The Indianapolis Colts chose not to draft a quarterback in the early rounds of the 2011 NFL draft, knowing that Peyton Manning had undergone a series of neck surgeries and was out indefinitely. The Colts didn’t have a viable backup quarterback, and the end result was a league-worst 2-14 season.
After the Colts succeeded* with their “Suck for Andrew Luck” campaign, it was clear Manning’s time in Indianapolis had come to an end. Had the Colts drafted someone like Andy Dalton — who led the Cincinnati Bengals to the playoffs as a rookie — a year prior, former team president Bill Polian believes he would have kept his job. This from NFL Media’s Judy Battista:
The collapse cost executives and coaches their jobs and created a cautionary tale for those who work in a league that is ever more reliant on the quarterback — and ever more at a loss when it comes to managing without one.
Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said teams think back to that situation all the time. Former Colts president Bill Polian, currently serving as an analyst on ESPN despite being widely regarded as one of the best team-builders in the game, ruefully told Lewis that he wouldn’t be working in television now if he had only drafted Andy Dalton in the spring of 2011 to be Manning’s backup.
The thinking is that Dalton would have provided a one year stop-gap and helped the Colts avoid a disaster of a season. They would have held onto Manning after that and still been Super Bowl contenders, as we all saw the recovery Peyton made with the Denver Broncos.
However, we know it is not always that simple. No two situations are alike. Jim Caldwell had grown used to having an offense that was catered to Manning, and there’s no guarantee the team would have known how to use Dalton the way the Bengals did. Polian may be working as an ESPN analyst due to a lack of quarterback depth, but the Colts are probably better off for it in the long run.