Now that Peyton Manning is going under the knife for a second time this year (and the third time since 2008), everyone is writing off the Colts for this season. That includes me; I think week one is a harbinger of things to come for the Colts. The surgery that Peyton reportedly will have, cervical neck fusion, has a two to three month recovery time and by that time it will be November or December. Given that the Colts schedule include teams like the New England Patriots, and Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s pretty safe to say that they are likely to struggle mightily in the early goings. To rush Peyton back so that he can salvage a 4-4 team’s wildcard chances would be beyond foolish. Barring some miracle of medicine Peyton is, for all intents and purposes, out for the season. And now that there’s a consensus on that, the media world has begun to pick apart the Colts 2011 carcass and indict the rest of the roster as woefully inadequate to win without their leader. Columnist Jason Whitlock has indicted Manning for holding the Colts front office hostage and not allowing them to draft a suitable backup/quarterback of the future. In Whitlock’s view, the Colts have completely acquiesced to their franchise quarterback by keeping the likes of Jim Sorgi and Curtis Painter as their backup quarterbacks as opposed to drafting a better one. What do I think?
I have to disagree with Whitlock. While I’m sure that Peyton doesn’t want to see his replacement arrive in town while he can still play, if the Colts decided to accept that it’s their own fault. After all, Jim Irsay and Bill Polian are the owner and GM, respectively, of the Colts. As great as Peyton is, he’s an employee. Brett Favre’s presence didn’t stop the Packers from drafting five quarterbacks during his tenure there, including four who went on to become starters in the league (Mark Brunell in 1993, Matt Hasselbeck in 1998, Aaron Brooks in 1999, and Aaron Rodgers in 2005). If Polian and Irsay didn’t have the foresight to do the same it’s their own fault. Irsay’s tweets over the last several days have suggested a closer relationship between owner and player than is best for the franchise. That may very well be coloring the decision making process at the quarterback position, and in certain coaching jobs, but do we really know that? Do we know that Jim Caldwell, a Dungy man, was picked as the new head coach because it would please Peyton? Whitlock has gone further, suggesting that former offensive coordinator was run so that Peyton cold have more control ov er the offense. How do you explain Manning being upset when Caldwell wanted to get rid of Moore upon taking over? ? Were those reports falseDoes the Colts unwillingness to keep Shaun King as a backup quarterback when he tried out really mean that Peyton shut it down, as Whitlock says? In my opinion, the evidence suggests otherwise.
Whitlock maintains that Tony Dungy brought King in for a look because the two had history in Tampa Bay, and that King probably would have stuck had Peyton not allegedly nixed it. To me, that make no sense. King had a few bright moments in Tampa Bay, but had languished as backup once Brad Johnson displaced him as the Bucs starting quarterback in 2001. There was no reason for Manning to feel threatened by having King on the roster. And King never caught on anywhere else after that; once the Colts passed on him, his career was over. But what about the drafting? There have been 42 quarterbacks drafted 2006, when Manning turned 30. Out of that group, there are by my count five (Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Freeman, and Bradford) who could be considered potentially worthy replacements for a quarterback like Manning. They were all gone by the time Colts pick came up. And unlike in years past, there haven’t been any hidden gems available in the latter rounds; the best quarterback drafted after the first round since 2006 is Kevin Kolb. To say that the Colts should have pulled off some blockbuster trade and moved up so that they could draft one of the five on my list is a joke; all of those guys started almost from day one and would not have wanted to sit behind Peyton Manning for as many as three years. There literally have been no available quarterbacks for the Colts to draft that were definitively good enough to fill in for Manning on either or short term or permanent basis.
The Colts do have a quarterback problem, but I just don’t see how Peyton Manning could have caused it. Does somebody like him want a Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan getting drafted by his team? Of course not! But they weren’t there to be taken. So while ‘Peyton forced the Colts to accommodate him’ makes for a good storyline, I don’t think the evidence is there to support that.
More in Part Two!