Where does Indianapolis go from here?

Fourteen years of consistency have come to an abrupt halt. Entering week three, the Indianapolis Colts stand 0-3 for the first time since 1998. The harsh reality is that their franchise quarterback is out for an extended period of time, leaving the team in a state of flux.

Peyton Manning underwent neck surgery on May 23 to repair a cervical spinal issue. The injury was initially kept quiet, overshadowed by the NFL lockout, but his rate of improvement in rehabilitation was slower than expected and the Colts declared him out indefinitely.

There are both present and future issues that the franchise must consider. The team is off to the aforementioned abysmal start led by Manning’s replacement, quarterback Kerry Collins, who was signed out of retirement to replace Peyton when news of the severity of his injury broke. So far, so bad.

There are two legitimate paths the Colts can take this season. The first option is to continue trying to win games and remain somewhat competitive. Even without Manning, the team still has key pieces in wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The ideal scenario would be if the team gets increased contribution from key players and Collins somehow rediscovers his serviceable backup quarterback prowess, leading the Colts to seven or eight wins. However, the Colts have five games remaining against legitimate Super Bowl contenders: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Atlanta, New England, and Baltimore. Yikes.

This could save the team from embarrassment, and winning without Manning would provide a confidence boost for the rest of the players. More importantly though, this would probably leave the Colts out of the playoffs and with a mediocre draft pick. As a result, contending this season should not be Indy’s priority.

Instead, the Colts should vie to be in position for a top-five draft pick. This way, they can target Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who is the consensus top player in the upcoming draft. Some would argue that drafting a quarterback when you’ve just committed $90 million over the next five seasons to Manning would be a bad move. This is not completely untrue, but the frightening part of Manning’s injury is that it’s a spinal issue. Post-surgery, he will require therapy on his neck to regain losses of function, mobility, and strength. It is difficult to predict how Peyton will respond to this treatment and how vulnerable his neck will be to future injuries. This uncertainty means that drafting a quarterback for the future should be a priority. There are advantages to this, as any quarterback would benefit by learning from a future Hall-of-Famer. After all, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, Aaron Rodgers, sat behind a Hall-of-Famer for three seasons.

Speaking as a football fan, Manning’s injury is unfortunate, especially in an era of great quarterbacks. For the Colts organization, players, and their fans it stings even worse. There is no doubt that it’s virtually impossible to replace a four-time MVP winner.

Colts fans should remain hopeful: even if Manning cannot regain his form and the team doesn’t get the chance to draft Luck, the front office can make a trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to seek out a certain Wrangler jeans model to save the franchise


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