Suck for Luck Sweepstakes: Why Colts Are Still Leading Candidate to Land Star QB

Justin UseltonContributor INovember 10, 2011

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 and tight end Coby Fleener #82 of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate a touchdown in the third quarter during the game against the Oregon State Beavers on November 5, 2011 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. Stanford won the game 38-13. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

Wish as he may, Peyton Manning won't be able to stop the train that will end next April when the Indianapolis Colts draft their next franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck.

It might be the only way to preserve the future of their storied franchise.

While Manning may have years of productivity left—and that remains in question—the Colts find themselves with the unenviable quandary that all franchises with legendary quarterbacks eventually must face. 

Turning the page on a Hall-of-Fame quarterback is difficult, but all good things come to pass. 

Manning, like all great quarterbacks, possesses a certain amount of ego. That same ego that made him great, however, is causing him to be myopic in regard to the state of the Colts franchise. While he may think of himself as still the same gun-slinging wizard, the NFL has known since 1998 that Manning is expendable at this point in his career.

Manning will be 36 years old in March. The 49ers cut ties with Joe Montana when he was 36. Dan Marino's productivity began to sharply decline at the age of 36. At the age of 36, Johnny Unitas was washed-up as well, but it took the Colts three more years to realize it.

John Elway retired at 38. Dan Fouts called it a career at 36. Fran Tarkenton had his final great season at 36 before limping towards retirement at the age of 38.

So, what will happen if the Colts fail to come up with a contingency plan for Manning?

The 49ers' ability to seamlessly replace Montana with Steve Young enabled them to maintain prolonged success and extend their 1980s dynasty to remain a contender and champion throughout the 1990s.

Yet the Dolphins still search for the next Marino, and the Colts had only more winning seasons between Unitas' 36th birthday and the eventual departure of the franchise to Indianapolis.

The Chargers finally found Philip Rivers about 20 years too late. The Vikings never found another Tarkenton, and the Broncos have Tim Tebow.

Do you see how rare this opportunity is?

Jim Irsay is an intelligent football thinker who understands the importance of a franchise quarterback. Given how important Manning has been to the Colts since 1998, Irsay has seen first-hand the importance of having a signal-caller you can rely upon for 10-to-15 years. 

If you have an aging quarterback and find yourself in the position to draft a once-in-a-generation prospect like Andrew Luck, deferring on him can cost your franchise years or potentially decades of success.

Only one other franchise has gotten the chance to replace their legendary quarterback this quickly. 

The time is now to make a change. Even if Manning is productive as the Colts' leader in 2012, for how many years can he realistically remain a franchise quarterback?

Manning has been great, perhaps the greatest, but greatness dims when the talent goes.

As injuries mount and Manning goes months without football conditioning, the likelihood of him returning to his former status decreases. The very nature of his neck injury is one that strikes against common sense chances of him ever playing like "The Sheriff" again. 

The Colts' dynasty is dead, but it can be revived if they are willing to turn the page on one of the greatest careers in NFL history.

Drafting the surest thing since, well, Peyton Manning, can do wonders for restoring the luster and excitement this franchise has enjoyed for 14 years. 

Yes, all good things do come to pass, but the Colts would be stupid to pass on Luck.