What If Indianapolis Colts Had Drafted Andy Dalton to Back Up Peyton Manning?


Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) waves to the crowd as he runs off the field after the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

In the NFL, the fate of an entire franchise can hinge on the whim of an owner or general manager trying to do his best in the moment.  What if, for example, the Indianapolis Colts had selected current Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in the 2011 NFL Draft to back up Peyton Manning, rather than opting for tackle Anthony Castonzo?

Far-fetched, you say?  Maybe, but it could have been reality in the flick of an envelope, and it’s a scenario that still haunts former Colts’ GM Bill Polian.

In a piece that first ran on NFL.com before the 2014 season began, Judy Battista relates how Polian told Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis that drafting Dalton would have saved his job in Indy. In the wake of Manning’s record-setting heroics since moving on to the Denver Broncos, it’s an interesting thought exercise to imagine what might have been for the three franchises — and beyond.

Manning was already hurting in the spring of 2011, but no one in Colts land wanted to admit that he might not play, either that season or ever again. Fans and media certainly did not understand the severity of his neck issues and assumed that he would be back sooner rather than later, so drafting Costanzo for protection made sense. Had Polian picked Dalton instead, the move would have been met with skepticism but also some relief.

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“Hey, just how bad IS Manning hurt?”  Followed immediately by, “Finally! A real backup!”

Meanwhile, with Dalton off the board at the end of the first round, the Bengals would have still needed a quarterback, and the best available at that point, though somewhat untested, was Colin Kaepernick from Nevada-Reno. Assuming the Bengals take that chance, the San Francisco 49ers are left to choose between over-picking Ryan Mallett or punting the QB position and sticking with Alex Smith.

Either way, there is no Super Bowl for the Bay Area after the 2012 season.  Well, unless …

Remember “Suck for Luck“?  That was the notion that NFL teams might tank their 2011 season for the chance to draft Stanford’s Andrew Luck the following spring, and the Colts pulled it off to perfection.

Had Dalton been in the fold to pick up the pieces when Manning’s neck finally gave up the ghost on 2011, though, Indy wouldn’t have sucked nearly as much. Maybe not at all. Knock him if you will, but Dalton has been at the helm of three straight playoff teams on the Riverfront.

Really, “Suck for Luck” was originally used as a moniker for the strategy that NFL truthers assumed Niners coach Jim Harbaugh brought with him from (yes) Stanford. The thinking was that Harbaugh and Luck and the Niners and maybe even Al Gore had worked out this plan that would transfer the Jim And Andrew Show neatly from college to the NFL without missing a beat.

Well, OK, with missing only one beat: the 49ers’ 2011 season.

And who knows? Maybe it would have happened. Maybe San Fran would have started slowly and then kind of taken their foot off the petal a little when it became apparent that they weren’t going to win much and might just be able to keep Andrew Luck in California.

And then, THEN, the Niners just might have made it to the Super Bowl in 2012, anyway.  With Luck guiding the ship right next to his mentor, Harbaugh.

In the end, we’d have had a San Francisco team in better shape than it’s in today, with Luck and Harbaugh living and playing in bliss, and in the playoffs.

We’d have a Bengals squad that would be about the same as it is now. Would Kaepernick buy us anything that Dalton doesn’t? A pair of “Beats by Dre”, maybe? It’s probably a wash.

And we’d have a Colts team that was middling in 2011 with Dalton leading the way and then much improved in 2012. In 2013 and 2014, the Colts might have been the toast of the league as Manning dominated all comers and set records left and right with the only franchise he had ever known. Dalton would be backing up a legend, ready to step forward again when the time was right.

What’s that? The Denver Broncos?

Well, they always have Tim Tebow.