Ever since the Silver Age of Comics, writers have wrung endless mileage out of the 'hero's choice'.
You know the one I'm talking about. The hero has to choose between saving the girl or saving the world. Superman faced it in the original Superman, Batman faced it in Batman Forever and again in The Dark Knight. No matter how the hero answers, the character's humanity is explored. Superman let Lois Lane die, before inexplicably flying backwards around the Earth to save her. Chris Nolan's Batman tried to save the girl, but (mostly) saved Harvey Dent by mistake. Val Kilmer's Batman just sort wussed out and saved everyone, though I would argue that letting Chris O'Donnell die would have been in the best interests of humanity, but whatever. You get the idea.
Many Colts fans now face their own version of the Hero's Choice. They are being asked to take sides between their team, and the player who is primarily responsible for making their team, their team. Some claim that Manning doesn't matter. Only the Horseshoe counts. Others decry the lack of loyalty to the man who made the last decade of excellence possible.
Both sides employ myths to defend their position.
Those that want Manning to stay have offered up a set of mild delusions:
- Peyton Manning will be the same Peyton Manning we've come to know and love. This is possible. Whether or not it's probable is much, much dicier. Yes, Peyton could rebound completely at age 36 and return to his previous glory after missing a year and having four neck surgeries. Can we at least admit the reality that he just as likely might never be quite the same?
- Peyton Manning is healthy now. No. He's not. We have one throw on tape. ONE. He is still recovering. The video shows that it's possible that he's healthy. Yes, that's a major step forward, and further than I would have thought possible, but still. It is not in and of itself enough to give him $28 million.
- Andrew Luck (or RG3) will be happy sitting behind Manning. I don't care what they said in a combine interview. If either one of those guys is happy to sit next year, then you don't want to draft them. I don't take a QB first overall who is content to play behind Peyton Manning in 2012. That's a guy with the wrong makeup to play in this league. The bizarre notion that RG3 would make a better backup than Luck is flat wrong. He's just as ready to play, and it would be just as stupid to sit him. Beyond that, you'd be forcing him to learn and offense that wasn't built for him.
- Manning will be a good mentor. No. He'll be a terrible mentor. He hasn't been a good mentor to any QB in his entire time in Indy. He's a competitor. He wants to control everything. That's not the kind of personality you turn to train and mentor a young QB.
- The Colts can contend with Manning getting the $28 million. They cannot. If the Colts keep him at full price, they will lose players. Garcon, Wayne, maybe even Mathis. They will field a WORSE team than they did in 2011. The 2012 Colts will not be contenders as long as Peyton gets the full amount.
- Peyton (or Luck) can be traded next year. If you are going to trade Luck, you do it now. Next year, he won't be worth what he is now, because teams will have lost a year of his rookie deal. Peyton will be untradeable cap-wise in a year if you pay him the $28 million. If you keep Peyton, you are all in with him.
Those that want to move on are also lying to themselves:
- Andrew Luck will be the Colts quarterback for the next decade. He might be. He's likely to be great. However, football is a violent sport. Believing that any player will stay healthy for 10 years is a stretch. If we KNEW Luck would be the guy for 10 years, it would be one thing. All you get is the right to him for four, however. After that, injuries and contracts become big, big issues.
- The Colts are three years away from contending. No. The future is always now in the NFL. The only thing that keeps teams from contending quickly is the quarterback position. If Manning is himself, the Colts would be Super Bowl contenders by 2013. It does not take years to build a contending football team. This isn't the NBA or baseball. The average NFL player's career lasts about 3 seasons. QBs take time to develop. Everything else can be put in place remarkably quickly.
- It won't hurt the Colts if Manning succeeds elsewhere. Make no mistake. If Indy lets Manning walk, and he wins immediately or plays at an MVP level with another team, there will be serious, permanent consequences for the Colts. The fan base will lose faith in the current regime, and there will be massive unhappiness. The pressure on Luck will be more intense than you can imagine. If he stumbles at all, people will never forgive him or Jim Irsay.
