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Peyton Manning: What Do Struggles Mean for His Future With Indianapolis Colts?

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 28:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts waits for a play to come from the sidelines during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Chargers won 36-14.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
John LorgeSenior Writer IDecember 1, 2010

Peyton Manning is Indianapolis Colts football, but how much longer can he carry the franchise on his back?

Sitting at 6-5, the Colts are in the NFL's tightest division race. While their schedule is favorable, if they don't win the AFC South it is unlikely they will earn a wild card birth.

Missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2001 would put Manning's Colts in a scramble—is it time to plan for the future or focus on the now? Even if Indy does make the playoffs, their lack of depth at almost every position has been exposed this season.

It all starts with the 34-year-old Manning (35 in March), whose contract is up after this season.

It seems impossible Peyton would test the free-agent waters, and while the same could have been said for Derek Jeter the differences are too vast to began speculation. Seriously, Manning on the Bills, Vikings, or Raiders seems too unrealistic to imagine (let the Photoshoppers try).

The question comes down to contract length and what it means for the future of the franchise.

If the Colts ink the MVP QB to a deal that's longer than three years there is no reason to spend a top draft choice on a "quarterback-of-the-future".  At some point the Colts will need to start grooming their next guy, but in the short term they could spend a late pick on a Mitch Mustain type and see what happens.

If for some reason the Colts don't get a long-term deal done, drafting a Jake Locker or Christian Ponder becomes a reality.

Under Bill Polian the Colts have never went after big-time free agents. Their strategy has been to build the franchise through the draft.

You can't argue with their success but as Manning's window of opportunity narrows the Colts needs to get more aggressive with their talent acquisitions on both sides of the ball.

If Indy wants to relieve some pressure off Manning, Reggie Wayne, and the passing game, they need to accumulate another big time receiver.

Randy Moss, Vincent Jackson, and Terrell Owens lead the list of physical downfield threats.  All three embody a receiver type that Manning has never played with.  All three have also been tagged with the term troubled, however we've seen winning solve many problems.

Moss would be the best fit for Indy and he would be the easiest to bring in on a trial basis.

If the Colts want to add a receiver through the draft there are many talented options but young talent is already on their roster—they need established production that Manning can rely on.

Instead, the Colts should use this draft to fix their interior line on both sides of the ball, gain depth at defensive back, and get some running backs with: a) toughness & b) big play ability.

It's rare to see winning teams give up as many rushing yards as the Colts have the past few years and on the other hand their inability to run the ball has been devastating this year.

In the next two years the Colts have many big names hitting free agency including Joseph Addai and Robert Mathis in 2011 and Wayne in 2012.  Most of their O-line will need a new contract in the next two years too.  

Clearly the Colts need to act now.  Establishing a winning tradition through drafted talent is an ideal strategy but if Indy wants to get the greatest return from the best football player to ever play the game they need to surround him with hungry veterans ASAP.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnLorge

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