With the news that Peyton Manning had a secret surgery to go along with the other three procedures we knew about, it’s pretty obvious that the Colts are about to cut him loose. This is really the only choice they have; every angle you can look at says that it’s time to release him. When you get the first pick in the draft the same year that a prospect like Andrew Luck is there, and your incumbent starter is 36 years old with a bad neck, then you make the pick and say goodbye. Especially if you owe the incumbent $28 million if he’s on your roster in four weeks. But what if any one of those things was not true? Would the Colts have reached the same conclusion? Let’s think it through a little:
What if there was no roster bonus due? They would still have a old, injured starter and Andrew Luck on the way. But would they be so quick to show Peyton the door? I’d be willing to guess no. The only problem here is that you’d have a Joe Montana and Steve Young/Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers situation. History suggests that Hall of Fame quarterbacks aren’t particularly kind to their anointed successors. Montana, Favre, and John Elway were notoriously frosty to the men who were picked to replace them; I wouldn’t expect anything different from Peyton. But the same history says that the team will make the pick and live with the situation. My guess here is that the Colts would pick Luck, and then tough it out through a few years of Peyton stiffing Luck until he was done playing. Bill Polian would still get canned; the choice to go with Luck is still a sign that it was time to move on.
What if the Colts didn’t have the first pick? Say that they finished with five or six wins, and ended up picking between 6th and 10th? Do you still fire Polian, one of the best GMs in history? I think not. You don’t need a genius to draft Luck first; picking later on means you need somebody with some real proven expertise so you don’t end up with Vernon Gholston. Picking Luck is out of the question here, but you still can’t just ride with Peyton given the injury and the money due. In this instance, I think Peyton is a goner. $28 million is a deal breaker here without any assurance of his health.
What if instead of neck injury Peyton had something more commonplace, like a torn ACL? He would have missed last season, so the Colts would still be 2-14 and have the first pick. Peyton’s return to health would be a really sure bet, but there’s still the matter of the $28 million. But I think the Colts would be willing to go with it in this case. Do you still draft Luck with the first pick? I don’t think so. You trade the pick, get several players who can help you now, and retool for Peyton’s last stand. I think Polian stays also. If Peyton is good to go, you keep the band together.
Finally, what if Peyton was 26 and not 36? The injury is still a devastating one, but you can be a little more patient with a 26 year old’s recovery time than with a 36 year old. But you may still end up in the same place. Do you draft Luck and plug him until Peyton is ready, then trade him? Or keep him in if Peyton can’t come back? Or do you trade the pick, plug in a stopgap, and ride it out? I might be tempted to do that, but then there’s the money. I think money talks and Peyton walks here.