- Planning for the future is better than playing for the present. This is simply not true in the NFL. Franchise quarterbacks come along every few years. This isn't the Colts' ONLY chance to get a franchise QB. If they pass up Luck or RG3, they'll have another chance. There has been a star QB taken in 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011. There's a pretty good QB that comes along, if not every year, then nearly every year, and only about half of them were taken first overall. This is an amazing opportunity, but to act like the Colts have no choice and to pass on Luck means they are doomed to failure for a decade is nonsense. The NFL is a win now league. Teams should always play for the present, because it's reasonably easy to rebuild, provided the cap consequences aren't horrific, and you haven't committed the cardinal sin of trading away draft picks for veterans.
The Hero's Choice is hard enough without clouding the issue with falsehoods. Fans need to be aware that there are consequences to blowing this decision both ways, and it's not a slam dunk in either direction. The 'safe' choice of cutting Manning and going with Luck carries with it massive consequences if it turns out to be wrong. The 'risky choice' of choosing Manning actually carries with it less risk. If Peyton isn't Peyton, or can't play, the Colts just try again with another QB, but don't alienate their fan base who wants to see Manning end his career with the Colts. As long as Peyton is in blue and white, the Colts will sell out every week.
Those that would rather lose with Peyton than win with Luck aren't bad fans. They aren't 'false' Colts fans. A team isn't just laundry. It's not just a name and a logo. It's also the players that play for it. Peyton has been 'our guy'. It's unreasonable to think people will just let go of their guy because it seems expedient. You wouldn't stop rooting for the Colts just because they lost a few games, would you? In the same way, you can't expect fans to stop caring about Peyton and wanting him to be their quarterback just because he's been hurt and there's some young hot shot out there who might be better.
Maybe this is a head versus heart decision, like Kravitz said. Choosing the head carries with it real, emotional consequences. It's not always best to choose the head. Choosing the heart is fine, as long as you are willing to live with the consequences of your choice. Choosing the heart is only foolish when you do it without truly accepting and owning up to the cost. Choosing the head is only wise when you have truly weighed the price you paid.
So for the fans that want Peyton to stay at all costs, are you willing to risk years of losing if he isn't healthy and they have to eat his salary?
For the fans that want Peyton gone, understand that the emotional toll that will take on the franchise is real. People have a right to feel the way they feel.
Very rarely do you get to save the world and the one you love. You have to live with the consequences either way.
If only we could get Peyton to fly backwards around the world and roll back the clock.
It would all work out.
Anybody thinking Luck is a sure thing is delusional. He has none of the character issues Leaf had but there are too many variables in play. Simply stated though, if he has a 2% chance of leading this team for the next decade that's 2% better odds than Peyton has. Just because Luck and RG3 aren't the last great QBs to come along doesn't mean we should assume anything. Even if star QBs enter the league every few years were all teams in a position to get them? No. For all the non-1 picks who turned out to be stars(Brady, Rodgers) how many mediocrefests have there been? You can hope to get lucky or hope Luck is good. Personally I consider it a gamble either way but that the odds are better with Luck. He's such a unique guy compared to all the other QBs we've seen it just makes me excited for the possibility that somebody so absolutely geeky could lead a team to greatness.
@SouthernColt Peyton won't play ten years, but he is likely to be very good for four. Luck could be great for a very long time, but he could also suck for a few years before getting cut. See, for example, Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf, Joey Harrington, etc.
@ECB That's not likely at all. I don't think there's any indication of that. That isn't optimism, it's wishful thinking. You're not going to get 4 years of prime Manning. You're going to get one rusty one and a near-great one and he's done. He's old and his neck has nothing to do with that. He was already past his prime. Furthermore you totally ignored what I said about Luck. There's absolutely 0 comparison to be made with Leaf and JaMarcus. Leaf was a party boy with a drug and alcohol problem who divided a locker room and went on to commit crimes. Russell was lazy, entitled, and got fat. Joey Harrington was overrated coming out of college with a poor completion rating and a few big game under his belt. He played on a terrible team and was mishandled similar to Alex Smith. The Lions would have ruined anybody. Tim Couch also played for a terrible franchise and got chewed up by injuries. Also developed a drug problem. There's 0 indication that Luck has any personality issues. Could he get injured? Sure. It's football. That's a risk all players have. It's not a reason to devalue him as a prospect.
