Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why I Suspect Peyton Manning Will Remain a Colt

Throughout the week before the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning's future dominated sports conversations as much or more than the Pats v. the Giants. Only a few facts seem established at this point: (1) Peyton's surgery was successful and his healing has satisfied his doctors enough to clear him to play football again; and (2) his arm strength is not nearly where it will need to be for him to play again. We can expect Peyton to do everything within his power to be ready to play next season, and no one should bet against him. The big question then is, where will he be playing.

A consensus seems to have emerged in the press that he will not be playing in Indianapolis. Based on the fact that the Colts owner Jim Irsay has cleaned house, completely changing  management and coaches, and the foregone conclusion that the Colts will draft Andrew Luck with the first selection in the upcoming NFL draft, the presumption is that the Colts are all about a fresh start and that Peyton, as a relic of the old Colts, has no place on the new-look Colts.

I think the various surmises and suppositions are incorrect. The conclusion that Peyton will leave the Colts may be correct, but good reasons remain for believing that he may remain a Colt at least for one more season. First, Peyton's agent already has signaled the league that he is ready to be paid for performance only, with no guarantees or bonuses. If that's the case, and Peyton is willing to redo his current contract to reflect that assertion, then that makes it easier for Irsay to keep him while signing his successor, Luck. Second, because Petyon's health is not assured going forward, it is important that any team he plays for have a fully capable second quarterback, so there is every reason for the Colts to draft Luck even if Peyton stays. Third, precedent exists for keeping Manning while drafting Luck. Green Bay established the model when they drafted Aaron Rodgers to sit on the bench and learn from former MVP Brett Favre. Of course, at the time he was drafted, no one realized just how great Rodgers would become; in Luck's case, everyone believes that he is the greatest quarterback to come out of college since, well, Peyton Manning. Those higher expectations increase the pressure on the Colts to play Luck right away. Still, as Luck would readily admit, he could learn a lot for watching Manning prepare and play for a year. And should Peyton not be able to play or suffer an injury during the season, who would you rather have coming in to fill his shoes? Fourth, the new collective bargaining agreement establishes a salary structure that should permit the Colts to carry two high-profile quarterbacks, at least for a season or two. And it becomes easier still if Peyton is willing to reform his own contract. Fifth and finally, Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning both understand and appreciate just how much Peyton's presence has meant to the franchise, and continues to mean for the city of Indianapolis. Peyton is on record saying that he'd like to finish his career in Indianapolis. 

All this may be wishful thinking, and goodness knows that journalists and analysts with access to inside information seem to believe that Manning is done in Indy. All I know is that two eminently reasonable and practical men, Manning and Irsay, will be meeting soon to discuss Manning's future, and room exists for them to come to some kind of agreement that would keep Peyton in Indy for at least one more year. A new one-year deal with the Colts would create the prospect of a win-win-win-win scenario. Manning would be able to maintain his career in Indy with the opportunity to come back fully from his injury (imagine the prospect of Manning winning his fifth MVP award and comeback player of the year in the 2012-13 season). Andrew Luck, the anointed successor, would have the opportunity of learning from the master for one season. Jim Irsay would be a hero for keeping his franchise player in the city that reveres him. And Colts fans would benefit from the productive co-existence of the past and future leaders of the team, enabling them, like the Packers, to avoid the oblivion suffered by teams like the Dallas, Denver, San Francisco, and Miami, after they lost their Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. 

To my mind, there are so many reasons for Irsay and Manning to work out a deal for Peyton to stay in Indy, that any other outcome seems unlikely. 

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