In 2004, former NFL quarterback and super-dad Archie Manning attempted to keep his son Eli away from the San Diego Chargers in the NFL draft. The Chargers took him anyway, and traded him to the New York Giants. That event got Archie a rep as a bit of a meddler, though it could also be said that any parent would want the best for his child, and the Eli strategy certainly wasn't the first time a player tried to scheme his way out of a particular draft situation.
Now, with the news that Stanford's Andrew Luck will be submitting his name for the 2012 draft, Archie finds himself in a bit of a draft situation again, involving one of his sons. It's a near-sure thing that the 0-12 Indianapolis Colts, the home for son Peyton for over a decade, will have the rights to the first overall pick as the result of their horrible season. That horrible season has its roots in the neck injury that has cost Peyton the entire 2011 season and put his future in doubt. Earlier this week, Archie said that he didn't see a positive scenario in which Luck and Peyton could co-exist.
"I don't think it'd necessarily be great for either one," Manning the elder told Fox Sports Radio. "I think Andrew's the type of mature player ... he can walk right in. I mean, these other three or four [rookie passers] that are playing this year, [if] they can walk in and contribute, Andrew can, too.
"We know Andrew well. He comes down to our camp every year. I used to play with his dad [Oliver, as Houston Oilers quarterbacks in 1982-83]. ... I'm in New York, I heard from him last night.
"Peyton's also tried to help Andrew and kind of be a friend. I doubt if either one want to play on the same team."
[Related: Archie Manning talks to Yahoo! Sports Radio]
Manning tried to clarify his comments later, and for the record, he didn't appear to be the kind of "stage dad" who was trying to orchestrate anything behind the scenes. The reality could always be different, but this situation seems to be one of two very divergent interests colliding. Two dads who love their kids, and have a particular understanding of their ridiculous talents.
"Well, I'm just saying that I don't know, but what I do know about Andrew Luck. I think the world of him, and I'm thinking of the Cam Newtons and Blaine Gabberts and Andy Daltons, who are able to walk right into the NFL and play and perform," Manning the elder said on Wednesday's "Mike & Mike" ESPN Radio program. "I think that group of rookies have played very well, and there's certainly no reason to think that Andrew Luck can't do the same thing. So, that's the only thing I'm saying — I was kind of complimenting Andrew; what kind of talent I think he is and what kind of intelligence he had. The transition from Stanford to the National Football League — I think he can make it in one year. And if Peyton can get his health back, I think he's going to want to play. So, that's what I'm saying -- both of these guys are going to want to be on the football field if they're healthy. That's not up to me, or Peyton or Andrew; it's up to the guys who make those decisions. We'll see how it works out."
Mike Golic then asked Manning the $28 million question: If the Colts did draft Luck, would he expect Peyton to ask for his release?
"Yeah, I don't know — Peyton has a special relationship with the owner, Jim Irsay. They've been through some good times together. He's got a special relationship with Bill Polian. That's been a big run in Indianapolis, and you don't just up and leave — they kind of changed the culture in Indianapolis, won a Super Bowl, got a new stadium built. I think Peyton feels very fortunate to be a big part of that. The only point I'm making is that I think if Peyton gets healthy, he'll be good enough to play this next year, and Andrew Luck's good enough to play next year. So, something's gotta give."
Manning also said that he'd be "at peace" if the current injury ended his son's career, which certainly makes sense — Archie was a fine quarterback himself, and he understands the competitive mindset, but he's also a father who wants to see his son enjoy his post-football career with everything relatively intact.
That's not the only concern for the Colts. Albert Breer of the NFL Network spoke to one NFL scout in October who hypothesized that it wouldn't be out of the question for Oliver Luck to orchestrate a repeat of the 2004 draft.
"There's no question that it could be a Manning thing all over again," the scout told Breer. "Some people know the dad well, and the hands-on approach he has. In Andrew's defense, he seems pretty in control of everything. So I could see it being a mutual decision. And if he can control it, why play behind a [crappy] offensive line, or in a bad situation? He's gonna have that control. If he doesn't like the team there, all he has to do is voice that, and there'll be teams looking to trade up.
"The Luck camp has a ton of firepower here. More than anyone I can remember."
Any situation that involves a non-retiring Peyton Manning is fraught with complications for Irsay, for Bill Polian, and for son Chris Polian, who's been taking an increased role in personnel operations over the last few years. The Colts are due to give Manning a balloon payment of $28 million to start the 2012 season, and such a payment would obviously make any sort of trade prohibitive. If they want to cut Manning outright, they risk losing any and all fan support in perpetuity, as Manning is justifiably credited with the complete reversal of fortune of a franchise that was horrible before he was there and has proven to be even worse without him now.
That's another — and possibly larger — point. The Manning injury has allowed the Colts to put forth the proposition that they would be much better with Manning in tow. That's certainly true, but would they be a playoff team? Manning's absence explains the team's current offensive ranking of 28th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, but it doesn't address the other debits — they're 31st in special teams, and dead last in defense. With the new rookie salary cap making such moves far more palatable, would the Colts be better off moving that No. 1 pick for as many other draft picks as they could collect?
That's one of many questions the Colts will be addressing through the offseason — they lived a charmed life with Manning at the helm, and now, it's decision time in many areas. Archie Manning's current heat on the subject is more a symptom than a problem.
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