@SouthernColt Manning definitely isn't Elway or Favre. His stats are much better than either of them. Elway had a horrible completion rate. Favre was a gunslinger who threw untimely picks on a regular basis. Manning is a cerebral tactician. He could definitely continue to play at a high level in his late 30s, if guys like Favre and Elway could pull it off. The other issue is that the NFL is much different than it was for Elway and even Favre. Hard hits on QBs are almost always flagged. Receivers get to catch and take a step before getting hit. This is a QB driven league with QB loving rules. There's a reason that one guy broke the passing record and three others either went over 5000 or very near it. The rules have created something similar for QBs to hitters of baseball's steroids era. They are going to get to pile up stats for the next couple of years until defenses can change everything they've done their whole lives. I would rather have a veteran QB who can take advantage of that now than have a QB developing during these prime passing years.
@SouthernColt @ECB You are looking at the past busts with 20/20 hindsight. If they had reputations for being lazy, partiers, overrated, etc., they wouldn't have been drafted so high. And there's no guarantee that the Colts are a better franchise today than Couch's Browns.
And even if he turns out to be a Drew Bledsoe or Carson Palmer, I don't think that'd be worth giving up the last few years of Manning. I do expect Peyton to have more than one good year left. And there will be other good QBs available when he leaves. For example, if we'd known this last year that he wouldn't play we could have either signed Matt Hasselback or possibly drafted a QB.
What are the glaring differences between Manning and Elway or Favre. If anything, I think late-career Manning can be better, because Favre's success was partly built on supreme physical gifts in that right arm. When he got older, he got lazy and started throwing mass amounts of picks. Manning is smart. He's as mental a QB as physical. If there is any QB I think is well-suited to cope with losing the physical aspects of his game, I would think it is Peyton (or Brady, who never really has to throw it over 20 yards anyway).
@dmstorm22 @ECB They're not assumptions. Manning isn't Elway or Favre. The differences are glaring. And once again Carr isn't relevant. You stated he got battered. I conceded that Luck could get injured. That's not predictable. Any player can get hurt. Making a decision based on the fear they might is absurd. The Colt's recent success might have been a fluke. They were pretty terrible before. I don't know that it rivals the Brown's and Lion's streak of terrible irrelevance. I like to think that the elder Irsay was a main culprit in the Colts failures and that Jim Irsay, crazy SOB that he is, will continue to make good decisions for the franchise. That's the only assumption or hopeful leap I'm making.
Manning is past his peak. But we reached a Super Bowl with a past-his-peak Manning (Manning's true peak was undoubtedly 2003-2006).
You make as many assumptions as ECB. You are assuming Manning will be rusty. Tom Brady was "rusty" at the start of 2009 coming off of the ACL, but by the middle of the year he was fine. I don't think "rust" will be an issue. I think his arm is the issue, and if his arm is fine, he will be fine.
As for Luck possibly being a bust, I doubt it, but at this point who knows if the new Colts regime will be any less of a "terrible franchise" as the Lions or Browns. They are coming off of a 2-14 year. Yes they are just two years removed from the end of a great string. But almost every coach that was there in those times is gone. The GM that built that era is gone. The player that made that era would be gone, and most of the players that were important (Wayne, Saturday, Brackett, Clark) will most likely be gone as well. Luck is entering basically a new version of the Colts that will look nothing like the Manning era. What makes you so sure the Grigson/Pagano era won't be the new Browns?
I agree that Russell and Leaf are bad comparisons. But how about David Carr. He was a great prospect, and undisputed #1 pick with no personality issues. He went into a new franchise with a bad o-line and was battered. Personally, I think Luck's expected value is probably somewhere between Eli Manning and Phil Rivers.
