On Sunday, Dan Pompei of the National Football Post wrote an article about how the Colts need to be actively looking to replace Peyton Manning.
Pompei is a respected writer, but his piece was riddled with logical flaws.
In a nutshell, the thrust of his article is that it is unlikely for Manning to play well in his late 30s and that the Colts should draft a mid-round quarterback and begin grooming him to take over.
He begins his piece by noting that the Colts worked out quarterbacks prior to the draft:
The team acknowledged as much last winter and spring as they went through the pre-draft process with a careful eye on quarterbacks. They identified two or three they had serious interest in, but did not end up taking one.
As has been noted many times before, the Colts had to do their due diligence on quarterbacks, but selecting one in the first round is something that never made any sense. In all likelihood, the Colts were simply building the potential value of their pick. Any first round quarterback would already be on his second contract by the time Manning retired, making it financial suicide to draft one so soon.
Pompei moves on to a historical look at other old quarterbacks, something I've attempted myself in the past.
Of course there is a difference between playing until near 40 and playing well until near 40. Since the merger, there have been only five instances when a starting quarterback who is 38 or older has had a passer rating of 90 or above. Twice, the quarterback has been Favre.
There are multiple problems with using this stat to say Manning will fall off sharply:
1. Passer ratings are at an all-time high. Having a passer rating over 90 was rare for any quarterback 20 years ago.
2. Of those 5, four have occurred in the past four years (Elway being another in 1998). Simply put, what used to be a rare phenomenon is not nearly so rare anymore. Older quarterbacks are routinely playing better than history would seem to allow for. The reasons aren't mysterious: better medical care and more protection of the quarterback in the pocket. Pompei's stat sounds impressive...5 in 40 years! But if that stat was 5 in 13 years or 4 in four years, would it really have the same impact? Of course not.
If we use a different standard, 3000 yards passing, we find that 14 quarterbacks have accomplished that feat after age 38 since 1978. The fact is that Warner and Favre have rightly altered our expectations for what older quarterbacks are capable of. In fact, any model for an 'old Manning' has to look long and hard at the recent careers of Warner and Favre. Football and medicine are different now than they were even 15 years ago. While nothing could have extended the careers of Aikman and Young (concussions), if Elway, Marino, and Montana (who all suffered knee problems) were playing in today's environment, they would all likely have had extra years of productivity.
Pompei's proposed solution for the Colts makes little sense as well:
The ideal situation would be for the Colts to draft a mid-round with a reasonable salary and let him learn the system for a few years while Manning still is productive. They might not be able to pay a first round quarterback, given what Manning’s salary is expected to be.
That solution would be a bad one. The fact is that drafting a mid-round quarterback to groom while Manning plays out the string is a recepie for mediocrity when 18 retires. It sounds like it would make sense, but there is one massive flaw in the logic:
Mid-round quarterbacks aren't very good. In the past decade, there have been 92 quarterbacks taken later than the second round. Of those only 20 ever became starters. Their names are:
Colt McCoy, Trent Edwards, Charlie Frye, Andrew Walter, Matt Schaub, Chris Simms, Josh McCown, Brad Smith, Kyle Orton, Seneca Wallace, David Garrard, Chris Weinke, Dan Orlovsky, A.J. Feeley, Bruce Gradkowski, Derek Anderson, Brooks Bollinger, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen
Of those 20, only 8 have started multiple years. Of those 8, the four Pro-Bowlers are in italics above. The BEST case scenario for the Colts if they take Pompei's advice is that they'll end up with David Garrard.
Pompei would turn the Colts into the Jaguars.
Of course, anything is possible. It's theoretically possible the Colts could luck into the next Tom Brady, but it's highly unlikely.
The single best plan of action for Indianapolis is to accept the reality of a bad season after Manning retires in order to take a top flight quarterback early in the first round. The quarterback of the future simply can't be found after the second round of the draft. The truth is that it probably can't be found after the 20th pick in the first round either. Of the 19 taken after pick 20 of the first round or in the second round during the '00s, only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers made a Pro Bowl. The rest of the list is a nightmare list of names like Grossman, Losman, Campell, Brohm, Henne, Jackson, and Quinn.
The odds against Indianapolis maintaining an elite level continuously from Manning to the next quarterback are astronomical. It happened for the Packers, only because Rodgers took a historic fall deep into the first round. Very rarely does a quarterback in the discussion for the top pick slide down so far. It would take a stroke of luck like that for the Colts to stay on top without ever enduring a 3-5 win season.
Instead of wasting picks, money, and time grooming a replacement for Manning, the Colts should plan on just taking their medicine. After Manning retires, they should essentially have one horrible season and use a top pick on a quarterback. If the crop looks thin in that next year, Indy should plug and play a veteran and hope for a respectable finish and then dump the next year.
Quarterback talent is almost exclusively found in the top ten picks in the draft, and becomes almost impossible to attain outside of the first round. Every year Manning is under center, the Colts have a chance to win. They must focus on the now and not worry at all about the future. In the NFL, a team can completely reboot within one season, two at the most. Pompei's plan would leave the Colts with a mediocre starter at best.
Most teams would rather suffer through one down year than five seasons racking up 5-8 wins.
Peyton Manning is either worth a five to six year deal or he isn't. If the Colts aren't 100% convinced he'll be highly effective until he's 40, they should not resign him. Half measures and weak succession schemes won't help the team win now.
And in the NFL, now is all that matters.