Colts must make the tough decision

In less than two months, a great confederacy of whores (literal and figurative), and journalists (I use the term advisedly) will descend upon Indianapolis, where we will wonder in unison:

“Why the —- are we here?”

I have nothing against the town, merely the idea of wintering there (having already done it once, covering Mike Tyson’s rape trial, I feel entitled to this position). Just the same, there is a clear answer to the question – a single culprit to blame for this impending fiasco:

Peyton Manning.

There would be no Super Bowl in Indianapolis if not for him. There would be no Lucas Oil Stadium without him. In fact, at 1-13, the Colts themselves seem to have disbanded in his absence. Then again, Manning is never really absent. Even when he’s not physically there, his presence looms impossibly large over the franchise, and now more than ever.

For that reason, the team’s course of action should be just as clear. Again, two words, one answer: Andrew Luck.

Never mind that he didn’t win the Heisman. Or that Manning is suddenly reported to be throwing in pads. Or that the team can fill other needs with the draft. It’s time for the Colts to move on. Perhaps Manning can come back; I don’t know. But the team should never be as it was. The focus can’t be on Manning, but rather, his successor.

The Super Bowl will determine the NFL’s best team. But the identity of the league’s worst team has been known for quite some time. Heading into Week 16, Indianapolis is a game worse than its nearest competitors the Vikings and the Rams. In other words, it’s all but impossible for them to lose the first pick in the draft. That’s the first step toward their rehabilitation, using the pick. The Colts earned it the hard way. Hey, there’s was no point in sucking for Luck if you’re not going to draft him.

Nothing should deter them from this position, certainly not the bleatings of Archie Manning, who suggested a couple of weeks ago that his son and Luck could not co-exist on a team that had formerly been Peyton’s. It’s worth noting that Andrew’s father, Oliver, began the 1983 season as Archie’s backup with the Houston Oilers, and that the proud papas reportedly spoke before the elder Manning offered his initial opinion.

He qualified his remarks the next day, saying that he merely thought Luck was “too good to sit.” That’s not exactly a retraction. Rather, it seems safe to assume that the Lucks and the Mannings will be of one mind, with each camp seeking an unfettered starting job. It’s not too much to think that Oliver would do for his son what Archie did for Eli in steering him away from the San Diego Chargers.

But again, that shouldn’t matter – certainly not to another father-son team, that of Colts vice chairman Bill Polian and his son Chris, the team’s general manager.

What was that lockout for, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, the only issue where the owners had a legitimate beef concerned the draft and the huge amounts of money they were forced to gamble on high picks. But Luck doesn’t resemble the risk that a JaMarcus Russell, or even a Sam Bradford, represented. Draft salaries are slotted now. Cam Newton, the first pick in last year’s draft, got four years, $22 million guaranteed. At those prices, Luck is a bargain a lousy team can’t afford to pass up. The Colts would probably make back their money in jersey sales alone.

But what about Manning, you say? Hasn’t he been throwing a football in pads after practice, as Jay Glazer reported on Sunday? Yes, but again, so what? The Colts’ hope that he could somehow make it back this season proved to be wishful thinking. Now what of next year? And the year after? Manning is only coming off his third neck surgery in 19 months.

“It was determined by the doctors that there was no chance he would play this year,” Papa Polian said, responding to Glazer’s scoop. “His rehabilitation has not come far enough to make it prudent for him to step on the field in game action.”

It was a warning to Manning fans, especially those within the organization: don’t get your hopes up.

In many respects, this is a problem Polian and Colts owner Jim Irsay made for themselves when they extended Manning’s contract and frontloaded the terms without insisting on so much as a physical examination. He’s owed a $28 million roster bonus around March 1. For Manning, it makes him virtually untradeable. For the Colts, it makes it almost impossible to rebuild.

That leaves three possible scenarios. First, Manning agrees to restructure his contract, stays on as a starter for a year or two and imparts his great wisdom on a kid who attended his quarterback camps. This makes for a happy ending, but highly unlikely.

The Colts can trade Manning after he receives his bonus.

Or they can cut him.

Either way, it’s time this inevitability dawned on the citizens of Indianapolis: they’re stuck with Luck.