@18to88 My bro @Grennes_III hopes -If PM is healthy, we keep him 4 more yrs, be bad 1 year, and draft a stud QB in '17. Eternal optimist :)
Peyton Manning made football relevant in a basketball state. The reason is simple...he wins. My fear is what will happen to football in Indiana after the Manning era. Tom Crean is turning around an IU basketball program bringing them back to relevancy...he is winning. The Pacers are quietly becoming a contender out of the shadow of the Colts. You throw in Brad Stevens and Matt Painter in the mix and it seems basketball is set to take over football and turn Indiana back to a basketball state. I feel, if the Colts fail to keep winning with or without Luck or Manning, football will fade away. The only thing that would keep football relevant is the Colts winning. Fans will not spend $300-$400 on a Sunday to go to a game to watch their team lose. If you think that the NFL is a win now league, you have to think that Irsay would choose Luck. I say this because just as Luck is no guarantee neither is Manning after 4 surgeries. This is a QB league. The draft picks we would get for trading the #1 pick are no guarantee either. Then, you have to consider how long Manning would play. We can't keep him for his current contract. What will he be willing to accept? 1-2 years? I would say he wants 4 years because that is the reamining years on the current contract. Can we afford to keep him 4 more years and lose all the talent this off season? If he wis willing to accept a 1-2 year deal, I say we draft Luck. He can learn by watching. Being around greatness has more advantages than just teaching. You can learn by wathing while not having someone directing you on how to do something. Luck has the ability to be a great QB. How awesome could he be by actually watching the best prepare and do in game and being able to ask question while being there? If we pass on Luck and keep Manning for 3-4 years, we have to look 3-4 years down the road in terms of a QB. Will there be someone as good as Luck available and will we be able to get him? We can get a franchise QB but will they be as good as Luck? I would not want to be in Irsay's shoes. Too many what ifs with a very deeply split fan base. The worst things he can do is hold on too long or not long enough.
Excellent article. I'd just add that keeping Peyton also allows us to trade the #1 pick for a bunch of high picks who can help fill holes elsewhere. They can use a non-1st rounder this year to pick a backup QB who can groom behind Peyton for a few years, and if he doesn't look like an eventual replacement in a few years, we draft another one then. Despite all the hype about taking QBs 1st overall, lots of great QBs were taken much later - Montana, Favre & Brees were all 2nd rounders, Brady even later, Kurt Warner wasn't drafted at all.
Consider what the Chargers have done by trading the #1 overall pick - when they traded the rights to Vick they instead drafted LT and got Drew Brees in the 2nd round. Trading Eli got them a comparable QB in Philip Rivers plus a 1st rounder the next year that became Shawn Merriman. Of course, they should have kept Brees and used the Rivers pick on a different position, but that just shows the difficulty of predicting how young QBs will turn out.
@ECB Why do you think they should have kept Brees. Brees did not perform better than Rivers until he went to NO and went into Sean Payton's system.
Even then, Rivers has, until this year, never performed at a level substantially worse than Brees. Hard to say they really made the wrong choice.
@dmstorm22 @18to88 I was just going with conventional wisdom on Brees vs. Rivers, but by taking Rivers they ended up losing Brees as a free agent. If they had committed to him, they could have used the Rivers pick on another position. Really the same reason that they got the better of the Rivers-Eli trade. Eli may be a marginally better QB, but the Chargers also got Merriman and some other players from the deal.
Anyway, yeah, I agree with basically everything you say.
I think he's a HOFer, but I feel like people have almost accepted that he belongs on the level of Peyton and Brady, and in my opinion, he just doesn't. Rodgers is closer. I think Brees vs. Rivers is a toss-up. I might lean to Brees, but I wonder what numbers he would put up without Sean Payton's offense.
@dmstorm22 @18to88 @ECB Brees is a great QB but if you cut through the BS most of his records have to do with plainly throwing the ball a crapton. He threw .32 of his passes to RBs this season. More 5 yard or less passes than any QB in the league. Over twice as many dump-offs than Rodgers. Considering completion percentage was the only conventional way he bested Rodgers this season that speaks volumes. Nobody has benefited more from YAC since 2006 since Brees and considering he dumps-off more than anybody he's obviously benefiting from good playmakers and downfield blocking. He's never been the best QB in the league even in terms of a single season. He's fantastic and yet overrated. I don't see him succeeding in a lot of systems.
I think Brees is great. I think his numbers are a little inflated in that offense, and he is a little careless with the ball. That said, he's not, in my mind, substanfially better than Rivers.
