The Colts are in the market for a quarterback ... and everything else.
On Saturday, Colts president Polian found himself in Durham, N.C., scouting the Stanford-Duke game and keeping an interested eye on Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. This is what he does on almost every fall Saturday -- scout. And this year, in the wake of the possible season-ending surgery on Manning's neck, that takes on added importance.
Is there any way the Colts could be bad enough to be in the Andrew Luck derby on draft day? Very unlikely, but the team will do its due diligence. And is there any way they'd take a quarterback from the possible pool of well-regarded players -- such as USC's Matt Barkley, Oklahoma's Landry Jones or a still-to-emerge 2011 college star passer? That's more possible.
This is not a new story. Last spring, shortly before the draft, the Colts sent a three-man team, including coach Jim Caldwell, to Fort Worth to work out and get to know TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. Had Dalton been there late in the second round, would the Colts have pulled the trigger on him to be Manning's heir? We'll never know.
Look at Polian's history, however, and you see he loves acquiring franchise quarterbacks. (Duh. Who doesn't?) And check your history. Joe Montana was traded at 36. If traded after the season, Manning would be 36. I am not suggesting Manning will be traded. In fact, I don't see any way it will happen. Regardless of what happens the rest of this year, I don't. But if the Colts finish 2-14 (and that has a snowball's chance in Phoenix of happening), they'd be staring at Luck, one of the best quarterback prospects to come out in years, and an above-average pool of passers. What would Polian and his son, GM Chris Polian, do? Check out Bill Polian's history when confronted with a quarterback need:
1986: Polian's first major decision when promoted to GM of the Buffalo Bills: signing USFL quarterback Jim Kelly.
1995: Polian's second major decision when given the GM job in Carolina (after hiring Dom Capers as coach): drafting Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins.
1998: Polian's second major decision when given the GM job in Indianapolis (after hiring Jim Mora as coach): drafting Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
Of course, the Bills had Vince Ferragamo and Bruce Mathison as quarterbacks in 1985, the Panthers were an expansion team that needed a quarterback obviously, and the Colts had Jim Harbaugh in 1997. Harbaugh was a good NFL quarterback, but Polian didn't think he was a franchise player. So none of his teams were in remotely the same position as the 2012 Colts could be in.
Manning's fate? I say it's very good.
Neel Anand, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Los Angeles, is very familiar with the surgery Manning had. He told me it would be between three and six months before Manning would be able to perform the sort of athletic acts required by an NFL quarterback. But he said he had little doubt about Manning being able to resume his football career.
I had an interesting email the other day from a reader, John Swain, of Smyrna, Del., about having the same surgery Manning had ... and he had it 20 years ago. "Without getting into a lot of history, I will say I played a lot of sports as a kid and on into college,'' wrote Swain. "I am about 6-3. I have lived with the results of my surgery for 20 years. My results were excellent. I have had 20 extremely good years as a result of this surgery. I had it when I was about 40. Initially, once I recovered, I returned to a fairly active life, going back to pickup basketball games, extensive bike riding and much more. If I were playing at his level, I have NO doubt I would have been able to [come back to play]. This surgery will not impair his ability to drop and read quickly. It will not affect his ability to throw with the same authority (zip on the ball, etc). He will lose maybe two percent of his neck flexibility. If he wants to come back you will NOT see a difference.''
Just another voice for you to consider.
Three other Manning points:
Tony Dungy had an excellent observation on our Saturday night NFL special on NBC. He said Manning's neck history dates to Oct. 22, 2006, when his neck got wrenched and his helmet ripped off on a hit by two Washington defenders. We showed the highlight on our Saturday show, and Manning, after being hit and crumbling to the ground awkwardly, lay there for a second, and when he rose, he stretched his neck and shook his right arm for a second, as if trying to get the feeling back in it.
"Earlier in the game,'' Dungy told me, "I'm outraged that there was a flag for roughing-the-passer on Dwight Freeney for just grazing the quarterback's helmet. So I'm yelling at the ref [Scott Green], 'Where's the flag! Where's the flag!' And I don't yell much, but I did then. So I didn't notice Peyton calling timeout and being shaken up. Peyton came to the sideline and said to [backup] Jim Sorgi, 'Jim, start warming up.' As the timeout went on, he said to us, 'I can stay in, but we need to run the ball here.' ''
Which the Colts did, settling for a field goal deep in Washington territory.
"Then we sort of forgot about it at halftime, and Peyton seemed fine," said Dungy. "He lit it up in the second half. He was on fire [throwing for 244 yards and three touchdowns]. But that's the year we started cutting back on his throws at practice. I'm not putting two plus two together. I just figure he's getting older and he needs some time off, he's made enough throws. But now, as I look back on it, there's no doubt in my mind that this was the start of his neck problems.''
Just to clarify: Polian told me Manning was fine at the end of last season, with no recurrence of the neck problems that caused his first surgery after the 2009 season. Polian said this latest flareup, leading to the May 23 procedure, stemmed from an injury suffered at an informal offseason workout in the spring at North Central High in Indianapolis. Just FYI.
The last time Manning didn't start a game for Indianapolis, Tony Mandarich was blocking for Jim Harbaugh with the Colts, and John Randle sacked Harbaugh twice.
Rice is nice, but he plays rough.
When I visited Ravens camp in late July, there was a different feeling about Ray Rice entering his fourth year. For the last couple of years, it was Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and then Joe Flacco, and then anybody else on offense; that was the pecking order of franchise players once Jonathan Ogden left. Rice was creeping into the picture last year. This year, in relative importance with club officials, it seemed like Rice was on a level with the top defensive players. That's how highly he was regarded. And on the first weekend of the season, there were other players who played very well, including a couple who are teammates of Rice. But I thought Rice did something I simply would not see with these Pittsburgh Steelers -- physically impose his will on them on a few running plays. Last season, Pittsburgh was superb against the run, only twice allowing teams to exceed 100 yards (the Jets had 106, New England 103). On Sunday, Rice had 107, and the Ravens totaled 170. Only once in the last three years had a team run for so many on Pittsburgh.
The difference in this game was the Ravens didn't have Willis McGahee anymore, and Rice is now working as the short-yardage and goal-line back. Even though Ricky Williams got 12 carries Sunday, eight came in the fourth quarter, with Rice on the shelf to save further wear and tear. Rice was the every-down back when it counted, and it counted early: He started the game with a 36-yard sprint around left end and never stopped producing for three quarters.
"I'm a complete running back now,'' Rice said from the Ravens' locker room after the rout of Pittsburgh. "Before, I'd come out on goal-line and short-yardage. Now I am more of a complete back. When I get low and have to run with power, it's hard for guys to get under me and drive through me because I get so low.''
Rice did something interesting late in the game. He got involved in a shoving match with Troy Polamalu that turned Pittsburgh/Baltimore ugly. Eight or 10 players got involved, and hair was pulled (Polamalu's), a couple of kicks were given (hard to tell whom) and mayhem lasted for 20 or 25 seconds. When the game was over, Rice made a beeline for Polamalu to apologize for his role in the brawl. "I look up to you as a player,'' Rice told him.
"We have to look out for each other in this game,'' Rice said. "I know this is a heated rivalry and these games get so physical, but at the end of the day we respect them, and even though it gets heated, I don't get upset about things like that. It's football.''
That's a good guy to build a team around, particularly with defensive cornerstones like Lewis and Reed near the end of their careers.
Coming Tuesday: The surprising Bills, plus a fan who just might inspire you.