The news has been filtering around for the past week or so that the Colts have had workout visits with several quarterbacks. The latest was TCU quarterback Andy Dalton yesterday. Immediately, the first conclusion jumped to is that "the Colts are looking for future replacements for Manning".
That's absolutely the wrong conclusion to jump to.
There are at least four other reasons the Colts would look at quarterbacks before assuming they were grooming a Manning replacement.
1. The Colts are looking for a replacement to Curtis Painter. Let's face it, Painter is terrible. It's far more likely the Colts are looking to replace him than Manning. Painter is not good, and if anything were to happen to Manning, it would be easier just to forfeit games than endure the humiliation of playing with Painter as the quarterback. It's possible the Colts are looking for a QB in the later rounds, but brought in several guys for the sake of comparison, to get a baseline for a talent they like as a future backup.
2. Indy is looking to increase the value of their picks. Nothing will incite teams to trade up as much as the prospect of a quarterback being available. If teams don't believe the Colts are at least WILLING to take a quarterback, they won't offer nearly as much in trade scenarios. The Colts have to be prepared and have had done their due diligence on available QBs if they want teams to seriously consider dealing with them. Showing interest in quarterbacks is often a nice way to send smoke screens to the rest of the league.
3. Indy is looking for the next Kevin Kolb. The truth is taking QBs in the first or second round then trading them the next season for more value seems to be a cottage industry in the NFL. The longer a QB doesn't play, the more people assume he's really talented. San Diego traded 3rd string QB Charlie Whitehurst (a third round pick) to Seattle for a 2nd and a 3rd. Drafting a quarterback can be a lucrative strategy for the future. In preparing a draft board, teams have to consider where the value is. A team should NEVER pass on a player, especially not a quarterback, if they feel he's the best player on the board. That player will have value moving forward far exceeding the value of the pick spent. Like Green Bay did, you have to be prepared (have done your homework and brought guys in for a visit) in the event that a QB becomes the obvious choice.
4. Indy is looking for leverage. Irsay is about to negotiate a massive new deal for Peyton Manning. Being able to look Tom Condon in the eye and say, "Fine, we'll franchise Manning now and take our chances with our new first round draft pick next year," is a powerful tool. Sure, it's probably just a bluff, but at least it's one you can make with a loaded gun. Peyton Manning is suing the NFL right now. Nothing screams, "You're replaceable!" like bringing in new guys for 'job interviews'.
Here's what doesn't make sense:
Signing Peyton Manning to a contract extension and then immediately drafting his replacement.
Assuming Manning signs, he'll be Indy's quarterback for four to six more seasons. There's no room in there to groom his successor. By the time Manning retired, the new guy would already be on his SECOND contract and would be expensive.
Who visits who is mostly meaningless. We should all be careful about trying to extract meaning from workout visits. The Colts generally don't take guys they work out. Even if the Colts DO draft a quarterback in the first round, and even if they hint he's there to replace Manning, you can't take it seriously. If they are building value for a trade or seeking leverage in Manning's contract talks, then they wouldn't come out and just announce that.
I obviously hope the Colts don't draft a quarterback because there's no short term value in it. I'd rather roll the dice with Painter than waste a pick on a guy who won't be able to win games in a worst case scenario. I'm insanely biased against rookie quarterbacks and just assume they will all be horrible. However, as much as I would HATE for Indy to take a quarterback and consider it a short term loss, I would hate for the Colts to pass on a guy who could provide big trade value later or miss out on a trade opportunity at the time because no one thought they'd take a signal caller.
Whatever motivation Indianapolis has for working out quarterbacks, the one thing we know for sure is that they aren't doing it to find Peyton Manning's replacement. The timeline just doesn't make any sense.