As everyone knows, the club will have to make one of the more intriguing personnel choices in National Football League history by next spring.
Can Manning – almost certainly one of the top five quarterbacks ever to play football, and the man who is the face of the franchise – recover from the offseason neck surgery that is threatening his career? Or do the Colts have to cut him, freeing up his massive $18-million-a-year salary, and draft the player than many experts say is the most sure-fire quarterback star in a generation, Andrew Luck?
The news this week is that Manning began throwing the football again, an obvious and crucial step in his recovery. But unless he can fully participate in practice – or, better, play in a game – the Colts will approach March without all the information it would like for a decision of such magnitude.
As a result, there is a school of thought, endorsed by the Colts' general manager, that the Colts maybe should take the safe road: keep Manning and draft Luck.
But it's hard to see how that makes much sense.
One of the things the Colts' 0-13 record shows is that the team is already running on very thin margins. With the NFL's hard salary-cap, teams will inevitably be flawed – they don't have enough money to pay exceptional players at each position. Therefore, teams must mask weaknesses as best they can, and Manning is doubtless the best weakness-masker in the league.
If the Colts were to draft Luck, he – and his multimillion-dollar salary – would be sitting on the bench, doing the Colts no good for as long as Manning was the starter. It's clear that Manning already had enough weaknesses to mask before his injury. Taking millions of dollars off the table to pay Luck (not to play) means depriving the team of crucial money to address glaring gaps that need to be filled if Manning is going to have any chance of winning another Super Bowl.
And isn't that the point? Why bring back Manning unless making a commitment to give him a better team that can be championship-worthy?
It also makes no sense for Luck. He's clearly good enough to play pro football now. He was already considered pro-ready last year. If he came to a team with Manning, he would either be the No. 2 with no hope of playing, or the quarterback of a team that is paying $20 million a year to his backup.
Manning's father, Archie, actually counseled his other football-playing son, Eli, to avoid exactly this situation. When Eli was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, the Chargers already had an established No. 1 quarterback, Drew Brees. So Eli refused to sign for the Chargers, who ended up trading him to the New York Giants, where he has helped the team with a Super Bowl.
It's hard to see why Luck, a family friend of the Mannings, would think any differently.