Don't kill me for saying this, but the Indianapolis Colts are dangerously close to being the worst team in football—and they have no one to blame but themselves. The team waited too long to find their predecessor to Peyton Manning at quarterback and now they will pay for it.
Bill and Chris Polian, as well as Jim Irsay, drank the Manning Kool-Aid for far too long, and now it's bitten them in their collective asses as Manning has undergone his third neck surgery in two years. Even Superman had kryptonite, folks.
Manning will reportedly miss two to three months, which is what we heard back in May when he had his first surgery. The cold, hard truth is that no one knows if or when Manning will return to the starting lineup in Indianapolis.
Instead of sitting back and doing nothing, which is the standard operating procedure for the Colts, the team should start scouting quarterbacks now in an attempt to find their next starting quarterback.
During the 1996-97 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs went from preseason favorites to the third-worst record in the league when star center David Robinson was injured after just six games. The Spurs would lose 62 games, but earn the right to the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA lottery—which they used to draft Tim Duncan.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Spurs went on to win four NBA Championships over the next 10 years.
How does that in any way relate? Without Manning under center the Colts could be historically bad, no matter how many Pro Bowlers they have at other positions. Manning was the glue holding this team together. Without No. 18 under center, the Colts could fall apart.
If the 2011 season is a disaster the one consolation prize would be putting themselves in a position to draft the best quarterback prospect in the last 20 years—Andrew Luck.
Should the Colts land the No. 1 overall pick, or trade up for it to get Luck, they would have the luxury of either playing him immediately should Manning be forced to retire, or let him sit ala Aaron Rodgers.
One very important note here is that under the new NFL collective bargaining agreement, first-round picks are no longer paid astronomical salaries. It's viable to draft a quarterback No. 1 overall and let him sit for a few years with the new rookie wage pool.
This scenario would be a dream for the Colts, and it's the most unlikely, but Luck would be the ideal candidate to replace Manning.
Backup quarterbacks in Green Bay have gone on to successful NFL careers once out of the shadow of Lambeau Field.
Look at Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and even Aaron Rodgers. All spent time in their careers as the No. 2 quarterback in Green Bay. Next on the list will be Matt Flynn.
A free agent after the 2012 season, Flynn's name is already on the tip of tongues this season as a potential starter once he leaves Green Bay. Playing in seven games with one start last season when Rodgers went down with a concussion, Flynn showed the moxie and potential to become a starting NFL quarterback.
Flynn would be the best option among current NFL players. The Colts have many holes on the roster, and it's conceivable they will play themselves out of the Andrew Luck derby. If so, Flynn is a safe bet to step in from Day 1 and lead the franchise.
I should add that if Manning is expected to return, something we all hope will happen, it's doubtful that Flynn would sign on to back him up.
It is fairly reasonable to believe the Colts are good enough to win six or seven games this year without Peyton Manning, right? If so, the team will have played themselves out of the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Winning a handful of games would likely mean a top-10 pick, as the Dallas Cowboys won six games last year and picked No. 9 overall.
Should Indianapolis be picking in that range, and if they decide to pull the trigger on a quarterback, Oklahoma's Landry Jones is a very solid prospect.
Jones runs a complex, spread offense at Oklahoma that would transition well to the Colts' offensive scheme. He is in no way ready to step in and run the offense like Manning does, but no one will be. Jones would represent the future for Indianapolis, and he would be a great prospect to learn behind Manning if he's able to return.
Stealing from the enemy. It's smart football as well as smart warfare. If the Indianapolis Colts want to start the process of replacing Peyton Manning, they should look to their biggest rival for help.
Brian Hoyer lit up the NFL this preseason, earning respect league-wide. What many weren't able to know before the 2011 season began was that Hoyer had already earned the respect of NFL scouts and general managers before this season.
Doubters should pull up the Week 17 game from 2010 versus the Miami Dolphins. Hoyer will be a starting quarterback in the NFL very soon.
I have my doubts about Matt Barkley's ability to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL—it's something I'm spending a lot of time evaluating this season—but he would represent a reasonable quarterback of the future in Indianapolis. And that's something the team needs.
