INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 6: Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts talks with quarterback Curtis Painter #7 during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 6, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Falcons defeated the Colts 31-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
With the Dolphins in the win category, the Colts are the lone winless team in the NFL and undoubtedly the worst team as well.
Usually such an ignoble distinction would be met with long faces and groans from the Indy faithful. This year however it is a badge of honor as the Colts are now the front runners for the "best QB prospect in a decade."
But hang on all you #suckforluck faithfuls. Drafting Andrew Luck is not necessarily the right or best move.
Before I defend why, it's important to note that this rationale is predicated on one factor: Manning's health. If Manning is truly healthy - a verdict verified by independent specialists - then the Colts should pass on Luck. Obviously if Manning can't go or isn't close 100 percent healthy, then we should of course draft Luck. If Peyton's health is in the slightest bit of doubt, the Colts can't risk it. No matter how much Manning means to the Colts keeping him over Luck if he wasn't fully capable of playing would be irresponsible. But, if Manning is given a clean bill of heath and is ready to go, then the Colts should stick with #18.
Assuming Peyton is healthy (a major assumption at this juncture), the Colts would still have two to three championship caliber teams over the next few years.
With Luck, we'd probably be rebuilding during that same time frame.
Here's what we know about Manning:
1. Manning is a Super Bowl winning qb (we now realize he apparently did it himself) with a 141-67 record equating to a .677 lifetime regular season winning percentage.
2. He is one of the winningest quarterbacks of all time and owns just about every distinction, honor, award one could possibly earn.
3. With Manning as the starter the Colts were football's most winningest team ever for a single decade during the 2000's winning at least 10 games 9 straight years.
4. As of earlier this year, the Colts and Manning believed that even with the injury he could play an additional 5 years, hence the signing of his new contract.
Here's what we know about Andrew Luck
1. He is a very good college quarterback who CBS draft analyst Rob Rang called "the best player he's ever scouted" and who Chris Collinsworth has said multiple times on SNL is the "best prospect in a decade."
2. He is a three year starter who is 28-6 at Stanford and helped guide The Cardinal to last year's Orange Bowl and a final #4 AP ranking.
3. He holds numerous Stanford and Pac 12 records yet has only won a few national awards and broken a few NCAA records. (Manning holds far more college awards and statistics than Luck will when he graduates).
4. He has never played a down of professional football.
To me, the choice is pretty simple. Four months ago, before we knew about Manning's health issues, Luck wasn't even in the discussion. Playing for a Super Bowl in front of the home crowd was.
If Manning is indeed healthy and can prove to the Colts' brass and team doctors that he can make a full recovery and regain his zip and momentum on his throws, then why wouldn't the Colts immediately be back in contention? How much different is last year's team than this year's?
(I would go as far as to say that even though our secondary has been horrendous overall, - excluding Manning - the additions of Carter, Castonzo, Nevis and a revitalized Brown outweigh the loss of Hayden and Tryon.)
Manning is a proven winner who knows the Colts better than anyone, has the command and respect of his teammates and can lead the team from the day he returns. As good a prospect as Andrew Luck is, he is still unproven, would go through a several year learning curve (even Manning had too) and wouldn't have the immediate respect of his teammates, especially the veterans who might resent him for all the suck for Luck talk this season.
If the Colts do end up with the first pick, they can trade it to a desperate team like the Dolphins and maybe get the second pick overall, the Dolphins second round pick and another pick or player in return.
By trading for the rights to Luck, the Colts could easily land tackle Matt Kalil out of USC (college football's highest rated offensive lineman), a second round pick which they could use on a cornerback or safety and perhaps even a guy like Vontae Davis, a talented young corner who has fallen out of favor with the Dolphins.
Such a draft would really bolster the Colts depth and along with last year's draft, surround Manning with the necessary talent to once again compete. With Castonzo, Ijalana and a guy like Kalil to go along with Saturday, the Colts could have the strongest offensive line Peyton has ever played behind. With a guy like Davis, a second round rookie CB and a few other free agents and draft picks, the Colts could vastly improve their secondary and with the continued improvement of Nevis and Moala the Colts defensive line would begin finally be stout in the middle.
