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Decision to go with Luck Looks even Better Now

Many have made the argument that, after watching 23 games of each quarterback, Jim Irsay made the wrong decision in releasing Peyton Manning and drafting Andrew Luck. But Josh Wilson explains why he thinks the move appears even better now.

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Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Many people will tell you that, regardless of whether or not the decision to release Peyton Manning was the right one or not, it still looks worse now because of Manning's success in Denver. And certainly just looking at it briefly, that would seem to be absolutely correct.

But I'd venture to say that the decision to release Peyton Manning looks even better now, one and a half years later, than it did at the time.

I'm not arguing at all that Luck has outplayed Manning. That's like saying that the Colts outplayed the Chargers on Monday night.

No, Manning has been out-of-this-world good. In just 23 games with the Broncos, Manning has completed 70 percent of his passes for 7,128 yards, 62 touchdowns and just 15 picks. He's also added a touchdown on the ground, bringing his total to 63. And his record stands at 19-4 (a .826 win percentage). Through 23 freaking games. That's an average of 310 yards and 2.7 touchdowns per game. That's crazy good. By comparison, the current NFL career leader in passing yards per game is Matthew Stafford with 285.9 yards per game (Manning ranks third for his career, and 9 of the top 11 are currently playing). In his time with the Broncos, Manning is averaging 24 yards per game than the NFL career leader. He is also on pace this season to break the NFL single season yardage and touchdown records, and by quite a bit.

In his own way, Andrew Luck too has been incredibly impressive. Also playing in 23 games, Luck has completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 6,008 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 22 picks. Luck has added 413 yards and 7 scores on the ground, averaging 4.75 yards per carry. He has led the Colts to a 15-8 overall record, leading 9 game winning drives. Like Manning, Luck led the Colts to the playoffs, although unlike Manning, it was unexpected.

For comparison, here's a look at both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck's stats since Manning began playing with Denver and Luck was drafted by the Colts:

Manning 23 606 866 70.0 7,128 8.23 62 7.16 15 1.73 111.3 41-(-17)-1 19-4
Luck 23 482 867 55.6 6,008 6.93 30 3.46 22 2.54 78.3 87-413-7 15-8

So why in the world am I saying that the decision to go with Luck looks even better now? Didn't I just lay out a pretty great argument for Peyton Manning? The answer is yes, but to show that I'm not making the case for Luck outplaying Manning but rather I'm making the case that the decision to go with Luck looks better now than it did at the time. I'll explain why here:

  • AGE. Andrew Luck is 24. Peyton Manning is 37. That's 13 years difference. Think about it this way: Peyton Manning quarterbacked the Colts for 13 seasons. Basically, you could fit Manning's entire brilliant career with the Colts into the age gap between Manning and Luck. That makes 13 years seems like an even longer time. And that's the difference in the ages. After both quarterbacks's teams walked off the field after losing to the Ravens in the playoffs last year, it struck me that one of them was ecstatic about their accomplishments of that year and for the future while the other was disappointed and upset because, for them, it was Super Bowl or bust. While they can't waste it, the Colts have this ever valuable commodity: time. And Peyton's time is inevitably running out.
  • TEAM. Don't get me wrong, Andrew Luck has some phenomenal weapons in Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, and others. But they don't really compare to the weapons that Peyton Manning has in Denver. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, and others. Look at the offensive lines as well and it is beyond clear that the Broncos' line is better. Much better. Andrew Luck has been running for his life while Peyton Manning has been sitting in the pocket making throws. A year and a half ago, we knew the Colts' offensive line was bad. And Peyton had played behind some really bad lines during his time in Indy. But last year's was the worst. This year, it hasn't been much better. One of the most impressive things about Andrew Luck has been his ability to avoid pressure and make a play. He has shown that he is one of the league's best running quarterbacks, and almost all of his runs have come via scramble when the line breaks down. And still, despite that, Luck has been sacked 57 times in 23 games. By comparison, Peyton has been sacked 29 times in the same time span. Luck was hit more than any quarterback last year by a large margin, and last I checked it hasn't been any different this year. Just imagine Peyton behind that line and you'll see why, after seeing the offensive line, the decision to go with Andrew Luck is even better.
  • EXPECTATIONS. This one will deal largely on just Luck. Sure, Peyton Manning has far exceeded expectations, but not as much as Andrew Luck has. Consider where the Colts were when they drafted Andrew Luck. They were coming off of a 2-14 season and had gutted their roster of most of the pieces from the Manning Era. As a result, a ton of money went against the cap as dead money last year - money still paid to Manning and others as a consequence of releasing them. Long term, it was the right move, but short term, it made it even more difficult. The Colts had a first time general manager, a first time head coach, a rookie quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end (two of them) and several new additions in free agency. Before the 2012 seasons started, almost everybody expected them to have a top ten pick again, with several thinking in the top five and some even saying that the Colts would be in the running for the top pick again. What actually happened, however, was the stuff of Hollywood. The Colts started 1-2. Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and missed most of the season. And yet the Colts finished 11-5 and with a playoff berth. While several people deserve credit, no one does more so than Andrew Luck. Setting the rookie passing yardage record, he led the Colts to 7 game winning drives and was the driving force behind their playoff run. This season, Luck has led the Colts to a 4-2 record with one game left on what was by far the toughest portion of the schedule, and he has led 2 game winning drives this year too. His Colts went to San Francisco and pulled off a huge upset against the 49ers, and just two weeks later they rallied to beat the Seahawks in Indianapolis. Andrew Luck was labeled as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning or John Elway, so I get it - he was supposed to be good. But 23 games into his NFL career, people would be lying if they told you they expected this. He has been so much better than anyone could have imagined and is only going to get better.
In a conference call Tuesday afternoon with several of the media, former Colts' head coach turned NBC analyst Tony Dungy said, "I can almost guarantee you if [Irsay] knew [Manning] was going to be healthy like this, and playing this kind of football, in hindsight, I don't think he would have done it."

I believe him. I really do, and I think that Dungy is right about it. But I'd argue that it would be the wrong decision even now. In fact, for those that think the move was bad in the first place (I am the complete opposite - it was a great move), I'd argue it would be an even worse move now.

Andrew Luck is the future of the franchise and of the NFL. Andrew Luck has been much better than expected. And owner Jim Irsay's decision to release Peyton Manning and draft Andrew Luck has turned out better than anyone could have expected.

"I think it's perfect," Irsay told Jarrett Bell of the USA Today in a recent interview. "What's happened is what Peyton and I hoped would happen. The desire was for him to get well and get to a team that has a chance to win another Super Bowl before his career ended. And our desire was to be able to transition to Andrew. To be so good so soon is stunning."