Thursday, March 8, 2012

On the other hand, I'm pretty damn happy for Peyton Manning

The Colts don't owe Manning anything, and if they're not willing to pay him his asking price, he doesn't owe them anything either. Over the course of 14 years (the first 13 of which he played every game), Manning played arguably the most consistently excellent quarterback of all time, numerically superior to Marino, Montana, Favre, and Brady. He won a championship, and came close a few other times. Since the league has swung so far toward offense, an elite or near-elite quarterback is almost a pre-requisite for winning a championship, so any team with Manning would have a chance. But come on, the NFL is a business and it made no business sense to keep Manning.

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Had the Colts elected to keep Manning, it would have cost them a cool 28 million dollars (with a 17 million dollar cap hit). Their roster is already depleted, as evidenced by the fact that without their franchise quarterback they lost 14 games last year, and even though the evidence points to Manning lifting his teammates, it doesn't make fiscal sense for him to take up a fifth of the team's cap space. It especially doesn't make sense when the Colts can draft perhaps the best quarterback prospect since Manning himself and pay him so much less. With the new rookie salary scale, Andrew Luck's contract and cap hit will stay low and allow the Colts to replenish their badly depleted roster. Two years ago Sam Bradford, the first overall pick, signed for seven years and 78 million dollars; last year's first overall pick, Cam Newton, signed for 4 years and 22 million dollars. Luck would have to be a colossal bust not to merit that contract.

Now it's more than possible that Luck does bust, or at least fails to live up to the Herculean expectations thrust on him. He's supposedly 'can't miss,' but as Steve pointed out, many quarterbacks have been 'can't miss' and missed. But Manning's not can't miss either. He's had four neck surgeries, and the veil of secrecy over his recovery process leads one to believe that he's not all the way back. He didn't come back last year and opted for more surgery because he couldn't get his arm strength back and I think it's fair to speculate that it will never be all the way where it was (this for a quarterback who was almost drafted after Ryan Leaf about concerns over his arm strength). I think Manning only plays if he can be pretty effective, and I definitely think that his mental advantages will allow him to keep a high level of play even if his skills atrophy, which as a soon-to-be 36 year old is likely to happen soon anyway.

I feel a lot worse for Andrew Luck than for Manning because he's in a no-win situation. He was pretty much always going to go to a team that had no talent, as that's who picks first overall, and this Colts team is no exception. What's more he's not just following a legendary quarterback, but is the reason said quarterback is no longer with the franchise which he basically brought to prominence himself. If he plays well, he'll pretty much always be in Manning's shadow, realistically until the point that he wins a championship (see: Rodgers, Aaron). If he flames out, he'll be a pariah to Colts fans. And if he's anything in between, he'll just constantly be compared to a legend, and that's unfair to Luck.

Manning, on the other hand, gets to pick his situation. He can go to a team that's a quarterback away from contending (a la Miami), and play for a team with a chance to win. He won't have to ply his trade on the god-awful Colts, and I don't see how that's anything but positive. Yes, from the angle of a sports fan it would have been nice to see him finish his career as a Colt, but that's a sentimental reaction and not in the best interest of the Colts or Manning. The Colts may well be better next year with Manning than with Luck, but they need to rebuild now and this decision is about three or four years from now. And it's not like the Colts screwed Manning. They paid him a hell of a lot of money to play for them when he was there, and gave him a 90 million dollar contract before last year, the highest in football. Contracts aren't guaranteed in the NFL, and so the Colts made a business decision.

As fans, we hold our teams to a double standard. We want them to put being competitive over everything else, especially business issues, but we also want them to keep "our guys." We want Paul Pierce to stay a lifetime Celtic, because Bird and Russel and Havlicek and McHale were, but we also want the Celtics to blow it up and rebuild because that's their best basketball option and those two ideas are incongruous (I should point out that I'm not a Celtics fan but just enjoy using the royal we). If we want Manning to be a Colt then we also have to acknowledge that the number one goal of a franchise is not the immediate and future fortune of the franchise. The Colts, who were never a national presence until Manning, probably understand this better than anyone, because if they keep Manning and he falters or if he's no longer Manning in two years there's no guarantee they keep their fan-base. With Luck, they can either win immediately or sell their fan base on the promise of future glory (see: Knicks, New York). Meanwhile, Manning gets to chase a championship with a vastly better lineup. How exactly does he lose here?

