Over the last few weeks, the Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts and Jim Irsay story has rivaled the playoffs, Tebow Time and now the Super Bowl. Speculation is running rampant and the rumors are flying regarding what exactly is going on in Indianapolis and what the Colts will do with Manning. If most of the talk is true, the Colts are too quickly dismissing Manning and his ability.
With Manning due a $28 million roster bonus at the beginning of March, the Colts and owner Jim Irsay are faced with making a decision on one of the greatest players to ever play the game. With the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft, the Colts are expected to take Andrew Luck and make him the new face of the franchise.
Late last week, NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported the Colts are prepared to move on with the all-time great. "According to sources who were involved in the Colts’ GM search, the organization was planning to move on from Manning weeks ago, well before this public squabble between the quarterback and his owner."
If this is the case, the Colts are making a huge mistake by dismissing Manning this early. Unless the Colts have more information regarding the health and status of Manning's neck, they are too quickly ending the relationship that has been so beneficial to both of the involved parties.
While the roster bonus is not due until Mar. 8, there are still a few more weeks for Manning to heal before being fully evaluated with the intent of making a roster decision. There is no reason for the Colts to make a rushed decision this early unless they know for a fact that Manning will be unable to play to the level of a certain standard.
If Manning is healthy enough to return to playing at a high level in the NFL, the Colts should honor the contract and keep Manning around despite drafting Luck with the first pick. Manning has a chance to immediately help this team out more than Luck, who could also benefit from sitting on the bench a la Aaron Rodgers. Fast-forward two to three years, and the Colts would have a groomed Luck take over for Manning.
If Manning's health deteriorates throughout the season, the Colts would have Luck in the on-deck circle waiting for his turn. If not, then the Colts will have some success with Manning behind center while they groom Luck to become the next face of the franchise.
It is clear from the disaster that was the Colts' 2011 season that the lack of Manning was not the only problem, but it was certainly a huge one.
With Manning as their starting quarterback, the Colts finished the 2010 season 10-6 with a playoff appearance. The offense, with many pieces similar to that of the 2011 version with the exclusion of Manning, scored 435 points for an average of 27.2 points per game. In 2011, the offense put up 243 points for an average of 15.2 points per game.
The difference in the defenses of the two years was huge and assisted in the collapse of the Colts, but with Manning as their leader, this team would have been competitive most games and likely finished the season around .500. Throw in Luck, and it's likely the Colts win four to six games.
Similarities to the Packers' situation with Brett Favre and Rodgers will definitely be brought up when discussing the possibility of Manning returning. It only makes if it is in regard to Luck sitting on the bench for a few years while soaking in all he can as Manning starts at quarterback for the Colts.
Whereas the Packers were ready to move on because they knew what they had in Rodgers (who had been in the league for three years), the Colts have an unknown in Luck. Yes, he is toted as one of the best prospects of all time, but it is vital to remember the keyword in that sentence: prospect. Luck may in fact go down as the best football player of all time, but there is also a chance for whatever reason that he doesn't live up to the hype.
The Colts know what they will be getting in Manning if they decide to keep him on the roster. With Luck, they have a good idea, but can't be certain how it will play out when Luck goes face to face with NFL defenses.
If Manning isn't healthy and hasn't shown the ability to throw the ball well by the middle of February, then by all means the Colts should cut ties with Manning and avoid the $28 million roster bonus. If he can throw the ball with velocity at that point, Manning should definitely be wearing his white-and-blue No. 18 jersey as the starter for the Colts to open up the 2012 season.