While the rest of America is looking to remember 9/11 on its tenth anniversary, a decade from now people in Indiana may be remembering 9/8; the day their football world collapsed.
Yes, I understand that comparing a medical procedure on a football player to an act of war that changed the entire world is completely ludicrous, but if you lived in Indiana now, you saw the whole world stop just like it did on that horrible day a decade ago. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. Every other newscast in America led this morning with remembrances of 9/11; every newscast in Indiana led with a 3D graphic of a human spine.
It all started on Thursday when Colts’ owner Jim Irsay said on Twitter that Peyton Manning would be out “for a while.” There was already much anguish since Manning’s streak of consecutive starts was coming to an end; that uneasiness was magnified by the uncertainty of how long Manning would be off the field.
You have to understand, Indianapolis is a small city in a small state; the Colts are a major source of statewide pride, and nobody is more important to the Colts than Peyton Manning. Ever since Irsay’s now-infamous Tweet of uncertainty, all of Colts Nation is uncomfortably staring into the unknowns of a Post-Peyton world. Adding to the anxiety is the fact the news has been ever-changing. Estimates on how much playing time Manning will miss range from 3 games to 3 months to the entire 2011 season.
In order to restore some sanity to this situation, we here at Dubsism are going to offer the clearest possible picture we can as to what this all means.
1) What Actually Happened
Peyton Manning has had his third neck surgery in less than two years on Thursday. This time, the procedure was called a “single level anterior fusion.” Dr. Rick Sasso of the Indiana Spine Group said the following of the procedure:
“The disc herniation is on the front of the nerve, so we go in through the front, take the pressure off the nerve, and then we distract that disc space where it belongs. We also open the tunnel where the nerve runs out and then we keep it in that position with a little bone graft. And you usually put a little plate across that section so people can move their neck right away and get back to doing their normal activities very quickly,” he said.
By all accounts “the surgery was un-eventful.” But the last line of the quoted story is the problem.
“That timetable (for healing) takes most of the current NFL season.”
Without Manning, the whole world knows the Colts are a 5-win team. This means a decade-long streak of playoff appearances are over. This means an era of respectability is over, and an era of mediocrity is coming.
2) The Problem From a Business Perspective
Peyton Manning, misshapen head and all, is the face of the Colts, and he’s a major revenue stream for the league as a whole. What other NFL figure has been in enough commercials to fill his own network, programs included? Let’s not forget Fetushead has been on The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, and countless other cameo appearances. Whether or not he might actually be a douchebag is immaterial; in fact he is a walking cash machine. From that perspective alone, Manning’s absence is not good for the league.
Moreover, how fast do you think the Colts will disappear from nationally televised games without Manning? The annual Sunday night Brady Vs. Manning Bowl loses it luster without it’s latter namesake; if he’s not ready by then, you can bet if the network which has the game has a “flex” option, they will check off that game faster than Manning checks off a run in the red zone.
3) And Now, From The Football Perspective…
The Colts are screwed. I don’t think I can be anymore succinct than that.
First, there’s this season which every blue-wearing Indiana horse-shoe brain can see swirling down the crapper. It’s not that they don’t have any faith in Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter (which they don’t); it’s that Peyton Manning isn’t just the quarterback, he’s the whole goddamn offense, right down to the play-calling. Without him, this team may spend the entire season offensively looking like a fraternity touch-football team well into its third keg of beer.
Now for the ugly little secret. Whatever happens with Manning, there’s the matter of the money the Colts have tied up in Captain Neckbrace. Manning was just signed to a 5 year, $90 million, $26 million of which he gets this year whether he sees the field or not. That’s a pretty big bite out of a $120 million salary cap.
What’s worse is they chased bad money with worse because they were desperate. What Colts fans may not realize is the really scary thing isn’t the money Irsay gave to Kerry Collins, it’s the length of the contract. Technically, Collins signed a two-year, $14 million contract.
This begs the question…Why would you offer a retired insurance policy a two-year deal? The only answer which makes sense is because you are gambling you won’t need two years of insurance. From a practical sense, this is really a one-year deal which nets Collins $4 million for the 2011 season, because the Colts can release him at the end of the season without any financial obligations beyond $2.5 million signing bonus and a base salary of $1.5 million.
However, the reality is the contract is a two-year deal, with a 2012 base salary of $10 million. That’s a lot of dough for a 41-year old retiree; to make sure Collins is willing to stick around for year number two, the Colts had to pony up the cash.
That’s also means the Colts know they may need that second year. It hit the Indianapolis papers this morning that the Colts can release Manning after this season free and clear of any further financial obligation. Stop and let that sink in for a moment; three weeks ago, we were talking about Manning might be ready for the season opener against Houston. Now, in a very short amount of time, we are making serious overtures about the end of an era.
There’s even some serious delusions occuring.
If the Indianapolis Colts wind up having a wretched season due to Peyton Manning’s neck injury, they may find themselves in a somewhat similar situation. Granted, it’s too early to tell how long Manning will be sidelined after having his second neck surgery in less than four months. Maybe he’ll return halfway through the season and lead the Colts to the playoffs once again. Or maybe he’ll be out all season and will return next year at full strength.
Or maybe he’ll never play again.
Either way, there’s reason to believe the Colts will suffer at the controls of Kerry Collins. The most optimistic of Indy fans think Collins will do just enough to lead an already good Colts team to the playoffs by limiting his mistakes and just getting out of the way. But for those that watched him play in preseason, it’s clear that his arm strength and accuracy have declined and he has a habit of hanging onto the ball too long when he’s in the pocket…
…It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Collins and the Colts will be so bad this year that Indy will be selecting in the top 10 come April. And if they get close enough to sniff the No. 1 overall pick, Bill Polian might want to do whatever’s necessary to land Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
Folks in the blue buckle of the Corn Belt can forget about getting the #1 overall pick; the Colts simply don’t have that kind of Luck (pun completely intended). They are going to be bad, but not #1 overall pick bad. That’s reserved for the Bengals, Bills, Redskins, or maybe even the Panthers again. Believe me, anybody who has that pick is not going to trade it unless Luck pulls an “Eli Manning” and demands such a trade.
Here is what it all boils down to…no matter what, the Manning era is Indianapolis is over; at least the productive part of it is. Manning himself without the neck issue is past his prime, and the offense he led no longer strikes fear in the hearts of NFL defensive coordinators. The time is now for the Colts to look to the future rather than dumping money into the past.