Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck Can (And Should) Coexist

With the Colts having clinched the first overall pick in next April’s draft, a number of observers have continued to express skepticism that Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck can coexist.

The reasoning behind these claims are varied, and include the idea Manning and Luck both want to play and thus cannot coexist, the team cannot afford to pay both, and that the Colts will not pass up the possibility of trading one of the two and receiving a windfall in return.

I disagree completely.  You may call it naivety on my part, but I think it is perfectly reasonable (and preferable) for the Colts to keep Manning and Luck.  Luck should be drafted given Manning’s age and health, Luck’s upside, and how this team has played without a solid quarterback.   Manning should be kept because it allows the team to remain competitive in the short run, and gives Luck a chance to learn from the best.

In discussing this, let’s clear some options from the table.

First of all, the oft-cited argument that keeping both Manning and Luck would handicap the team financially is a fallacy.  If this were 2010, meaning Luck would have received a mega-contract equal to what Matt Stafford or Sam Bradford received, we would have a different story.  However, the NFL’s new rookie wage scale means Luck will command a contract in the ballpark of what Cam Newton received last year, which was a four-year contract, worth $22 million.  Bradford’s signing bonus alone was worth more than twice as much.

As Andrew Brandt of National Football Post writes, what Luck would receive would not be significantly more than what the Colts gave Kerry Collins this past offseason.  So if the team did not hesitate to pay a washed up backup like Collins, how could it have any qualms about giving comparable money to a future franchise quarterback?

Second, the argument that Manning and Luck could not coexist on a single team is questionable. It claims that Luck will adamantly want to start right away and/or Manning will feel threatened by the rookie quarterback.  Having never met either player, I can only make assumptions to the contrary based on the evidence at hand.

If Luck was in such a rush to play quarterback in the NFL, he would be doing so already. As a third-year sophomore, he could have entered last year’s draft, and had he done so, he almost definitely would have been selected first by Carolina. And, for what it’s worth, all accounts depict Luck as a humble and down-to-earth person, and his academic record at Stanford shows him to be intelligent.  It stands to reason, based on this, that he would welcome the opportunity to learn from Manning.

As for Manning, admittedly the case is trickier.  Still, I am confident Manning would approach the situation as he has done everything else in his career: like a true pro.  Although of course the situations of Andrew Luck and Curtis Painter are different, Manning showed enough interest to stick with the team in 2011 and help Painter along.

Third, trading Manning makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, especially not financially.  Manning is due $28 million before the 2012 league year begins. No trades can be made prior to this. So if the Colts were adamant about trading him, it would first require paying him the $28 million roster bonus, in addition to taking a reported $17 million cap hit.  This would be a foolish squandering of resources for a player that won’t even be on the roster, no matter what the team receives in return.

Sure, the Colts could cut Manning and receive nothing in return. This would indeed clear up cap space to theoretically sign veterans.  But by cutting Manning, the Colts would essentially be saying “we are entering a rebuilding phase and are giving up a chance to win now.” Following this line of thought, teams tend not to go after big name free agents when rebuilding, especially not a team like the Colts, who shy away from veteran free agency under any circumstances.  So cutting Manning for the sole purpose of cap relief does not make a whole lot of sense.

With the above points in mind, you must ask yourself what do the Colts gain from getting rid of Manning?  Cap space, yes, but as I argued, the value of this would be overrated in the case of the would-be rebuilding Colts.  And as mentioned, a trade would hit the team hard financially.  It can therefore be concluded that since the Colts can afford to keep him and Luck on the same team, the Manning will remain in Indianapolis.

Frankly, those arguing against keeping both who say trading Luck/the number one pick is the better way to go make more convincing points.

They say that given Luck’s tremendous value, the Colts could receive a significant number of high draft picks in return for trading the number one pick.  This is indisputable.  Doing so could presumably fill a number of holes that need to be filled on the team, thus increasing the team’s chances of winning now.  While Manning’s absence is the primary reason the Colts went 2-14, the team had more flaws than just its hole at quarterback.

The Colts could even trade down from number one and still draft a young quarterback in what looks to be a deep draft at the position, while also filling their other needs (granted, Matt Barkley and Landry Jones’s decisions to return to college thin the crop somewhat).

While trading the number one pick makes short term sense, it would be very regrettable to watch Luck have a successful career on a different team, while the Colts struggle to find Manning’s replacement upon his eventual retirement.  Look at Denver and Miami, who have spent more than a decade trying to replace John Elway and Dan Marino (I deal with this issue of replacing Hall of Fame quarterbacks more in-depth in a post I wrote last February).

And as Tony Dungy notes, we should also look at the example of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1983.  Content with an aging Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh passed on Marino in that year’s draft.  For the following two decades, while watching Dan Marino assault the NFL record books, Pittsburgh searched in vain for Bradshaw’s replacement.  It would be regrettable to see the Colts put themselves in such a situation.

Also consider Manning’s health.  How terrible would it be to see the Colts pass on Luck and then learn Manning is not healthy?

As for trading the number one selection, and filling current needs while also taking a young quarterback, this idea makes total sense on paper, yet it is nevertheless one I cannot bring myself to support.

There is something about Luck that makes him irresistible.  Yes, we can never know for sure when it comes to the NFL Draft, but having watched most of his games at Stanford, my own untrained eye tells me he will be a franchise quarterback in the NFL.

This should not mean much to you, but we should give weight to the ubiquitous praise Luck has gotten from nearly all NFL analysts.  You may say these people have been incorrect in their assessments of recent prospects, and you would be right.  However, you would be wrong to say players like Jamarcus Russell or Matt Leinart received anywhere near the universal praise Luck has received.

If we were talking about drafting even a player like Bradford or Stafford, two young quarterbacks who look headed for promising careers, I would be more inclined to trading the pick. However, Luck just seems too good to pass on.

All things considered, then, the Colts not only can keep Peyton Manning and draft Andrew luck, but they also should do so.

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