Is this the beginning of the end for Peyton Manning?
For the past 14 years, Manning has been one of the most consistent and reliable quarterbacks in the NFL. He has carved out his place in history, putting his name in the record books with legends like Unitas, Montana, Marino and Favre. He's won four MVP awards, been elected to 11 Pro Bowls and has won a Super Bowl. However, his career may be on the decline.
His neck injury comes three years after his knee surgery, except he will actually have to miss time for this one. His neck surgery by no means ends his career, but it does show Colts fans that he is human.
The Green Bay Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers after Brett Favre's 14th season—not because Favre was over the hill, but because they were planning for the future. Favre still had some gas in the tank, and Rodgers ended up sitting on the bench for four seasons before he had the opportunity to start. Manning probably still has some good years left in him, but this injury has to be a wake-up call for the Colts. There will be a life after Peyton Manning, but unless the Colts begin to plan accordingly, that life will not be very good.
Drafting a quarterback in the first or second round when you already have an established starter is not an easy thing to do for a GM, and it is a task that takes a lot of foresight. The draft is an opportunity to fill holes on your team with talented young players, and teams do not usually draft players to sit on the bench for more than a season. However, if Manning could mentor a talented young quarterback for a few years, it would make life very easy post-Peyton.
The 49ers of the late '80s and early '90s kept Steve Young on their roster, even though superstar Joe Montana was still one of the best in the league. After a few years, Montana began to decline and was eventually traded. In 1994, the first year with Steve Young at the helm, San Francisco won a Super Bowl with Young winning the game's MVP award. Making the transition from a long-time starter to a new quarterback is a lot easier if the new guy has had some experience with the team's players and offensive system.
Manning was arguably the best player of the 2000s. His injury is not the end of him, but it does show that a changing of the guard in the NFL is happening. Manning's career is definitely not over, and he will probably have a good 2011 campaign. But like everyone else, he can get injured. Unless the Colts seriously address the issue of Manning's successor with an early-round pick in the 2012 draft, things could get ugly once Peyton hangs up his jersey.