As most of you have heard ESPN confirmed that Peyton Manning underwent an anterior fusion surgical procedure done on his neck which was operated on just a couple months earlier on May 23rd to attempt to repair a damaged nerve in his neck. Nerve injuries are said to be particularly tricky because there is no exact timetable for return. He is expected to be out 2-3 months at which point he could potentially return to football, but it is unclear exactly when he will be back at 100% or if he ever will be. When a player of Manning’s stature is hurt for any extended period of time the impact of the time he misses ripples throughout the league, and this post will be focused on the impact Manning’s injury will have not only on the outcome of this season, the fantasy impact of the players who were around him on offense, but also the impact it could and likely will have on the next NFL Draft in April.
Obviously because Manning is injured he won’t be starting in week one, and he might miss 8-12 weeks of the regular season. While the Colts have been a perennial playoff team for the majority of the last decade, it’s hard to imagine them returning to the playoffs without Manning at the helm. Kerry Collins is a reliable back-up and stop gap, but he isn’t a reliable enough starting candidate to expect him to mesh with the starters quick enough to keep them relevant until Manning gets back this season (if he does get back this season at all). That means that even if Manning is healthy in time for the last 3-4 games of the season he might just be placed on IR and allowed to heal completely in preparation for the 2012-2013 season instead of rushing back for relatively meaningless games at the end of the year. So it is entirely possible that Manning won’t play a single game this season even if he comes back close to 100% within that 2-3 month range. If the Colts do somehow remain competitive the Colts will have a tough decision on their hands for a number of reasons. If they are in range of making the playoffs with Collins, should they bring Manning back once he feels ready even though Collins got them that far? Should they mortgage Manning’s future performances after giving him a substantial contract to salvage a season without a lot of potential for a deep playoff run? There will be a lot of questions for them to answer. Personally I would do everything in my power to make sure Manning isn’t rushed back, but late in the season if there are important games to play that could get the team into the playoffs I would consider playing him.
Obviously Manning’s absence will not only impact the Colts, but the rest of the teams in that division. Suddenly, the Texans schedule has gotten easier without having to match up with Manning twice a year with a secondary that has traditionally struggled to slow him down (however, with Jonathan Joseph in the fold that may have started to change anyways). The Titans and Jaguars both seemed destined to be bottom dwellers in their own special ways due to their uncertainty at the quarterback position, but not having to face Manning twice in a season would be favorable for both squads. I think, due to Manning’s injury, that the Texans are the pretty obvious favorite to win the division. If they can’t pull this off with two weak teams and a Manning-less Colts team then they might need to move to the UFL.
This injury also has a significant fantasy impact. Who knows if Collins will spread the ball around game to game as well as Manning did. It’s hard to imagine Reggie Wayne having the same level of effectiveness, and the same goes for Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. They will probably try to run the ball more, but without Manning there threatening to check out of a run against eight men in the box there might not be as many holes for Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to run though. It will also be particularly interesting to see how Anthony Costanzo does this year. I am not sure if he is expected to be the starter on opening day for the Colts, but I would not be surprised if he was. I was a big fan of his, so I am excited to see how he protects Collins’ blind side over the course of the year. If you have any of the Colts players (I have Collie in one league) their value may never be lower than it is currently. So make sure you don’t panic and trade them, especially if Manning has a freak recovery and comes back healthy sooner than expected or if Collins manages to mesh with the team and gives them an unexpected spark as the starter.
Not only does this injury impact the regular season, fantasy football stats, and the entire landscape of the AFC South division, but it has a significant impact on the 2012 NFL Draft. If you had asked me yesterday if I expected the Colts to have even a remote chance of selecting in the top five, much less #1 overall, in the 2012 Draft I would have told you that Manning would have to get kidnapped or murdered to see such a thing occur. Well, luckily he hasn’t been kidnapped, but he is going to be wearing street clothes on the sideline for a significant period of time. That means it is not inconceivable for the Colts to lose a lot of football games. No one has lost more games during the preseason in recent years than the Colts, and that has a lot to do with them playing Manning extremely sparingly and evaluating their back-ups. Obviously that is not concrete evidence that the Colts are going to go 0-16 by any means, but it serves as evidence that substantiates the monumental impact that Manning has had and continues to have on the Colts franchise. Simply put, there is no way the Colts will be as good this year without Manning as they would be with him. That means they should be expected to lose more games, and possibly miss the playoffs all together.
Naturally, some people will overreact and assume they will lose almost every game and be in the run for the #1 pick. That is where things get interesting, however, as that means they would have a chance at winning the Andrew Luck sweepstakes that will be held over the next 17 weeks. Whoever gets the #1 pick figures to draft Andrew Luck or trade the pick for a wealth of draft picks to a team that desperately wants him. If the Colts ended up with the pick it is hard to imagine they wouldn’t select him, and boy would that be an instance of the rich getting richer. I saw this comparison on Twitter today, so I can’t claim it as my own, but I do think that scenario would be extremely similar to the situation the Spurs found themselves in when they were awarded the #1 pick in the 1999 NBA Draft when they selected Tim Duncan. Duncan then teamed with a healthy David Robinson to lead the Spurs to a NBA Championship, and eventually Duncan took over the Center position when Robinson retired. In this instance, Peyton Manning would be the equivalent of David Robinson, and Andrew Luck would be Tim Duncan. It’s certainly intriguing to think about, and it will surely be something on the mind of everyone who follows the NFL, especially the NFL Draft, as the season progresses. I don’t think it is especially likely that the Colts will end up with the #1 pick, as that would likely mean they lost all but two or maybe three games. I don’t expect them to make the playoffs, especially if Manning doesn’t play all season, but I think they have it in them to win 4-6 games without much fanfare. That would position them high enough in the draft to pick another quarterback if they chose to (Matt Barkley might be in the conversation), but it would require a lot of value to move up from where they would be picking (perhaps #3-7 overall) to move up to #1 overall and select Luck. That’s not to say that it isn’t possible, but perhaps not probable.
So, even though I wouldn’t bet much of my money on the Colts ending up with Andrew Luck as a result of using the #1 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft on him, it sure is interesting to think about the vast impact that one player (though a very important player) can have not only on the games he misses, but on the proceedings that occur long after the season has ended.
Thanks for reading,