Tim Tebow aside, the biggest quarterback story in the league this year might be one that’s really about next year.
What should the Indianapolis Colts do?
They almost certainly will have the first pick in the 2012 draft, and Stanford’s Andrew Luck, perhaps the best quarterback prospect to come along in the past decade, will be sitting there. At the same time, Peyton Manning, perhaps the best quarterback ever, is expected back from a neck injury that has sidelined him all season.
The draft is more than four months away and Manning’s 36th birthday will come in a little more than three months. Already, there is a ton of speculation about what the Colts should do.
The three choices being thrown about: Manning? Luck? Or both?
All those are on the table, but I think the Colts would be making a big mistake if they go with both. Sure, it sounds great to pair the greatest quarterback of this generation with the guy who might be the best quarterback of the next.
But that’s in theory. Reality is a different story. If Manning comes back to stay and Luck is the draft pick, the Colts are asking for trouble.
The thing we, as a society, tend to forget is that you don’t get to be an NFL quarterback without being extremely competitive and at least a little selfish. Manning wasn’t put on this earth to be a glorified quarterbacks coach. If he comes back to the Colts, he’s coming back as the starter, not a mentor.
This whole scenario reminds me of a story I did soon after joining ESPN.com. In March 2008, Brett Favre announced his retirement (for the first time). I called heir apparent Aaron Rodgers, who had been drafted in the first round in 2005, for reaction and was a little stunned by what I got.
"Obviously, when a team drafts a quarterback in the first round, that's a pretty big statement," Rodgers said. "At that time, Brett felt like he still had plenty left in his tank and those are some pretty difficult terms to come in under. That first year, we were just teammates."
For perhaps the first time ever, Rodgers admitted that Favre didn’t welcome him with open arms and there was trouble in paradise (or at least the land of the Cheeseheads). That’s not an uncommon phenomenon.
Kurt Warner wasn’t ready to hand the ball to Matt Leinart when the Cardinals drafted him in 2006. Drew Brees wasn’t overjoyed when the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers in 2004. Heck, you can go even further back. It’s common knowledge that Joe Montana and veteran Steve Bono didn’t treat Steve Young like a close friend (and I’m being very generous with the wording here) when they were together in San Francisco in the 1990s.
That’s because guys like Montana, Favre, Warner and Brees are so competitive. All of them fought for their jobs and, at least initially, kept it. The eventual passing of the torch from Favre to Rodgers worked out fine for the Packers, but it definitely caused a rift in the short term.
You could argue the Chargers and Cardinals made mistakes by bringing in replacements for Brees and Warner before they were ready to even think about being replaced.
That’s why, no matter what Archie Manning says on any given day about his son and Luck coexisting, any thought of that coupling is a formula for problems.
The Colts really can’t afford to have both Manning and Luck -- and we’re not talking about the salary cap. We’re talking about a situation that would be unhealthy for the players and the team.
The Colts can bring Manning back for the quick fix and trade the pick. (Bill Polian did that in 1995, when he was with the expansion Carolina Panthers.) Or the Colts can trade Manning to clear the way for Luck to start with a clean slate.
It’s one or the other. You can’t have both.