentment or internal competition. That's fine. But to make that argument is to tacitly suggest that putting Manning and Luck on the same team would somehow sabotage the latter's development.

If Aaron Rodgers can learn and grow behind the ego that is Brett Favre, Luck has nothing to worry about. I don't care what Archie Manning has to say on the matter. Manning isn't going to ruin Luck just by being there.

The second argument is a bit more substantive and, I will admit, harder to grasp.

It's about money, and Manning is owed a bunch of it if Indianapolis exercises his option before March 8. To draft Luck and keep Manning would amount to a massive investment in the quarterback position over the next four years.

And while that is an uncomfortable proposition, if there's any position on the field worth the reach, it's quarterback. The defense may languish and the running game may suffer, but to ensure a successful transition of power at the quarterback position is to ensure your franchise's health for the next decade.

Teams that can manage that transition, understand their assets before they act, do well. 

Again, I refer you to the Green Bay Packers (or the mid-'90s San Francisco 49ers, if you prefer).

(Side note: The number being tossed around as a fiscal boogeyman is $50 million. As in, the Colts would pay $50 million to have Manning and Luck in uniform next season. That isn't all against the cap, though, as some is out of pocket.)

Behind all of these arguments, however, is a whisper—a whisper that says Peyton Manning isn't all that good.

It is a whisper that suggests Manning was somehow to blame for the team's regression from 14-2 in 2009 to 10-6 in 2010. It's a whisper that places the man's decline years ahead of where it actually stands.

Concerns about the injured neck aside—because presumably a better prognosis on that is forthcoming—the last time we saw Manning he was as good as ever.

Yes, his team went from 14-2 to 10-6, but the Colts offense was actually a smidge better in 2010 than in the Super Bowl year of 2009.

The offense scored more points and gained more yards in 2010, and Manning's output was nearly identical.

In 2010 he threw for 200 more yards, the same number of touchdowns, one more interception and completed just 2.5 percent less of his passes.

This is Peyton Manning's last impression as an NFL quarterback: 4,700 yards, 33 TD, 17 INT, 66.3 percent completion, 91.9 quarterback rating

There are maybe four other quarterbacks in football capable of posting that line. More importantly, the Indianapolis Colts can win with a quarterback of that caliber.

To forfeit a winning proposition in the NFL amounts to organizational suicide because nothing is guaranteed beyond tomorrow in a league this violent and mutable.

If you have a chance to win, take it.

Or, to put it another way, windows to win in the NFL are always smaller than they seem. Chuck Pagano, this is your window. Don't draw the blinds.


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