INDIANAPOLIS, IN - OCTOBER 09: An Indianapolis Colts fan sit alone in the stands following the NFL game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 9, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts lost 28-24 and are 0-5 to start the season.(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I’m a firm believer in practicing patience. Even with the continual stroking of Jim Caldwell, the 10-yard cushion from hell, the pee-wee style play from Curtis Painter, and the numerous other blunders from this horrific season, I still remain patient. I may feel like ripping my eyeballs out every time I watch the Colts take the field, but I still remain patient. You may think I’m crazy, but in our situation, I simply know that patience will be rewarded.
I’ll also be the first one to admit that it’s quite obvious what practical changes must be pushed to the front, following the end of this season. I think the most obvious decision of them all is to show Mr. Nice Guy a.k.a. Jim Caldwell, the door. From there, a new defensive coordinator will likely be brought in at the request of our new coach, but most certainly replaced either way. I believe Clyde Christensen’s job could also be up for grabs, depending on the next coach and the future of Peyton Manning. Radical changes are one thing, but these are vital to compliment the other changes that will soon follow.
That said, within all of the crap that must float to the top, I believe there’s something really special brewing in the mix at West 56th.
As a true optimist, I always look for that light at the end of the tunnel. For the Colts, that light is currently undiscovered and completely engulfed in an enormous cloud of dreadful uncertainty. But the more I think about finding that light, the more anxious I become at the thoughts of what the future will hold. What will be at the end of this tunnel? While there are so many questions that we must ask ourselves as Colts fans, here’s a few that I believe to fit the overall consensus: Will Peyton Manning ever wear a Colts uniform again? Will we draft Andrew Luck? Will a healthy Manning be forced to walk away from this franchise if we draft Luck? Will Manning want to walk away?
Thinking about these questions makes me uneasy, but even as I’m currently bringing them to the table, I catch a butterfly or two of pure excitement.
And I think you should too.
Within this display of the BBS-coined "Vortex of Suck", what have we really gained from this experience besides a whole lot of horrible football?
I know it may be hard to think about anything positive with six long weeks of agony to struggle through, but try to entertain the optimist in me and start thinking about what could be a huge blessing in disguise for our beloved team.
For the first time since we drafted the savior of this franchise in 1998, it seems inevitable that Roger Goodell will utter that famous line come April:
"With the first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, the select…"
Depressing in a way? Sure. I think so. First and foremost, when the Commissioner speaks that line with your team's name included, it really means that you were so horrible, so dramatically bad, that you needed the help of the projected, best of the best college prospect to hopefully bring your team out of the dumps. And even with the opportunity to hand pick a future leader of your franchise, you really never have a guarantee with any guy. However, for the first time since the Colts decided to select Peyton Manning over the bust of all busts, there is a very gifted athlete that could be as close to the ‘sure thing’ designation as you can get: Stanford quarterback, Andrew Luck.
How's that for "Luck"?
Despite the possibility that we could draft a guy that some people have dubbed the 'next Peyton Manning', it also comes with the implication that we would most likely have to witness the end of a very legendary era in Indianapolis. That isn’t something I ever wanted to think about, at least not this early. I knew the day would come, but that day would mean we’d be able to witness the end of the Manning era on his own terms. While I believe this still could happen, every day that passes which doesn't bring Manning back to the practice field, the level of optimism about Manning will continue to dwindle and I realize that we could be forced to walk through that door.
Our predicament certainly seems like a very good situation to be in as a franchise, but that won't make it any easier to face. Being a Peyton Manning fan since I was 9-years-old, the thought of watching him walk away from the game of football because of injury is just indescribable to me. But when the time comes to lay our cards down on the table, the decision could be between a healthy Manning and a young and exciting Luck. I know Jim Irsay has already began losing sleep at the thought of such a decision. So, here's where I'd like to lend my opinion.
First off, I believe a healthy Manning means way too much to this franchise to just simply move on and cut ties. I know we're all pumped about the possibility of drafting another ‘golden boy’, but I find myself especially foaming at the mouth of thoughts regarding what we could get for Luck to help improve this team for the Manning era.
A thought that constantly bares down on my opinion goes something like this: Manning signs with another team, gets his second and possibly third ring, and Luck turns out to be another overhyped college quarterback. Now, all pessimistic thoughts aside, I’ve watched Luck very closely and if you like accurate quarterbacks, this guy is the ultimate dream. He can put the ball on a fly and is one of the most intelligent players that we've seen come out of college in a long, long time. The guy's talent is undeniable and he really looks like he could be the next big thing. That being considered, is he really the only choice for Indianapolis? I don't think so. When I think about other immediate prospects, a guy like Landry Jones from Oklahoma comes to mind. While he may be rough around the edges in areas (pocket presence and his deep ball), Jones could be turn into a home run if given the time to develop with Manning as he goes for more rings. He also would certainly be a late first rounder, with the possibility of slipping into the second round if he decides to enter the 2012 draft. This would assume less risk in the event that he's not the right guy. Matt Barkley is another great option, but he might be too high up the draft board to consider. Regardless, the expectations are still going to be lower when comparing Luck's.
