Time might be right for Colts to prepare for life after Manning

The Indianapolis Colts aren't likely to land their next Peyton Manning the way they acquired their first one.

This time around, they'll need to be even more diligent in doing their homework. They'll also need a little bit of good fortune, as well as the one commodity that is so rare in the NFL: Time.

That's what makes this draft the right point for the Colts to address their inevitable need for a new franchise quarterback. Curtis Painter, their current backup, isn't the answer and the team never viewed him that way. Maybe the answer is Andy Dalton, the former TCU standout they worked out privately on Monday. Maybe it will be another member of this year's quarterback class.

Either way, the Colts would have to hit on the right prospect in the lower portion of the first round (they pick 22nd overall) or even later in the draft. Dalton seems like an ideal candidate, because he is considered a classic developmental quarterback with considerable potential to eventually start. He is an outstanding athlete who is capable of making plays as a thrower and a runner. Like Manning, he is extremely intelligent, meaning he should have no problem absorbing an offense that relies heavily on the quarterback to make calls and adjustments on the fly.

The Colts don't figure to be so bad in the foreseeable future that they'll own the top overall pick of the draft, which they used to select Manning in 1998. One reason is because they still have Manning, and should retain him for at least the next few years despite the fact he is a free agent. Another is that Manning still has a strong enough supporting cast to help him keep the team competitive, which will maintain its pattern of drafting low.

It's also reasonable to assume that, as long as Manning is behind center, the Colts won't be sliding any time soon, thanks largely to the efforts of some of the NFL's best talent evaluators: President Bill Polian and his son, vice president and general manager Chris Polian.

Bill Polian connected on one of the greatest draft picks in football history when he made Manning the top selection. Some might suggest that was a fairly obvious and easy choice, but it wasn't. Manning had a fair amount of detractors who didn't think his arm was all that special and who questioned his ability to win big games. There also was another legitimate candidate, Ryan Leaf, who had superior arm strength and ended up going second overall to San Diego. We know what a disaster Leaf turned out to be, which only accentuated the wisdom of the Manning pick.

It's unrealistic to expect that to happen again, especially with a non-premium pick. But it is reasonable to expect the Colts to get it right. That decision includes the timing of when to bring aboard Manning's eventual successor.

At 35, Manning is moving closer to the end of a spectacular career. He is still capable of leading the Colts to another Super Bowl, but his skills will diminish and the time will come when he will step aside. It always does.

In the meantime, Manning can serve as an exceptional teacher to a young, up-and-coming quarterback, just as he has to so many of his younger offensive teammates.

Follow Vic Carucci on Twitter @viccarucci.

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