2006: Brees 2/2 (DYAR/DVOA) - Rivers 6/7
2007: Brees 5/12 - Rivers 16/20
2008: Brees 1/3 - Rivers 3/2
2009: Brees 4/3 - Rivers 3/1
2010: Brees 5/12 - Rivers 3/3
2011: Brees 1/2 - Rivers 8/9
Brees was better than Rivers in the first two years, and then the two were basically equal in 2008. Rivers was better in 2009-2010 and then Brees again this past year.
I have no problem calling Brees the slightly better all time player. I do think it is unfair to Rivers to say that keeping Brees was definitely the better option.
@dmstorm22 That is an interesting point, it is possible that the Saints made Brees rather than Brees making the Saints. Similarly, it is possible that Luck could become a superstar on some teams and just be an okay QB on others. That is basically why Eli balked at playing for the Chargers - he didn't think he'd get the support he needed there.
Coming back to Manning, I'd note that he's worked with our OC and QB coaches. Luck hasn't.
Agree and disagree. The Colts will contend this next year if Manning is healthy, signs a renegotiated contract, the Colts do the same with Freeney, allowing Wayne and Garcon to return, and the Colts are able to improve the defense. Manning has proved for years that he does not need a great offensive line. If Manning, Wayne and Garcon are here, the Colts will have a top rated offense. Can the Colts improve the defense a little bit? The biggest problem I see with the Colts bringing back Manning is the Manning offense. I don't know if there is a QB alive that can run this offense effectively but Manning. What are the Colts going to do about the offense? Rely on Manning to be healthy until he retires, and then change the offense to a conventional, offensive coordinator controlled one?
"If only we could get Payton to fly backwards around the world and roll back the clock."
Continuing with the comic book analogy, an alternative universe where 2011 Peyton throws a football into the sun to go back in time (don't question it) and warn 2006 Peyton that the hit is coming and kicks Greg Williams in the 'nads would make for a comic book I would read the hell out of.
I agree with you that the Colts are 2-3 years away from realistically forming a team that can compete for a title. And let's assume for argument's sake that PM is fully healed. The question then is would you rather have Peyton at age 38-39 for the 2013-2014 season or Andrew Luck at 24-25 just entering his prime? Even allowing for the fact that Luck isn't a sure thing, I'd much rather go with the calculated gamble and take my chances with Luck. If the Colts cut Manning they aren't trying to diminish what he has meant to the franchise or the city.
All the Colts are essentially saying is, "we're willing to bet on Luck being a really good replacement for the next decade or longer v. bringing Manning back for what would be at best 3-4 years." Nobody really likes it per se, but this is the epitome of "it's just business".
Also, has anyone ever thought "what if Luck actually lives up to the hype?" Look at the Packers for instance. Favre was a god to that town in every bit the way PM is to Indy. When the Packers brass thought it was time to move on there was similar outrage from segments of the fan base that thought just like Colts' fans do now. Rodgers just now completed his 4th year and I'm willing to bet 99.9% of Packers fans have no regrets from moving on from the Favre era. Granted the Packers have a much longer and vibrant history pre-Favre than the Colts do (in Indy) pre-Manning, but if Luck is legit the vast majority of the Colt fan base will react much like Packers. And the PM hangover would be short lived.
All endings suck....not exactly breaking news.
@larryphelps20 "Also, has anyone ever thought "what if Luck actually lives up to the hype?""
Everyone reading this has probably had that thought three times a day since August, along with every other possible permutation.
@larryphelps20 Favre situation was different. Favre retired after 2007. We don't know what the Packers would have done if Favre had not retired at all. Maybe Aaron Rodgers never sees the field until his rookie deal is up.
Favre's retirement forced the Packers to move on, and it was only when he unretired in July that Ted Thompson picked to stay the course and move on than go back with Favre.
Peyton Manning is different. He just is. And it is not just because he is ours. He is mythical. He is a tortured genius. He is Peyton F. Manning. Montana himself knew it was time to move on. Favre no longer wanted to have to go through Training Camp or bond with the team. #18 will never not be engaged. He will never not be driven. He won't stop being difficult and demanding. If anything, after last year, he will only be more manical. (If that is even possible.) How can I be so sure of this? What part of he is Peyton F. Manning did you not understand? (And Spiderman successfully cheated the hero's test.. so why can't Peyton?)
