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Prister: Why the Colts should keep Peyton Manning (Feb. 17)

Eric Prister | Thursday, February 16, 2012

Let’s talk generalizations.

As the owner of an NFL team, you’re given the choice between an aging quarterback who missed the last entire season due to injury and the top quarterback prospect in 25 years, according to some.

The older quarterback has a contract worth millions of dollars and if you keep him around, you have to pay him a $28 million bonus within the next month without knowing how healthy he actually is. You can pay the new quarterback much less because of new rookie contract limitations.

Your team went 2-14, you fired your general manager and head coach and you’re just looking to rebuild.

The logical move in this situation is to get rid of the aging quarterback, avoid paying the high salary and bonus and see how the young gun can lead your team.

Let’s move into specifics now.

Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has a choice between retaining Peyton Manning as his quarterback or drafting and giving the starting job to Andrew Luck.

Manning is 35 years old and missed all of last season after neck surgery. But we’re talking about Peyton Manning, and that’s as far as we need to go. Keep Manning.

Hypotheticals don’t matter in this case. Manning is not an aging quarterback who missed all of last season — or at least he’s not only that. Manning is the quarterback who led Irsay’s team to a Super Bowl title, who led the Colts to the playoffs in nine straight seasons and who won four MVP awards.

The Colts went 2-14 last season, the first time since 2001 they didn’t win double-digit games, and anyone could see it was because Manning wasn’t on the field. Now Irsay thinks it’s in the best interest of the franchise to play another season without him?

Andrew Luck may be the next great quarterback. He may be the best prospect to enter the NFL draft since John Elway, as ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr. has said. He may be the closest quarterback to a sure thing we’ll see in our lifetimes. But he’s not Peyton Manning.

Manning isn’t a young man anymore ⎯ that can’t be disputed. Even if he’s fully healthy after his surgeries, he can’t have more than five good years left, and that’s if he plays until he’s 40. But giving up the quarterback who has built the Colts into the perennial powerhouse they are (except for last year) is unintelligent at best, professional

suicide at worst.

Irsay should make the decision to keep Manning — that shouldn’t even be a question. The question should be whether or not to draft Andrew Luck and have him play under Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Manning’s days are numbered, and Luck would be learning from the best.

The Colts could draft Luck — they have the space under the salary cap to do so. They could give him the opportunity of a lifetime to be mentored by a Hall of Fame quarterback. If he’s too proud to spend a few seasons as a backup, then he’s missing out. It would be far less risky to draft Luck and hope he’s content than to place all of the hopes of the franchise on him and lose Manning.

The Colts could also choose to draft an elite player at another position. Judging from last season, they could use the help in many different areas. Offensive and defensive linemen have proven to be far easier to judge, and so drafting a player at either position is much more of a sure thing than drafting Luck.

The Colts are faced with a rare situation — the ability to draft an elite quarterback with another still under contract. Someone with no prior knowledge of the situation might think Luck is the safer, more reasonable choice. But that someone would be wrong. Never bet against Peyton Manning.