What If the Colts Never Cut Peyton Manning?

At the time the choice seemed obvious. But what if Jim Irsay and the Colts never cut Peyton Manning? (Getty Images)

At the time the choice seemed obvious. But what if Jim Irsay and the Colts never cut Peyton Manning? (Getty Images)

– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)

It’s January 2nd 2012, and Jim Irsay lifts his head from his desk in a start, drool hanging from his lip and his eyes all gunked up.  It takes him an unusual amount of time to pull himself together after his nap.  He’s disoriented and dizzy. The dreams felt so real, he’s not sure if he’s actually awake.  As he wipes away the saliva with his sleeve, there is only one clear image in his mind, and it’s of Peyton Manning wearing Broncos orange.  

He stands up quickly and looks around his office. This can’t be right, I should have a “Furious Seven” poster there instead of “Fast Five”… And even though I haven’t moved the framed Adele photo since I put it on my desk in 2011, there should be a few more tearstains than the ones I see….

Jim starts to wrap his head around what is happening: he has somehow managed to go back in time.  As he is processing all of this and trying to establish exactly where or when he is, there is a knock at the door, and Bill Polian lets himself in (classic Bill). Jim looks down at the calendar at his desk and it all comes together. This is January 2nd 2012, the day after the Indianapolis Colts rolled over in week 17 against the Jaguars, putting a bow on their 2-14 season and wrapping up the first pick in next year’s draft.  Today was the day he fired Bill, a day that would be the first big step towards cleaning house and entering a rebuilding phase.

Polian, Irsay and Manning in better times. (Getty Images)

Polian, Irsay and Manning in better times. (Getty Images)

Bill notices Jim is distressed. “Are you alright? I hope I didn’t startle you.”

“No no no, you’re alright.  Please, Bill, sit down.” Jim was breathing heavily. He wiped the sweat away from his face with his hands in such a manic way that Bill started to realize something was up.  Jim sat back down at his desk abruptly and spoke with his hands up by his face like Ricky Bobby. “Listen, Bill, I was gonna fire you today, but I’m having second thoughts”

The color drained in Bill’s face.  He had no idea what was going on here, but he was scared.

“Listen, Bill, I’ve seen the future, and it isn’t what I was seeing before I came into this room for a nap, you know what I mean?”

Bill nodded because he didn’t know what else to do.

“Bottom line is this: you’re keeping your job.  Your first order of business is to bring back Peyton Manning, for a reduced price if you can– I don’t give a shit about the bonus we owe him this year, pay it. Just get him back. Next, start teasing Washington with the idea of swapping some draft picks.  I have a feeling they might give us some good value for such a high pick.”

Obviously, this cliché-but-entertaining scenario with Irsay going back in time with future knowledge is impossible, but it’s a fun way of asking a fun “what if” questions. Bill Simmons covered all sorts of NBA “what ifs” in The Book of Basketball, and all of them make for fun conversation if nothing else.  The most popular recent example of “What if the Thunder never got rid of James Harden?” still gets people fired up, and that happened like four years ago.

So here’s my “what if”:

What if Jim Irsay decided to keep Peyton Manning?

My buddy Bill was the one who originally posed the question to me, so it’s only right that he gives his take first.

“Assuming they were the ones who make the trade with the Redskins (I think they would have been once that offer was on the table), I think they trade down to take Kuechly at 6 overall with the Redskins pick that year.  With the Redskins second round pick that year, the Rams took Janoris Jenkins.  Hindsight is 20/20, but Alshon Jeffrey went 6 picks later so the Colts could have been in the mix for him.  With next year’s Redskins pick, the Rams actually traded that to atlanta who used it to draft Desmond Trufant, one of the best corners in football.  The following year, that Redskins pick came in at 2 overall, which the Rams used to take Greg Robinson.  But that draft class was pretty loaded in the first round and if we give the Redskins Andrew Luck, they probably don’t end up with the second overall pick there. Depending on where they picked, the Colts may have been looking at Odell Beckham Jr or Aaron Donald, among others.