@DougEngland I agree with Doug. I don't know if it'll be this season or later, but I'd bet Manning comes back with a few amazing new wrinkles to his game; things he develops to overcome whatever he's lost to age or the injury. Maybe a bit like Jordan, after he lost the ability to simply fly through the defense. (I seem to remember he was still pretty good.)
@DougEngland Spiderman beat the Hero's Choice because it's often a false choice.
As much as I like Peyton, he tried too hard to rig this game in his favor. The $28MM option bonus was meant as an effective no-trade clause but once set the cap bomb can't be defused for any reason. Peyton's recovery plateaus again? Boom goes the cap bomb. Peyton recovers but takes another vicious hit that forces him into retirement? Boom goes the cap bomb. Luck will probably never be Peyton F. Manning but he also won't completely handcuff the whole team for the next three or four years.
It didn't have to be this way. This choice is of Peyton's (or more likely Tom Condon's) making. Arguably he did what he had to do with all the pressure from the union for him to sign the BIGGEST DEAL EVAR but it's going to bite him now. It's a perfect storm of bullshit and unfortunately it's going to bury the last few years of the greatest Colt ever. :(
@squirrel @DougEngland He signed for less money than Irsay offered. He had his agent put the option in when Irsay didn't even ask for it. If he hadn't done that, then the cap bomb would already have gone off with no other choices. He would have gotten his $50+ million in guaranteed money either way. He gave Irsay this option bonus. Of course he would make it at a time of the year that wouldn't allow Irsay to trade him to whoever he chooses. How is it his fault that he got the per year average of the top QB? He was the best QB in the league when he signed the deal. He earned the top pay. The contract is fair, and the bonus was beyond fair. Save the criticism unless you plan on giving back half of your salary to help your company.
Great angle for an article Nate. You really have summed up the win/win lose/lose nature of whatever decision is made. The only thing I disagree with is this:
Manning will be a good mentor. No. I really guess you've never had a great mentor. There is a huge difference between a mentor and a teacher. Teacher, no. Manning will not be a great teacher nor should he. It's not his job. But as a mentor, there are few that will be better than Manning. A mentor is someone that you observe and emulate because they know more than you. You occasionally ask questions, but more importantly you see what they do and try to copy it because they are already great. Examples of how Manning (by only doing his job, will be a great MENTOR to Luck.)
Meetings: Listening to Manning and any OC during meetings, especially as he learns incorporates new offensive ideas with the OC would be an amazing opportunity to see how he thinks and why.
Receiver Work: Manning has a way of talking to receivers and explaining where he wants them to be and why. The WR's get there. I would want Luck to observe this in a Pro setting
Game Day: What Manning sees during the game. Why he makes an audible. What he saw with a defensive look. All of this is discussed on the sidelines during every game. How could anyone not learn listening to this.
Film Review: Watching Manning dissect what did and didn't work on any given play would be a great opportunity to learn what went right and wrong.
Ha! Well played!
Keep Peyton. For as much sentiment that goes into that decision, I believe there is also some mental weighing that goes into it to. I know that Peyton will do everything in his power to regain his MVP form if and when he is healthy, you are given the ability to do more with less.
Brilliant post, Mr Dunlevy. As with many Colts fans, I do not desire to see #18 not wear a uniform with a horseshoe on it. My mind says its inevitable, but it doesn't help me feel less angry and frustrated. My heart says Peyton must stay, but risks another injury, perhaps one even worse. My soul is sick... realizing any draft pick could be like Ryan Leaf. Whatever happens, I'll be wearing my Colts gear... until they throw me out, too.
Either way this decision goes will not be easy. Our idiotic media machine will (per the usual) over-analyze and over-react to a decision that we won't know the real outcome and which decision ends up being the right one for quite some time.
Let Peyton go. I'll root like heck for him even if he lands with the Jags. And I'll root like heck for Luck in the blue and white. It would be nice to watch two games every sunday instead of one, anyway.