Last, on the question of legacy, I don't think Peyton Manning cares at all. The whole "Eli is a better QB" argument is in vogue right now, but I doubt it holds up. Peyton's statistics are bordering on the best ever, and he does have that championship. He probably should have more titles, but his defenses were terrible and there are quite a few Manning playoff stinkers as well. I don't know how we'll view his career historically next to Brady's, whether it will be Bird-Magic of Russell-Chamberlain, but I don't think that matters right now. At the end of their careers we can evaluate, but for right now both Manning and Brady are going to keep pursuing the next title. Manning will be fine, and will get another contract (according to Adam Schefter, twelve teams have already reached out since 3 p.m. yesterday).

And also to Steve, maybe this doesn't make you feel good about the situation, but do you think there's a chance in hell Belichick doesn't cut Manning in this situation if he were in charge of the Colts?

10 comments:

  1. Tom Brady missed a year and his much cheaper replacement passed for 3700 yards

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  2. What's your point?

    Different parts of their careers, different replacement quarterbacks, different economics.

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  3. Yeah this replacement quarterback was a lot more proven than Andrew Luck, the same uncertainty around Brady's injury existed, and now Brady is the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. There was plenty of talk about going with Cassel for the future over Brady. Seems awfully similar. The Patriots made the business decision that paying the most important player on your team, if that player is elite and gives you a chance to win a championship, is good for your team. The Patriots are 1 Gronkowski and 1 Brady away from being a terrible team, much like the Colts.

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  4. The situations are totally different. First off, the Colts are in much worse shape than the Pats were (i.e. they couldn't win it even with Manning). You think Matt Cassel takes last year's Colts to 10-6? I think the Colts are lucky to go 10-6 with Manning as their QB in 2011, which we all admitted when they went 10-6 in 2010. Second, Manning is a lot older than Brady was at the point of that injury and while still great Manning has been trending downward. Brady's injury was also less of an unknown than Manning's. Third, there was a much bigger economic investment owed Manning at this point.

    I don't think Belichick should have or even would have considered traded Brady, especially because he was coming off statistically the best season of all time. I think considering Luck's ceiling (which while unproven is way higher than Cassel's) and the uncertainty about Manning being Manning and the huge economic investment owed him Belichick definitely trades Manning.

    There's an element of the unknown no matter which QB the Colts pick but this puts them in a much better situation.

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  5. Also the Packers sent Favre packing, coming off a great season in which they went 13-3, and backed a total unknown with a high ceiling. Worked out.

    I think you're missing that Cassel was somewhat proven but no way he's the next Rodgers or Manning. It's possible with Luck. That changes things, even if it is an "unknown."

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  6. First of all, except for Manning, the Colts are basically unchanged from their 10-6 year. If anything, their defense and running game were healthier. Manning had no supporting cast last year which lowered his QB rating to 91, but I'd hardly say that he was trending downward. He had about the year you'd expect out of him with that team and those injuries. A reasonably healthy Colts team in 2010 with Manning at the helm would have been better than 10-6, and the 2011 Colts were essentially a reasonably healthy 2010 Colts team. The Colts being 2-14 this year is largely, if not mostly, attributable to Manning being hurt and them having not even a serviceable replacement. If Manning had been hurt in 2010, I think they would have won less than 2 games with all their injuries.
    Also, Brady's injury was related to his physical performance as a quarterback. Manning's is related to his overall health. I would say that if Manning is recovered from his health problems, then the injury itself shouldn't change him. Brady's was much more uncertain, in that even if he made a full recovery, he may not be the same quarterback. If Manning makes a full recovery, then that shouldn't change him as a player.
    Also, the year after Brady's injury, Brady accounted for a salary cap hit of over $14 million. Pretty similar to Manning's cap hit this year. The biggest difference here is that Manning is 36 and Brady was 31. Other than that, these situations are really similar.
    Also, how was Cassel less likely to be the next Manning or Rodgers than Luck is? Cassel has been decent for KC, and he had an excellent year in 2010. I don't understand why his ceiling is necessarily lower than Luck's. We saw Cassel play really well for a year in the NFL, while we haven't seen Luck play in the NFL. Luck tore up the Pac-10. So did Matt Leinart.

