I've been trying to figure out why Colts head coach Jim Caldwell has been left twisting in the wind by Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay. Why would you tell your coach that he may or may not be back. What factors does this depend on?
Well, here's the situation the Colts find themselves in: They have an owner who just dumped his longtime and quite successful general manager, Bill Polian, along with that GM's heir apparent and son, Chris. Irsay replaced the Polian regime with some neophite.
They have a legendary quarterback who had three neck surgeries in 19 months and nobody knows for sure yet what he'll do when he comes back. Peyton Manning is also due $28 million if he's on the Colts roster on March 7.
The Colts have no other legitimate quarterbacks on the roster. They do have the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and the top player available is what most experts call a sure-fire franchise quarterback, Stanford's Andrew Luck.
The Colts have other holes to fill. You don't just need one player when you go 2-14. However, some of those holes are due to injuries, and some of those players may be back.
The Colts' first priority, though, must be deciding what to do with the quarterback position, the most important position on the field these days. I don't believe they can give Manning $28 million unless they're sure he'll be healthy and will be around for a while, not with Luck on the board for their plucking. I don't think there's any way they can make that decision by March 7. If both sides are willing to negotiate a later date, that's fine. But nobody will likely know just how healthy Peyton is until until training camp at the earliest. The Colts will have to draft before they know about Peyton. Being in prime position to take a QB who has been said is head-and-shoulders above all other QB prospects for the past several years, they either have to take him, or trade that pick for multiple picks and/or players. The Colts simply can't go to training camp with only an iffy Peyton Manning at quarterback.
My guess is they'll take Luck. You just don't pass that up, and I think the Colts have already decided to go that route.
So, do the Colts keep Peyton, too? Considering the money he's due and his health unsure, I don't think so. They'll either cut him or trade him. While other teams might be leery of Manning's health, you know someone will offer up something. And something is better than nothing.
Now, why would any of this have anything to do with Caldwell's status as Colts head coach?
First of all, I think the man Irsay wants to replace him with is still coaching in the NFL playoffs. But Irsay's not sure if that guy will be coaching his team next year. If whoever Irsay has in mind is not available or chooses not to come to Indy, I think Irsay holds onto Caldwell another season, at least. But if that right man is available, they sayonara, Jimmy C.
I also believe whoever is coaching the Colts next year could depend on whether Manning's still the starting QB. If the Colts do decide to keep both Luck and Manning, and have Luck serve as No. 18's understudy for a while, Caldwell hangs on for a while at least.
It may sound fairly crazy to say San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is the guy Irsay is targeting. Even if old Captain Comeback (a moniker bestowed upon him during his days as the Colts quarterback) does want to come back to Indy, where he would be reunited with the quarterback who he coached at Stanford prior to this season, there's that matter of whether the 49ers would be willing to part with the coach who rejuvenated the franchise this season and led them to the NFC title game.
While the 49ers have a decent QB in Alex Smith, about the only thing they really lack is an elite quarterback. When healthy, Peyton's one of the best. However, without assurances that Manning will make it through another few full seasons, I don't believe San Francisco would simply let Harbaugh go in a one-for-one trade for Peyton Manning. But if the possibility that Manning returns to health is great enough to take a chance on... well, who knows. But if, and that's a big if... the Niners went ahead with something in which Manning and Harbaugh were the two principles, they'd need something else.
And that would be a head coach.
If Manning were to go to San Fran, I don't think getting a great coach would be a problem. You think there's any great coaches without jobs right now who wouldn't salivate over taking the reins of that San Francisco defense, along with Peyton Manning at the controls of an offense with Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, et al? You think Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher might be tempted to return? Or how about Tony Dungy? It's been said that Dungy's exit from Indy may have been hastened by Bill Polian's sandpaper nature around the office. Do you think Dungy would come out of retirement to coach Peyton in a situation as has been described?
With Peyton on board, maybe the Niners trade Alex Smith for something. Or keep him as insurance for a year, then trade him. After the solid year he's had this year, I think Smith would bring something of value. He'll never have the upside of Manning, but he's shown that in the right system, he can succeed. There are teams with much worse quarterbacks who would love to have him.
I think San Fran would need all the pieces in place before it pulled the trigger on such a deal.
So, Niners fans. What do you think? If it all fell into place, would you go for it?
I'm going to add this on the end... since folks won't see my own comment to my own post:
By the way, this isn't going to happen. Someone mentioned it to me the other day and I started trying to figure out ways it could happen. But it won't. Mainly cause the Niners wouldn't let Harbaugh go without huge compensation, if at all. And the Colts don't have what the Niners would want. Peyton Manning probably won't be traded since his contract calls for $28 million no matter whose team he's on (contracts are traded, not players). In all likelihood, Manning will either retire or be released. It's highly doubtful he'll be able to show the Colts he's healthy enough by March 7 to invest a $28 million payment on.