If the Colts are as bad without Peyton Manning as they looked on Sunday, there’s a good chance they’ll have the first pick in next year’s NFL draft. Which means they’d have the opportunity to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, regarded by many as the best pro prospect to enter the NFL since, well, Peyton Manning.
It sounds crazy to suggest that the Colts could take a quarterback with the first pick in the draft nine months after giving Manning the biggest contract in NFL history. But it also sounds crazy to suggest that a team with a 36-year-old quarterback coming off a major injury would pass on a quarterback as talented as Luck.
We’re getting way ahead of ourselves even talking about it, of course. We don’t know whether the Colts will actually have the first pick in the draft, and we don’t know what Manning’s health status will be at the time that next year’s draft rolls around. But if Manning’s neck injury keeps him out for this entire season or — cover your eyes, Colts fans — his condition worsens, then the Colts drafting Luck something worth considering.
One person apparently considering it is Colts president Bill Polian, who was scouting Luck at Stanford’s game against Duke on Saturday. Polian scouts lots of players, and the Colts don’t actually end up drafting most of them, but there are a lot of college football games he could have gone to on Saturday, and the fact that he chose Stanford-Duke suggests that he’s intrigued by Luck and wanted to get a look at him in person.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw said Sunday on FOX that Manning’s situation reminds him of his own situation late in his career with the Steelers. After Bradshaw had offseason elbow surgery in 1983, he told the Steelers that he’d be ready to go even though, he now says, “I knew I could not play.” Bradshaw’s elbow injury was so severe that he was able to play in just one more NFL game before it forced him to retire, but the Steelers believed Bradshaw when he said he was healthy and decided to pass on Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL draft.
Based on his own experience, Bradshaw urged Manning to be “brutally honest” with the Colts about whether he can keep playing. But the truth is, Manning is too much of a competitor to be brutally honest: He’s going to say he can play until he can’t walk anymore. That’s just the way he is.
And so the Colts are going to have to be brutally honest with themselves, and decide what’s best for the franchise going forward. They’ve already sunk a lot of money into Manning’s new contract, but that’s in the past. If they’re not certain Manning can be healthy enough to lead them for years to come, they’d be foolish to pass up Luck.