Peyton Manning will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Hands down. But like most veterans, he may not get to choose where and when that ending is. Perhaps you have heard some of the chatter of the last two or three weeks regarding his status as a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

According to a report from Don Banks of Sports Illustrated, Manning had four (not three) neck surgeries in the past year. That is a huge piece of information regarding his potential status. According to that report, the Colts fear that Manning’s condition may be chronic. Banks also points to the fact the Peyton’s older brother, Cooper had a spinal condition that kept him

Irsay is facing the toughest situation of his career.

Colts owner Jim Irsay continually fights the notion that Manning is done in Indy. According to pro football talk yesterday, Manning and the Colts are already in contract negotiations. However, according to a new report today, Irsay and Manning have NOT had talks yet. The whole news cycle revolving his status has been dizzying and it seems to get worse by the hour.

The Colts would have to pay him $28 million if they want to keep him. The Colts most likely do not want to drop $28 million on a veteran. Irsay claims he wants Manning back as a Colt, but only if Manning restructures his contract. Whatever the case is, it appears they are about to draft Andrew Luck.

Could this man be leading the Colts soon?

In addition, there is even more uncertainty revolving Manning following this report of a fourth surgery. In the sports illustrated article, Don Banks said that league sources are reporting that Manning has developed bone spurs where his neck was fused. This may lead to further surgeries to repair that area of his neck (hence the fear of chronic problems).

Even more troubling is how Manning attempted to play before his neck was fully healed. He could hardly throw 25 yards, but was willing to play a red-zone-only role in the Colts late-season game against the Houston Texans. While this is primarily ludicrous from a health stand point, this is also mind numbing in terms of football sense.

It is clearly not a situation like baseball where you can just bring in a closer off of the bench. Momentum and execution of the players matter a great deal more in football. Having Manning simply come in and throw passes in the red-zone could lead to less points. Those points would bcome critical for a team that is only playing for pride.

No matter what happens, Manning would be the latest in a slew of veterans and elite players who have had to either restructure their deals  or be cut loose in the past week. Behind thhealth factors, the key question here is: will he be willing to restructure? The deal the Colts does not even guarantee him a spot on the Colts rosters for 2013.

Adding to the Colts’ delimma is the fact that teams are currently drooling at the prospects of Manning becoming an unrestricted free agent. Despite his health factors, there would be teams willing to drop cash for Manning. Think of a coach like Ken Whisenhunt out in Arizona who may have to fight for his job soon.

"Whiz" has been looking for a repeat.....but has fallen a bit short.

Sure he has coached the Cardinals to two postseason trips in his tenure, but his last trip came in the 2009-2010 playoffs. The NFL is all about “what have you done for me lately?” And the Cardinals have struggled to a total record of 13-19 since losing horribly to the Saints in January of 2010. They would love a veteran like Manning.

The last thing that Jim Irsay wants as an owner is to see his beloved, future Hall of Fame quarterback go to another team and win a championship. Outside of Arizona, there will be plenty of suitors licking their chops. This is where Andrew Luck comes into play.

The Colts currently have the number one overall pick in this April’s draft. All signals are indicating that the Colts will take Luck. It seems like the only choice the team has with that pick. Watching Luck play in the Fiesta Bowl, he seemed an awful lot like a young Peyton Manning. It was not a perfect performance, but there are aspects of his game that appear professional.

The thing that separates Luck from other college quarterbacks is that this: when he comes to the line of scrimmage, he has three calls in the huddle he can audible to. That is trait that Peyton Manning had when Tom Moore was his OC. Now, Bruce Arians is the new offensive coordinator and that brings in ideas he used while he was in Pittsburgh.

Arians likes to spread things out and use a variety of formations. Luck appears to have no problem grasping that concept. Luck can also throw a mean bubble screen, which is no doubt going to excite Arians.

In the coming weeks, what the Colts end up doing with Manning will determine what happens once they draft Luck. Here are the two options the Colts have on the table:

  • Keep Manning and draft Luck
  • Release Manning and draft Luck

The first option appears to be the safest one on paper. But there are far too many unknowns with that choice. What if Luck decides to pull a John Elway and skip town for another team? That happened when the Colts tried to draft Elway in 1983. Of course Elway went on to win two Super Bowls with the Broncos and the Colts struggled to one AFC title game appearance in that time.

But it was a very close call......

I am not saying that history would repeat itself exactly in the manner. After all, Denver is still hung-up on Tebowmania. But what I am saying is this: if Manning ever heals fully, then he still has mileage left in tank. Luck is young and may not want to sit behind a legend for 3-4 years. Unless, of course, Manning plans on mentoring the young gun.

But no legend who values their starting job has ever really done that. Joe Montana didn’t hold Steve Young’s hand while he developed under him. Brett Favre scoffed at the idea of mentoring a young Aaron Rodgers. the comforting thing for Andrew Luck is that both situations worked out pretty well for both backups.

If it turns out that Luck is impatient, then Colts would have no choice but to let Manning enter free agency. Doing this would ensure that new head coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians get “their guy.”  They could shape and mold Luck however they choose without worrying about him being stuck behind a veteran.

For Manning, it would be strange territory. Seeing him in anything but a Colts’ blue uniform would be a weird site. But the NFL is a business and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay must do what he feels is right for his team. This is a team that has more problems than just at QB. The performance of Joseph Addai has dropped off due to injuries. In his place, Donald Brown was not much better either.

Part of this has to do with an offensive line that was not very good. On top of that, the Colts defense this past season was not much better. It may take a few years for the Colts to rebuild what was once a model for regular season consistency. A promising first-round QB draft pick is not going to help all of those problems. If anything, it was Manning’s presence under center that masked those flaws all these years.

One thing is very clear here: no matter what decision the Colts make, Manning’s health will be the key. This applies to teams interested in Manning as a free agent as well. Teams like Arizona and Washington will be bidding for like no tomorrow if he hits the market. The clock is ticking and the Colts have until March 8th to make a choice.

What is your take on the Manning drama? Should the Colts keep him or cut him? Post your comments below.

Random Notes

  • Randy Moss is officially trying to come back to the NFL. He joins Terrell Owens as two once-great-but-old receivers trying to make a comeback. The funny part is how few team seems to be interested in either receiver. It might have something to do with age, but most likely with how big of a lockerroom liability both are. Moss is the laziest receiver who will ever get into the Hall of Fame. But hey at least an IFL franchise has extended an offer.
  • Speaking of players trying to comeback, ESPN is reporting that former Redskins’ back Clinton Portis is trying to do what Moss and Owens are (or aren’t?). Portis is an older back and it is not clear how effective he can be.
  • Hines Ward’s career in Pittsburgh may be over pretty soon. According to rumors floating around, the franchise plans to cut ties with the Super Bowl XL MVP wideout. Talk about a business. Ward is one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise. While it will be sad for many to see him go, the Steelers have plenty of talent at wide receiver. If they can somehow keep the three-headed monster of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders, then new OC Todd Haley will have a lot of toys to play with.
  • Ron Jaworski has been let go from the ESPN Monday Night Football broadcasting booth. Jaws was one of the more reliable analysts on that staff and his insight will be missed. On the other hand, Jon Gruden has proved himself to be a potent analyst. This will be the first time in 15 years that MNF has had a two-person broadcast team. The Tirico-Gruden combination does not have the ring, the résumé, or the name that Michaels-Madden had back in the day. Time will tell on this one, but it appears to be a very risky move.