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  7. First off, the age difference is pretty crucial. If Brady came back as Brady, you get 7 more years of him. Maybe 3 with Manning. The cap hit is different because the Pats were able to trade Cassel, a position the Colts aren't in. Also there wouldn't have been a problem if Cassel kept backing up Brady as there would be with Luck.

    Your injury analysis doesn't hold either. Brady healed on schedule from an injury we've seen guys much more reliant on athleticism heal from. Manning? Not so much. Remember he was gonna be back for the beginning of last year? And then by week 4? And a few other times throughout the season? And that he couldn't move his head to the side but also couldn't throw (a performance-related injury I'd say, even more than Brady's)? I think the odds were much greater 31 year-old Brady came back 100% from a knee injury than they are with 36 year-old Manning from a neck injury which we still don't know if he's totally healed from.

    I know Manning is only two years removed from a super bowl, but check the numbers. He has been trending slightly downward (even if he was still elite in 2010). I shouldn't have brought up counter-factual arguments because they're inherently useless, but you really think Manning is an 8 or 9 win swing last year on those Colts? I don't believe that. That team isn't the same as it was a few years ago, too. The Colts have drafted terribly so there's no infusion of young talent, and their playmakers on the line are getting old. See DVOA for defense: 2009 - 15th, 2010 - 24th, 2011 - 27th.

    And I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing when we say ceiling. The point is that it's a projection, based on scouting and past performance. And Luck's is irrefutably higher than Cassel's. It's higher because that's the prevailing wisdom (and the wisdom of people who know more than me, and are also admittedly wrong sometimes) but there's always an element of chance. Compiling a roster is about weighing chance though, and if scouts are right and the Colts get 4 years of below market elite QB play that's a huge advantage.

    Last thing, I just don't think you should be sorry for Manning. If his team is worth 2 wins without him, he's gonna be in a much better situation on the Dolphins, for instance. Your argument seems to be this is bad for the Colts, and I guess we'll see if that's the case, but it's definitely not bad for Manning.

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  8. I don't understand why keeping Manning to groom Luck for a year or two is so out of the question. I understand the money thing obviously, but why is it so impossible for Andrew Luck to sit for a year or two? It worked for Rodgers. I think this was probably their best option rather than cutting Manning, and it was certainly the Colts' second option before they made the decision to cut Manning. So I don't see where the problem of Luck backing up Manning comes in. And about the injury...obviously if Manning can't play, he can't play. That's a whole other issue. You can't keep the guy if he can't play. But if he can play, that means he's made a full recovery, and should physically be the same as he was. So that injury should be a non-factor. Not being able to move your head is a performance-related injury, but that's also a career-ending injury. That's a whole different ballgame. Brady's injury, however, was absolutely shrouded in uncertainty. Guys routinely never return from ACL tears. This article says it all: http://www.emaxhealth.com/1506/acl-injuries-often-career-ending-nfl-players
    Also, Carson Palmer had multiple torn ligaments, like Brady, he hasn't been the same since he returned. I'd say that if both players make full recoveries from their respective injuries, Brady's was potentially more performance-related.

    And I really don't see where Manning is trending downward. He's not where he was in the height of his prime from 2004-2006, but he's still at an extremely elite level. His worst year of the last 7 was in 2010, when he was missing Joseph Addai for half the year and Dallas Clark for 10 games. He had no running game and was forced to throw 679 times, easily his career high and the highest total in the league. And that team still made the playoffs. The team was healthier this year.

    And the difference between the probably 2nd or 3rd best quarterback and a bottom 5 worst backup quarterback (probably just about the 40th-50th best quarterback) in the league? I'd definitely say that could be 8 or 9 games. They dropped the most important position in all of major team sports from top 4 to arguably top 50. Jeff Saturday and Dwight Freeney being a year older doesn't account for that much of those 8 or 9 games. And I know Manning doesn't play defense, but the fact that their offense was never on the field probably had something to do with the Colts being worse on defense.

    Also the Patriots were much more informed about Cassel than the Colts are about Luck. The Colts are absolutely taking a risk putting all their chips in the Luck basket. And as far as these risks have gone in the past, I don't necessarily love Luck's chances. I'm far from convinced that he's even the best quarterback in this draft class. No matter what, he could benefit from Manning's tutelage while Manning plays outstanding quarterback for the Colts. Sort of like Rodgers did from Favre.