When I think of other another quarterback who wasn't the top dog coming out of college, Andy Dalton immediately is the first that comes to mind. Not only was he almost a Colt, but he is the perfect example of why you don’t have to be the first choice to have success at the next level. With Dalton's raw skills, imagine if he indeed drafted by the Colts and had Manning as a mentor? The sky would be the limit for Dalton.
All I'm trying to say, is this: There will be other candidates out there for Manning to pass the torch to. I think that we must be real enough with ourselves and entertain the possibility that Luck might not meet the giant expectations that have been strapped to his back. This is a quarterback driven league, and if you already have the greatest of all time at your disposal, why would you bet the farm and ditch a healthy Manning for an unproven college quarterback?
The extended future, not just the next 3-4 years, is obviously of the utmost importance to me. Sticking with Manning and skipping over Luck might be a gamble itself, but you get something guaranteed in return for this gamble. You get Peyton friggin' Manning. In my eyes, the only way that going after Luck becomes obvious is if Manning can't return to form. If he can’t prove that he's still got 'it' in the upcoming months, then we must move on from Manning and Luck has to be our choice. It will be absolutely heartbreaking, but it’s the only logical path.
So what if Manning is able to regain his arm strength and stick around for a few more years as a contender. What would be the plan of action, you ask? Well, let me preface my thoughts by saying that the dismal 2011 Colts season would set up a plethora of choices that could dramatically improve a Manning-led team when April rolls around.
While there are a ton of different options that we could consider, let's take a look at the draft and what we could do with the Luck ransom.
With the addition of Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana from this year’s draft, what if you go after another tackle like USC’s Matt Kalil in the first round? Not a fan of Kalil? What about (Ohio State) or Jonathan Martin (Stanford)? All three of these guys are NFL quality tackles who will be available in '12. On paper, with Kali, Adams, or Martin, Indianapolis would have one of the best offensive lines to ever sport the horseshoe.
Not a fan of this route? Okay. Let's say we go after a replacement for Reggie Wayne and look at a large, physical wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina. The possibilities of a Manning-Jeffery connection are seemingly endless. This guy has intangibles that could equate to an Anquan Boldin and Calvin Johnson hybrid. He can beat the press, make the alley-oop type grabs, and seems to run through defenders with little effort. Such a target would line up next to guys like Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, combining for one of the best receiving corps in the NFL. And that’s without throwing a healthy Dallas Clark into the mix.
If that doesn't get you all giddy inside, you might want to check for a pulse.
You may think I'm crazy, and say, "Well if you can miss on Luck, you certainly can miss on others." Sure, that's definitely a possibility. However, failing to select your franchise quarterback and failing to select your next top WR/OT are obviously not even close to comparable.
Now if we switch to the defensive side of the ball, some of our biggest concerns sit at safety, cornerback, and our lack of depth at defensive tackle. All of these positions could be addressed aggressively through the draft, regardless of who's running the Colts huddle. Free agency is always an 'instant improvement' option, especially with candidates like Brent Grimes, Terrell Thomas, LaRon Landry, and Jim Leonard available for wooing in 2012. However, I think the coaching market is where we will make some of the best and most intelligent decisions for the future of our defense. Look at what Wade Phillips has done in one season for the defense. To re-arrange the pieces and take the worst secondary in the league from a year ago, and to make it one of the very best in the following year is living proof that coaching can make the ultimate difference. Overall, the Texans' defense is currently numero uno. Incredible.
Whether you want to stick with the Tampa 2 'bend-don't-break' philosophy or scrap it altogether, I don't believe the Colts need such a dramatic turnaround from a miracle worker, as the Texans have been so blessed to experience. The Colts have always relied on the passive Tampa 2 scheme with success, but it was obviously accompanied by a top ranked offense to effectively lean on. With the return of Manning, this defense will once again prove to be enough with minimal changes in personnel. From here, the Colts would return in 2012, explosive as ever, especially when you consider any of the new weapons I've mentioned.
So with all of that churning in your noggin, hopefully you see the point of such an article. We should start aggressively turning our gears and continue pondering about what we'd really like this team to do in 2012. And while the future may be a very complicated and unpredictable beast, I think it's safe to say that every Colts fan should be elated about what Father Time could positively throw at us. This team has been the model of consistency for the last decade and with a franchise quarterback at the helm, Manning or Luck, the necessary framework to be successful will be firmly in place.
Our patience will continue to be tested, but in the end, I think it will all prove worthy. This season should only be remembered as a single speed bump (and a gift) in an otherwise perfectly paved road back to past glory.
It's there was ever a time to get excited, people, it's right now. But remember:
"Patience is a virtue, have it if you can."