Manning’s bad stroke could lead to good ‘Luck’

Peyton Manning has already been ruled out for Sunday's game, the first missed NFL contest of his career

For the time being, the Indianapolis Colts are holding out hope that quarterback Peyton Manning(notes) will return this season.

While that’s logical and understandable, consider this temptation if you run the Colts: Would it be worth sitting Manning for the whole season if it gave Indy a chance at a really high draft pick next year? What if it gave Indy a chance to grab or trade the rights to top quarterback Andrew Luck?

That scenario, outlined as tossed out by actor Robert Wuhl on his Westwood One radio show Thursday, is indeed worth a second thought after the news broke earlier in the day that Manning underwent another surgery on his neck that will knock him out for a minimum of six weeks, according to two NFL team doctors.

Manning had what is known in medical parlance as a “single level anterior fusion” of two vertebrae in his neck. That sounds scary and has potential to be a significant problem if not handled correctly, which is typical of surgery.

However, that injury and surgery are almost commonplace in the NFL these days. So much so that one of the two doctors said teams regularly have a couple of players on the roster who have recovered from it.

[Related: Higher Education: The real rarity of Peyton Manning]

“Over the span of 10 years, every team will have at least a few players on the roster who have dealt with a cervical fusion,” said one of the doctors, who did not want to be identified because he has no direct knowledge of Manning condition or surgery. That said, both doctors who spoke to Yahoo! said the procedure is nothing abnormal, mirroring press-release statements by the Colts.

“At the [NFL scouting] combine, we regularly see three or four players who’ve had them done in college. The recovery from it has gotten to the point where we don’t even consider it a risk. You really don’t even downgrade a player coming into the draft if he’s had it done,” the previously quoted doctor said.

In short, the fusion is a procedure where the disk between the two vertebrae is taken out in order to relieve the nerve irritation on the spine. A bone graft is then put in place of the disk, essentially bonding the vertebrae. In the best case, the graft takes hold in roughly six weeks. In the worst, generally, it’s about 12 weeks.

“You check the results with a CAT scan. Once the graft is solid, then the player should be good to go,” the aforementioned doctor said. “You have some normal conditioning and training issues to deal with, but the injury will be healed.”

For Colts and Manning fans, that’s the good news. Barring some complications, such as Manning not getting full strength back in his arm because of nerve damage, he could be ready to return at some point this season. Throw in the fact that no team in the AFC South figures to run away from the rest of the pack and you can see why the Colts have reason for optimism despite this surgery. That said, the Colts should be pragmatic and open to all ideas.

[Related: Peyton Manning's injury could shift $65 million in fantasy winnings]

Particularly if they want to maximize the rest of Manning’s career.

As a result, Indianapolis should consider not playing Manning at all. If, for example, he’s not ready after eight games and the Colts are wallowing at 2-6, Indy will be smart to let the season play out without their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

For those who consider such a notion Before there are cries of blasphemy, consider this: Even if Manning makes it back for the second half of the season, he’s not going to be particularly good for at least the first five or six games. In 2008, Manning missed all of training camp because of knee surgery and then struggled for the first eight games of the season before finally getting in a groove. Indy went 3-5 in that span.

In other words, just getting Manning back on the field doesn’t mean he’s going to be very good or that the team will automatically reel off seven or eight wins.

Instead, the Colts could take a rare opportunity to be bad (they have won their division seven of the past nine years) and have it pay off. The Colts haven’t drafted higher than No. 22 (which they did this season, selecting offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo(notes)) since 2002. Not surprisingly, 2002 was the last time they got a serious impact player, taking defensive end Dwight Freeney(notes).

Since then, Indianapolis’ top picks have been a mix of good (tight end Dallas Clark(notes) and safety Bob Sanders(notes), when healthy), mediocre (running back Joseph Addai(notes)) and bad (running back Donald Brown(notes) and cornerback Marlin Jackson(notes)).

[Related: Peyton Manning out 2-3 months following cervical fusion surgery]

Now, the Colts have this chance to potentially get a star (or even a couple of them) for the end of Manning’s career. Anyone who watched the Colts at the end of last season knows that the team is eroding. The best players – Manning, Freeney, Clark and wide receiver Reggie Wayne(notes) – are all in their 30s.

The other thought is the Colts could nab Stanford’s Luck, who right now is considered the prohibitive favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in April. That would give the Colts either a great piece of trade bait (either now or in the future with Luck) or a possible transition akin to Joe Montana giving way to Steve Young.

Of course, before you get too far along with any of those scenarios, just understand such a situation is not yet worth cashing in a season before it starts. The Colts shouldn’t lay down. That’s not the theory here. If they can manage to go 4-4 or better over the first eight games and stay in the race, getting Manning back out there is perfectly reasonable if he heals fast enough. As Green Bay showed last season when it barely got into the playoffs, making a run is possible, particularly when you have a great quarterback.

However, if things go poorly, be ready to adjust.

Be ready to sit Manning the whole season.

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