Friday, December 16, 2011

“Perfect Storm” threatens to end Peyton Manning’s run with Colts

image In the modern lexicon, a “perfect storm” is a confluence of conditions or events that radically alters a situation in ways that would have been unimaginable without that confluence.

Peyton Manning is soon likely to face a maelstrom unlike any we’ve ever witnessed.

Manning is one of the best quarterbacks to play in the NFL, a league in which the quarterback has increasingly become the make-or-break position in the game. But Manning is 35 years old and quickly aging into geezer status.

In September, the old fella had the third of three surgical procedures to heal an injured neck. The latest surgery—called a single-level anterior fusion—isn’t really as scary as its name implies. In fact, quarterbacks typically fare well after this procedure and there is very little risk of a catastrophic injury resulting from it. But still, it’s neck surgery, man.

Despite the team’s early season rallying cry that “we’re not a one man team,” the Colts’ record says otherwise. As in, winless. The Colts are realistically looking at an 0-16 season, with the odds heavily favoring it. The organization’s reliance on one guy is also having an impact on front office thought processes. Despite being one of only five rookie head coaches to take his team to a Super Bowl (2009, lost to Saints), head coach Jim Caldwell is likely going to be dismissed at the end of the 2011 season. Perhaps no other team in NFL history has staked as much of its fortunes on the health and play of a single player. How much of a stake did the Colts have riding on Manning? They have a $28 million option to keep him on the roster in 2012. That’s a lot of coin that could be used to sign supporting role players in free agency and the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft.

Therein lies the last of conditions making up the Perfect Storm. The 2012 Draft features Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The two-time Heisman runner-up is by far the best quarterback prospect to enter the league since Heisman runner-up Manning signed with the Colts in 1998. Sitting at 0-16 (or even 1-15, should they avoid the goose egg season), the Colts will have the No. 1 pick and would be brain dead not to take him. With the No. 1 pick comes No. 1 money, meaning the Colts may be looking at spending tens of millions to keep an aging, ailing Peyton Manning on the roster with their new burgeoning superstar.

Talking heads in the media are divided over the issue. Do they keep both hoping that Luck is willing to be understudy, protégée and clipboard carrier for Manning for a year or two? Do they convince Manning to restructure his contract to make room for Luck and more supporting cast members? Or they pick Luck and release one of the most beloved players in Colts franchise history?

Aging superstar with health issues. Likely 0-16 with a new coaching staff. The need to beef up in free agency and the draft with (somewhat) limited resources. The No. 1 draft pick and the perfect fit in a league dominated by quarterbacks.

Welcome to the Perfect Storm.

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