Indianapolis Colts Sign Kerry Collins

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I have been saying this whole preseason that quarterback Peyton Manning would be good to go for the Indianapolis Colts’ season opener Sept. 11 at Houston.

I now concede it’s possible he might not be.

The Colts on Wednesday signed veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, who was Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian’s first draft choice as GM of the Carolina Panthers, as insurance if Manning is unable to start Week 1.

Collins, 38, most recently played for the Colts’ division rivals, the Tennessee Titans, and started all but one game for the team during its charmed 2008 season; the Titans went 13-3 that season and claimed home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

While Collins might be a better option than current Colts backups Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, it’s still a major concern for a team that relies so heavily on Manning.

Manning, who just signed a five-year, $90 million contract shortly after the end of the NFL lockout, has missed just one meaningful snap in his career. His consecutive starts streak of 208 games (227 including playoffs) is second all-time only to Brett Favre’s 297 (321) consecutive starts among quarterbacks. His excellence in the regular season has earned him a record four league MVP awards, and he has led the Colts to two Super Bowl appearances during the last decade, winning Super Bowl XLI after the 2006 season.

Among the other achievements the Colts have realized with Manning under center are a record nine straight playoff appearances and a record seven straight campaigns of 12 or more wins.

All those things vividly come to mind when thinking the Colts very well might not have their greatest player in the franchise’s history in Indianapolis in a meaningful game situation — or even beyond just one — as Manning continues to recover from offseason neck surgery.

It’s often said the Colts are a four-win team without Manning. Does the acquisition of Collins lessen the odds of Indy tanking with Manning on the sidelines? Probably so compared to having Painter or Orlovsky in with the starters, but we’ll just have to find out for ourselves if it really is true how irreplaceable Manning is.

Now, this signing does not rule out the possibility of Manning being good to go for the season-opening affair with the Texans. Perhaps the organization simply felt it could not risk going into the regular season with just Painter and Orlovsky if Manning truly wasn’t ready. Knowing the Colts’ history, though, I have a tough time believing the front office would have brought in a backup of Collins’ pedigree if it didn’t feel Manning was going to miss any games.

It’s a scary proposition for Colts fans, especially thouse who have no concept of the team without Manning (and trust me, plenty such fans exist).

If this scenario were ever to arise, a holdover like Collins would make sense. He’ll have terrific weapons at his disposal, including Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, and the defense still features one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass-rushing tandems in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

But will the offense respond the same way? Manning calls so many audibles at the line of scrimmage and dictates the offense’s timing and precision. Another scary thought is that the rookie offensive linemen, Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, could see much of their initial major action without ever lining up in front of Manning. How would Manning’s potential return affect them?

One final thought: I hope Colts fans are happy. They have given the Polians a lot of heat for not addressing the backup quarterback situation. They might have had no choice but to acquire someone as capable as Collins, but nevertheless it should appease fans.

Everyone has considered what kind of team the Indianapolis Colts would be without Peyton Manning. We might be about to find out.

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