So I guess you have to wonder whether the Colts would rather have their roster full of holes and a “franchise quarterback” that the jury is still out on, and wonder if they trade it for 2.5 years of peak Manning and 1.5 years of what he is now, plus a couple drafts that could bring in Kuechly, Alshon Jeffrey, Desmond Trufant, and Odell Beckham/ Aaron Donald.”

“Wait, what about Andrew Luck?” Bill Polian wrote all of this down, but he took issue with the sudden 180 on the quarterback decision. “Does Peyton get better? Is Luck a bust?”

“It’s not that simple, Bill” Irsay licks his lips and pours himself a drink from a hidden dispenser under the desk. He swallows it all at once and thinks over what he just heard. “We can get a few good years out of Peyton. Luck is good too, but he’s hurt and he hasn’t completely made the leap,” He pours himself another drink and offers one to Polian, who declines. “I’m going to need some time to really think this over and get all this shit down on paper, but I think I know how to make this team great again,”

Irsay pulls out a blank piece of paper and starts scribbling down names, most of which Polian doesn’t recognize. The ones he can place are of standout college players: Luke Kuechly, Matt Kalil, Janoris Jenkins. “I see what you’re getting at here, Jim.  You’re like Biff from Back to the Future.  You know who’s legit and who’s not, so we’ll just stick it out with Peyton, trade down, and pick the guys you know will hit,”

Jim looks down at his list then up at Bill. “Yeah I think that’s the play. Peyton will wear down in a few years, but by then, we’ll have a team of Pro Bowlers we acquire through the draft.”

“But wait, if Peyton does wear down in a few years, that means we’ll have to address the quarterback situation all over again relatively soon.”

A prize like Andrew Luck was the only thing that could get Irsay and Manning to part ways. (Getty Images)

A prize like Andrew Luck was the only thing that could get Irsay and Manning to part ways. (Getty Images)

Jim had accounted for all of this when he put his plans down on paper, but his brain was still pretty scrambled from the whole time travel thing, and Polian’s point makes him pause and sit back in his chair.  “That’s the dilemma right there. Do we stick with Peyton, hope we can put together a championship-caliber team by the time his arm goes – in two years, give or take – and pass on Luck, or do we draft Luck – locking up a franchise quarterback for the next ten or so years – and worry about filling out the other holes in our roster later?”

“Luck is a franchise quarterback then? Definitely not a bust?

“No he’s definitely for real.” Irsay sees flashes from this coming 2012 season, where Luck puts together one of the best rookie campaigns ever.  He smiles.  Irsay sees flashes from 2014 and 2015 of Luck’s imperfections and injuries.  The smile fades. “I’m not sure he’s the best thing since Elway, or whatever everybody is saying right now, but from what I’ve seen – what I think I’ve seen…” Irsay shakes his head, struggling to comprehend the situation he finds himself in. “He’s legit, and I would be pretty confident with him as my quarterback of the future. I’ve made that decision once, and I think I could make it again”

Bill feels a lump in his throat and swallows.  If he could do that, what’s stopping him from firing me again? “What about, like, other quarterbacks? Are there any second or third rounders we might be able to get our hands on in the next year or so?”

Jim Irsay’s eyes light up and he smiles from ear to ear. Bill, you just saved your job for good. “Russell Wilson” he says, almost under his breath.  The gears are turning fast in his head, and the possibilities suddenly seem endless. Trade down to Washington, pick up Wilson, have him sit behind Peyton for a bit? He’ll be ready to go if the cookie crumbles differently, and Manning goes down earlier than expected. We’ll still get all those draft picks that go to the Rams, and we’ll stay the hell away from Trent Richardson this time around. There were plenty of Jeremy Hills and Lamar Millers to be taken in later rounds.  With every passing second, more names of late round gems come to mind and Irsay feels absolutely invincible , much like Biff from Back to the Future probably did.  

He pours another drink and kicks back in his chair. He has the league by the balls now, and nothing can stand in his way. It’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out. He knows when and where the curveballs are coming.

“Bill, set a reminder in your phone to text me on March 16th 2014 and tell me not to drive home”

JimBearor– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)


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