Once division rivals, Kerry Collins might be the quarterback who takes over if Peyton Manning's consecutive games streak comes to an end. (AP)
The Colts raised another red flag regarding Peyton Manning's injury situation Wednesday. A 38-year-old red flag in the form of Kerry Collins.
Less than a week after owner Jim Irsay cryptically tweeted that Manning may miss the start of the regular season, the Colts added Collins, a 16-year NFL veteran. Prior to that, Indianapolis looked content to head into Week 1 with Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky as its fall-back options for Manning.
But the Colts scored just 13 points over the first two weeks of the preseason, with Orlovsky throwing the team's lone TD (along with three interceptions). The grizzled Collins, who started seven games in Tennessee last year and prematurely announced his retirement in July, at least represents an experienced upgrade over the current situation.
The bigger concern, though, is obviously about Manning.
Peter King wrote in his Monday Morning Quarterback that Manning already has his sights set on the NFL's consecutive games record -- Brett Favre holds that mark at 297; Manning's at 208. King also referenced Tony Dungy's quote from the Sunday Night Football halftime show that Manning would play in Week 1 "unless he's dead."
Despite Irsay's earlier warning, that was the thinking everyone bought into -- that it wasn't worth it for Manning to risk playing in the preseason, but that his neck would be healed enough to suit up against Houston on Sept. 11.
Collins' presence not only casts doubt on that belief, it hints that Indianapolis may be worried about Manning's ability to stay on the field once he does come back. In the past, the Colts have barely bothered to carry a backup QB. Last year, no other Colts quarterback took a regular season snap; in 2009, Painter played in Weeks 16 and 17 only after Indianapolis started 14-0; in 2008, Jim Sorgi mopped up in Week 17. But it was Manning who opened up even those games.
Now, we're facing the very real possibility that Manning will miss a regular season start for the first time in his career. Indeed, Chris Mortensen reported today that the Colts do not expect Manning to be ready for Week 1.
That's surely a frustrating proposition for Manning, but it has to be a terrifying one for the Colts. Indianapolis imploded in those two Painter appearances at the end of 2009, and the offense has shown all the explosiveness of a three-legged tortoise this preseason.
The signing of Collins is like the safety presentation flight attendants give prior to takeoff -- "We don't think there will be an emergency, but if there is, here's your life preserver." Even if he's got one foot out the door, Collins could help keep the Colts afloat if Manning can't go. And that possibility definitely looks more realistic now than ever before.