    And I feel bad for Manning as a person, not as a cost-benefit analysis. When you've carried a franchise for over a decade and they just release you after you've missed a year from a mysterious injury, that's gotta hurt. They're discarding him because of a business decision in favor of a guy who they say is the next...him. But he's still him. It must suck for Manning.

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  9. 1. Manning might be medically cleared to play but that doesn't mean he's 100%. It's very possible that 100% is out of the question. And this isn't a common injury or a common rehab. There's a hell of a lot more uncertainty with Manning. I know not everybody comes back from Brady's injury but by the time they had to make a decision during the offseason, the Pats would have had a lot of information on his rehab, which by all accounts went very, very smoothly. That Manning's did not is cause for concern.

    2. Isn't Brady's the same injury Welker had?

    3. You're right that Manning was the reason the Colts won 10 games in 2010, and he willed them there, but they really shouldn't have won that many games. Their defense is terrible and they have one non-Manning playmaker on offense in Dallas Clark. Which is why it makes sense to get rid of Manning and let Luck play because that's the only way they can rebuild. If Manning is eating up 20% of their cap, they're severely limited. This isn't a team on the precipice of a title anymore like that Patriots team was and still is. They have no weapons. Joseph Addai is always hurt and is also bad. Reggie Wayne is getting old. Their other receivers looked good because Manning threw to them, but no one is even above average other than Clark, who himself is injury prone. The line isn't as good as it once was and only gave up so few sacks because Manning throws hot reads so frequently.

    4. Of course the Patriots were more informed about Cassel than the Colts about Luck, but that still means both teams made the right decision. There was no way in their evaluation that Cassel was the next Brady, so no point in keeping him and getting rid of Brady to keep more years with elite play so they sold high on him. Luck, as you say, is supposed to be the next Manning. Whether or not the evaluation of him is right I don't know (I like Robert Griffin III but I also know almost nothing about football).

    5. I think Manning gets that this football is business. He was/is a great quarterback, and I don't think the Colts wanted to cut him. I think they understand that they can't win a championship with him and this roster so it's time to move on, and Manning understands that too. Now he'll have a better chance to win. I guess it sucks that this happened because of an injury, but there are undeniable problems in the Colts organization.

    6. The Colts are also minimizing risk to an extent. If they kept Manning and he was terrible, there's no way they can trade his contract with 3 years remaining (especially because they'd have no leverage with an heir apparent waiting in the wings), and so they'd have to cut him and slow down their rebuilding process by another year.

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  10. Comparing any ACL tear recovery to Welker's is unfair. His was the best recovery of all time. Most guys who come back from ACL replacements are not as good as they once were. And indeed, the year that Brady returned, he wasn't as good. He's certainly bounced back since then, but to say that the Patriots had a level of certainty about Brady is simply untrue, as evidenced by his weak first year back. If Manning can't move his neck, then he won't play. If he doesn't play, then we're talking about something else. I'm pretty sure that if he's not 100% from this specific injury, then he just can't play.

    If next year's NFL is anything like this year's NFL, then the AFC is open for the taking. A 10-win Colts team is a championship contender, and I wouldn't want to face Peyton Manning in the playoffs. The worst thing that happens is that Manning can't play and you have to eat his salary again. I would argue that seeing what's left is worth delaying rebuilding for a year, and that Luck sitting for a year is better than throwing him into the fire too early. Also, if the Colts had such little talent to begin with, then what difference does it make if they blow up the roster? Manning should be able to produce and win with anyone. Manning gives you a chance to be an elite team, no matter who you surround him with. That's a pretty good argument for keeping him. Having a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl is a pretty good business proposition.

    I think we're far from seeing whether the Colts made the right decision. We've seen busts before in the NFL draft, but I can't think of too many times when a team gave up a truly elite quarterback in favor of a guy who's never played a down in the NFL. If Luck turns out to be a bust, or even turns out to be an Alex Smith, or even an Eli Manning, the Colts might be kicking themselves. I think it's a lot easier to see a guy suck for a year and then cut him, rather than not give him a chance to prove himself after an injury with the contract you gave him. If Manning were to suck next year, they wouldn't have to trade him. They could safely cut him.

    I don't really think Peyton Manning is excited about having to move, be the new guy in town, and prove himself on a completely new team. I'm sure he understands, but I don't think he feels good about it.

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