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In Luck/Manning quandary, Colts only have one move -- and it ain't pretty


The Indianapolis Colts cannot win. That's the first point to acknowledge, and not about the Colts' 2011 season. You already know they cannot win there. They are 0-13, hurtling toward 0-16 like a frozen chunk of space ice hurtles toward the sun. It is unavoidable, this 0-16 season. The Colts cannot win.

But that's not the story here. The story here is Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Or, put another way, Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.

The Colts cannot win.

My advice to them? Don't even try to win. Not beyond a conversation that must take place -- and soon -- between the Colts, Manning and Luck. All in the same room at the same time, so nothing is lost in translation.

No fathers allowed, either, because Daddy Manning can't speak for Peyton, just as Daddy Luck can't speak for Andrew. They are adults on their own, these quarterbacks, and it is time for them to speak for themselves -- and to each other -- and for Colts vice chairman Bill Polian to kick-start the conversation by asking Andrew Luck the only question that matters:

Andrew, can you handle sitting for two or three years, watching Peyton play with no chance whatsoever -- barring injury -- of replacing him?

But even then, if I'm the Colts, I wouldn't trust Andrew Luck's answer. Not if he says, "Sure, I could handle that for a few years."

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Especially not if he says that.

Because things can change. Luck could change his mind. He may well believe, as he sits in the same room with Peyton Manning, that it would be an honor and a privilege to watch and learn behind one of the best quarterbacks of all time. But then he would leave the room, listen to his agent, listen to his father, listen to the NFL scouts, listen to the radio, read the newspaper, read the Internet, and be reminded of this fact:

Andrew Luck is the best quarterback prospect in years, maybe the best prospect since Peyton Manning himself in 1998, maybe the best since John Elway in 1983. And a guy like that doesn't need to sit -- shouldn't have to sit -- for two or three years.

People are making the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers comparison, which is laughable. Rodgers was such a mystery that he plummeted, for reasons we may never know, all the way to Green Bay with the 24th pick in the 2005 draft. Favre wasn't coming off career-threatening neck surgery, either. In 2005 it made all the sense in the world for the Packers to draft Rodgers and stash him for a few years until he was needed.

That wouldn't make any sense, in any universe, next year for the Colts and Andrew Luck.

So I'm back to my original point: The Colts cannot win. If they forge ahead with both quarterbacks on the roster, giving Manning his $28 million roster bonus in March and his $7.4 million salary in 2012, and then drafting Luck in April and giving him his small fortune as the top overall pick, a monster portion of the Colts' 2012 salary cap will have been spoken for at one position. That's no way to rebuild a franchise hurtling toward 0-16 like a frozen chunk of ... well, you get it.

And that assumes Luck would be OK with sitting. That assumes: 1) He tells the Colts he would be OK with it; 2) He actually follows through. It's not difficult, at all, to envision a scenario where the Colts think they can get away with having both quarterbacks on the roster, so they give Manning his $28 million bonus in March and then -- in the weeks leading up to the draft -- find themselves bullied into trading Luck's rights to some other team, which is what happened the last time a Manning was involved in anything like this. I'm talking about the 2004 draft, when Archie Manning bullied the Chargers into trading the No. 1 overall draft rights to Eli Manning.

That can't happen to the Colts, because there is no way to get fair-market value for Andrew Luck. How do you get fair-market value for an unknown commodity, but one who could -- if all the scouts are right -- become a Hall of Fame player at the most important position on the field? You don't.

The Colts can't trade the draft pick. Even if Andrew Luck tells them ahead of time that he wouldn't be happy sitting behind Manning. Even with months, not weeks, to make the best possible trade. They can't trade Luck.

But the Colts can't pay Manning his $28 million roster bonus and his $7.4 million salary -- then stash Luck on the sideline for a few years, only to find their hands so tied financially that they can neither rebuild around Manning nor build for the future for Luck.

So that leaves only one answer. It's not romantic or pretty. It wouldn't be popular around town. It would look cutthroat, but the Colts didn't find themselves in this position on purpose. They didn't maneuver to get here.

They never wanted to be 0-16 and have the No. 1 overall pick. They never wanted to have their franchise quarterback miss an entire season at age 35 and enter the following season at 36 with neck issues so major, so scary, that he is one hit away from paralysis. Not in the vague sense that everyone in the NFL is one hit away from paralysis, but in the real-world reality that immobile Peyton Manning would be playing behind a lousy line, dropping back 40 times a game and trying to protect a neck that has undergone three procedures in 19 months.

In the best of circumstances, it's hard to imagine an NFL team giving any player a $28 million bonus at age 36.

These are not the best of circumstances.

The Colts have no choice. They have to release Manning, draft Luck and start over.

Would be nice if Manning would save the Colts the hassle -- and save me, you and most of all his family the stress of watching him play in traffic -- and retire.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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