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Drafting Peyton Manning's Successor? Not This Year

This weekend, Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star ran a piece asking whether the time was getting near when the Colts would have to address the quarterback position. This is one of those off-season pieces that is fueled by the inertia of no actual free agent news in the NFL, combined with Manning not being under contract and the team currently unable to continue negotiations with the lockout.It even includes some quotes from GM Bill Polian on Manning:

Quarterback’s an issue, probably not a front-burner issue, but an issue nonetheless because while Peyton’s not at the end of his career, it’s approaching faster than it has in the past, I wouldn’t rule that out in the right situation.

This seems to be much ado about nothing as we head into 2011. Yes, Manning just turned 35, and just became the parent of twins, which could age him greatly. But it seems a little early to be talking about grooming a replacement, especially this year, with no free agency and high quarterback demand by teams that do really need one. I wouldn’t look for the next Aaron Rodgers to fall to the Colts like the Packers experienced in 2005.

How much time do the Colts have left with Manning at quarterback before they realistically do need to look? Well, I looked at the careers of the other passers in the Super Bowl era who made at least 3 pro bowls between ages 31-34 (Peyton, of course, made 4 over that span, joining only Len Dawson and Steve Young).

Dan Fouts was the youngest when stopped playing quarterback and retired at 36. Jim Hart was done as a full-time starter at 37, but hung around as a part-time player for 3 more years. Elway, Marino, Montana, Favre and Young all retired at age 38.  Favre retired at 39, and Unitas and Dawson both started more than half the games for the last time at that age, and retired a year later (Unitas after moving to San Diego at 40). Favre retired at 40. Favre retired at 41, and Moon last started at 42–though he left the Oilers after age 37.

The average for that group was age 38.6 during the last season as the main starter for a team. Most were either 38 or 39 when they retired. Let’s give Peyton the benefit of the doubt relative to that group–he gets rid of the ball quickly, doesn’t take too many hits, and is still playing at a high level. If I’m the Colts, age 39 is probably the target point when you might need someone else as a realistic Plan B.

That’s five years away. By that definition, almost every team should be looking for a quarterback in this draft. Only 10 of the quarterbacks last year started for the same team in 2010 as they did in 2006. In looking at the quarterback situations on the other 31 teams, I would guess that at least 25 of them will have a new starter at quarterback before Manning takes his final snap in a Colts uniform. Good organizations do draft with an eye for the future and don’t just draft for immediate need that off-season. However, the future in many cases means the next 2-3 years, when current starters will be hitting free agency. At a position like quarterback, where you can’t play multiple people at the same time, it seems a waste this early. I would target 2013 or 2014 draft as a realistic possibility. This just seems like some fluff from Polian. Sure, the team needs a backup to challenge Painter, but I don’t think they use a high pick in this draft to do that.

[photo via Getty]

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