While some people say the Colts have no talent, I just don't but that. Personally I think that Wayne, Clark, Garcon, Freeney, Mathis, Angerer, McAfee are all standouts at their positions and Castonzo, Carter, Conner and Nevis have the potential to be future stars as well. Across the board the Colts have the pieces to pick up right where they left off last season with Manning at the helm. Look at this offensive roster:
QB: Peyton Manning - arguably the greatest quarterback of all time (even a Peyton at 80/90 percent is still a top 5 player in the league)
RB: A trio of running backs in Addai, Carter, Brown. While not dominant, these three have all shown that they are more than capable of carrying the load. The three (even two of them) would be above average runners who could take some of the pressure off Manning and provide him with the ground game he has sorely lacked in recent years.
TE: Clark, Tamme, Eldridge. Again, another trio that even with Clark's drop off this year is still among the better units in the league.
WR: Wayne, Garcon, Collie and free agent x is another elite group (*depending on contracts - assuming they re-sign both Wayne and Garcon to provide Manning with his favorite weapons).
Offensive Line: Castonzo, Ijalana, Saturday, free agent x/Diem, Kalil would be arguably the best unit Manning has ever had in front of him.
If Manning comes back, the Colts can resign guys like Wayne, Garcon, Saturday and Mathis for one last hurrah because they have a proven quarterback who will make it worthwhile. If Manning comes back a roster that produced some 40+ wins over a 4 year period will likely remain in tact (and be improved upon). If Manning comes back the Colts have one of the most explosive offenses in the game.
But if the Colts go with Luck (they might not have a choice) the whole strategy changes. Instead of building for a few more immediate Super Bowl runs and loading up on the defensive side of the ball to help the offensive out, the strategy revolves around building around Luck and starting anew.
If Luck is behind center, why bring back Reggie Wayne? Suddenly he's too expensive to keep around while a rookie quarterback develops. Instead the Colts use their second round pick on a wide receiver to show they are committed to their new star.
Now questions arise whether Addai, Clark and Saturday should stay for the same reason as to why Reggie Wayne was let go.
Are more picks now spent on running back, center and tight end? Probably. Plus the extra defensive players and picks that teams would be willing to throw in for Luck aren't there meaning there are fewer opportunities and lesser odds of the Colts acquiring top talent.
In this case, the Colts would likely just start completely fresh. In such as scenario, Wayne, Addai, Saturday, Diem, Brackett, Bullitt and Mathis would be likely traded or cut. Clark and Freeney too would be in jeopardy.
Such a strategy might work. The Colts might have the next great quarterback, cap room and draft assets so that in three or four years they could return to prominence. Or they might not. What if Luck is the next Ryan Leaf or JaMarcus Russell. What if he's simply the next Matthew Stafford or Sam Bradford? They are damn good, but not great.
When you think of the greatest quarterbacks of the last 25 years you think of: Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Warren Moon, John Elway, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and maybe Brett Farve, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers (although probably not quite yet) are a step below. All and all, that's a pretty short list. Since 1980, 15 quarterbacks were taken number 1 overall, only two others besides Peyton Manning made the above list.
As good as Andrew Luck is, the odds of him being even as good as Aaron Rodgers are small.
Is forgoing a few more shots at a championship now worth the risk of the future unknown? Having Peyton - when/if healthy - is as sure a bet to win 10 games and make the playoffs as there has ever been in the NFL. Can you say that about Luck?
Drafting Luck doesn't just affect the quarterback position, it affects the whole team. He might be a future star, but are the Colts willing to cast aside first ballot Hall of Famer who could easily have two to three great years for future potential, no matter how tantalizing a talent Luck may be.
What about Peyton and the Colts' advancing age?
Age certainly takes it's toll on players it's true. But it's funny how there wasn't a fan out there when Peyton signed his extension who was worried or complaining about the age of the Colt's and the affects it might have on some of the veterans over the next two or three years. Are the Colts suddenly old, slow and not worth keeping around? Or is Peyton that good?
Too often we want what's new and 'better' and what we can't have. Often such lustful thinking comes at the expense of not appreciating what we do possess.
Andrew Luck could be good, even great, but it's unlikely that he will ever surpass Peyton Manning. While talents like like come around every decade, guys like Peyton come every few generations and the Colts would be wise to ride Peyton (so long as he is healthy) until the very end. They might get a championship or two by doing so.