Barkley would be a great option for the Colts if they find themselves drafting in the 10-12 range of the first round following the season. Barkley is far from a safe bet, but he has NFL-level intelligence and accuracy. He also could be groomed to play the position, much like Aaron Rodgers was in Green Bay.
Drafting Barkley and letting him learn from Manning—God willing—for a few seasons would be an ideal transition for the Colts.
Carson Palmer turns 32 years old this December, making him a short-term solution versus the other players mentioned here. Palmer would also be a better solution if the Colts want to try and put a band-aid on the quarterback situation should Manning never return.
Palmer's rights are currently owned by the Cincinnati Bengals, and he's demanded a trade at the threat of retirement. One option that works well for everyone involved would be to send a second-round draft pick to Cincinnati for Palmer's rights if Manning's recovery does not go well.
We should know within two or three months how likely Manning's return to the NFL is. If by December thing are not looking good, the Colts could swing a trade for Palmer and restructure his contract for the 2012 season.
Sometimes in life we are given second chances to do the right thing. I felt before and during the 2011 NFL draft that the Indianapolis Colts were a perfect fit for Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.
The Colts disagreed, and chose to not draft a quarterback at all. I bet they'd like to have a mulligan on that one.
Ryan Mallett showed the promise during the preseason that led many (not this guy) to have him rated as a potential first-round quarterback. I loved Mallett's ability on the field—it was his off-field issues that scared me away. In fact, from his 2011 Scouting Report,
Given the right coaching and the proper system, he (Mallett) could eventually put up big time numbers in the NFL just as he did under Petrino.
Mallett has as much talent as any quarterback we've seen enter the NFL over the last few years. The knocks were on his character and his mobility. Character can be changed, and mobility can be a non-issue in the right system. It's not like Manning or Tom Brady are running 4.6 in the 40-yard dash.
If the Indianapolis Colts had given Peyton Manning a physical once the lockout ended, would they have known his recovery from neck surgery was not progressing as well as they had hoped? And if so, would they have signed a quarterback other than Kerry Collins?
Let's say the Colts could have known about Manning four weeks ago. At that time, if they could have signed an athletic quarterback who has a career 30-17 winning record, shouldn't they have done it?
That quarterback was available when the Tennessee Titans, a division rival, released Vince Young.
Fast-forward to present day and Young is backing up Michael Vick in Philadelphia and the Colts are pinning their hopes on a 37 year old quarterback who had retired this offseason.
Young may not be well liked in the NFL fan community, but he's a better option than Dan Orlovksy or Curtis Painter for the 2011 season and the future. Should Manning be questionable to return next season, Young would be an excellent option after spending one season learning under Andy Reid in Philly.
Why the hell not?
I am well known as a Tim Tebow doubter, or maybe the term used most is "hater," whatever that means. Tebow's future as a quarterback in the NFL is still questionable, but if he could be sent to learn from anyone, sitting at the feet of Peyton Manning for a few seasons seems ideal.
Tebow is a good option whether Manning is able to return or not. Let's look at why.
Scenario 1- Manning Returns
Peyton Manning will be 36 years old when the 2012 season begins. Even if he's able to come back from his third neck surgery, it's reasonable to say his time is limited. Had he been healthy over the last few seasons you could say he would play until his 40, but this neck deal is serious, and Manning's career is in jeopardy. Tebow, in his second year out of Florida, is a young pup compared to Manning, and he needs the mentoring and instruction from a respected quarterback if he ever hopes to master the position.
Scenario 2- Manning Retires
God forbid, but there's a chance Manning never comes back from this thing. In that case, the Colts are not only screwed, but they will have to adjust their offense for a quarterback who's not a genius at the line of scrimmage. Why not throw out all the rules and bring in a mobile quarterback? The offensive line has been weak for years, and any quarterback who cannot process the defense and make split-second decisions will get killed in the pocket unless big changes are made up front. Tebow's ability to run, and throw on the run, would give the Colts offense a new wrinkle to keep AFC South defenses honest.