Colts Quarterbacks: 2006 Prospectus

Jerry Langton begins an exciting and interesting offseason series, analyzing each position group over the next six weeks. Today, find out what the Colts are likely to do with the quarterback depth chart heading into 2006.

The offseason will be open season on Peyton Manning. After yet another disappointing playoff loss in which the offense came out flat, Manning's critics will be louder and more vociferous than ever. And Colts fans would be wise to ignore them.

To be brutally pragmatic, Manning isn't going anywhere. Not only is he the horse the Colts have tied their wagon to, but there's no way they'd get anything close to value for him. It's one thing to cut a Cade McNown or trade a Ryan Leaf for a bag of hammers, but this is an entirely different situation. The team is built around him. Subtract him from the equation and the math just doesn't make sense anymore.

And, to be far less cynical but perhaps even more realistic, they'd be stupid to get rid of him. Manning is, to put it plainly, an excellent quarterback. He has his flaws — they all do — but, unlike many others, he works constantly to make himself better. While Manning has not had a great deal of success in the playoffs, it would be foolhardy to bet that he won't.

Since Manning has missed a grand total of one snap due to injury in 128 career games (about 8000 plays), the men who back him up are mainly there to make preseason more interesting, show up after home field has been secured and impersonate the upcoming opponent's quarterback in practice.


Peyton Manning

2005 playoff stats: 38-22-290-1-0 passing
2005 regular-season stats:
453-305-3747-28-10 passing, 33-45-0 rushing, 5/2 fumbles/lost
2005 preseason stats:
47-32-322-4-1 passing, 1-0-0 rushing, 1/0 fumbles/lost
2005 NFL Europe stats:
None

Analysis: A quick scan of Manning's stats show a sharp decline when compared to his record setting 2004 season. While the mainstream media may report that he was just as effective, he actually wasn't. Protection problems showed up in preseason and crescendo-ed throughout the year until their ugly climax against the Steelers in the playoffs. Not only did Manning have less time to pass and he felt more pressure when he did, he had fewer receiving options. Instead of the terrifying three-wideout formations the Colts used so often in 2004, the team reverted to the older two-tight end scheme for added protection. While it had worked well in the past, it sputtered last season simply because Bryan Fletcher, Ben Utecht and Ben Hartsock put together were nowhere near the equivalent of Marcus Pollard.

2005 salary: $665,000 base salary
2006 status:
Signed, $1.0 million base salary

Outlook: Manning remains one of the league's best quarterbacks in every phase of the game except running. Couple that with his analytical mind and relentless desire to succeed and he should bounce back. Now that pass protection has been identified as the primary problem with the Colts, it's likely to be addressed in the offseason. Even so, the addition of more blitz-beating plays — traps, draws, screens, counters and reverses — will be added to the play rotation to give Manning more breathing room.

 
Jim Sorgi

2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats:
62-43-444-3-1 passing, 12-1-0 rushing, 1/1 fumbles/lost
2005 preseason stats:
86-46-513-1-3 passing, 5-19-0 rushing, 3/1 fumbles/lost
2005 NFL Europe stats:
None

Analysis: While most No. 2 quarterbacks get their chance when the starter falters or gets hurt, Sorgi gets to play when Manning is at his best — after building up an insurmountable lead or clinching home-field advantage. That's happened enough in the last two seasons for Sorgi to get a considerable number of reps and make some real progress as a player. Although his functional arm strength and downfield accuracy aren't close to Manning's and he stills hold on to the ball too long, Sorgi is a pretty nifty athlete and has developed into a solid dart thrower in the mold of Steve Dils (remember him?). If there's one real complaint about Sorgi, it's that he often holds the ball as though he's daring the defense to make him fumble.

2005 salary: $305,000 
2006 status:
Signed, $385,000 salary

Outlook: A smart fellow and a fast learner, Sorgi should continue to get better and could actually be the guy to hold the fort for a while should Manning ever go down. It's unlikely he'll be seriously challenged for the No. 2 job.

 
Travis Brown

2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats: None
2005 preseason stats: 46-24-299-2-1 passing, 2/1 fumbles/lost
2005 NFL Europe stats: None

Analysis: Injuries, the seeming invincibility of Manning and the development of Sorgi have prevented Brown from making an impact with the Colts. When he has played in the NFL (mostly in preseason with Buffalo and Indianapolis), he has shown a stronger-than-average arm, good accuracy and an ability to detect and use secondary receivers. The flipside is that he's far less mobile than Sorgi or Manning and not as able to sense the rush. He's the kind of quarterback who takes a lot of hits and can be forced into bad throws. If you think Manning sees lots of blitzes, it would be even worse for Brown.

2005 salary: $540,000 
2006 status:
Signed, $545,000 salary

Outlook: Brown faces a challenge to make the 2006 roster. His injuries have allowed Sorgi to take a commanding lead for the No. 2 job, and the team rarely keeps a No. 3. And, if they did keep a No. 3 next year, it would probably be a more athletic type to mimic those types of quarterback in practice and the candidate would also probably earn a smaller salary.


Tom Arth

2005 playoff stats: None
2005 regular-season stats:
None
2005 preseason stats:
12-8-77-0-0 passing, 2-14-0 rushing
2005 NFL Europe stats:
11-6-150-1-0 passing, 1-3-0 rushing

Analysis: I seen every pro appearance Arth has ever made (I didn't see him at all in college), but there's still very little for me to judge him on. When I have seen him play, it's been when his team was way behind late in the game and Arth has never failed to make a spark. He appears to be a competent passer and an authentic threat as a runner, although he may be a bit quick in his decision to bail and run on occasion.

2005 salary: $79,900 (practice squad)
2006 status:
Unrestricted free agent

Outlook: Arth spent last season on the practice squad, which is rare for a quarterback. The team clearly likes him as a player and, as two sources close to the situation have told me, hold his intelligence and teaching ability in high regard. But with the team apparently committed to keeping just two quarterbacks on the roster plus one on the practice squad, prospects for Arth are limited in Indianapolis. Even if he returns, he may find himself watching from the sidelines again in preseason as Sorgi and Brown battle for the number two spot. That would leave him facing another season on the practice squad. Since he'll likely be signed for or just slightly above the league minimum, he represents a real bargain for any team willing to give him a real chance at a roster spot.


Bottom line

Although there will be no lack of media and fans who'll blame the Colts playoff failure on Manning, the simple fact is that the team considers him an awesome quarterback who represents their best chance to finally win the Super Bowl. Of course, things could change in 2008 when his salary jumps from $1.0 million to $11.5 million. Sorgi appears safe at No. 2. The Colts could keep a third guy, but he'll most likely spend the year on the practice squad as Arth did this season. Arth has the distinct edge based on talent and knowledge versus the low salary they would invest. But the Colts appear to be willing to wait and see what interest he will draw from other teams. It's interesting, though, that the Colts pursued former CFL MVP Casey Printers — very much a running quarterback — before he signed with Kansas City (three years for $1.03 million, so it wasn't much of a bidding war). They'll definitely bring in at least one camp arm, most likely a kid who can run. I'm told they like Central Michigan's lanky left-hander Kent Smith, who's not all that speedy, but is a smart runner.


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