Once again, the Indianapolis Colts properly answered the burning question, "When do they bring in Peyton Manning's heir apparent?''
The answer after this week's draft: not yet.
Let the New England Patriots worry about finding their quarterback of the future. The Colts are worried about preserving their quarterback of the present.
That's why, instead of drafting a Ryan Mallett, who may never take a snap as a member of the New England Patriots, the Colts surrounded Manning with two more offensive linemen; a defensive lineman; a bowling-ball third-and-short running back, and another defensive back.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the Colts should begin looking for Manning's replacement, but I know this much: not now and not for another year or three.
"There's a period of time when you can have a transition, or an apprenticeship, if you will,'' Bill Polian said Saturday. "Clearly, one year and you can go as far as three and perhaps four years before a player, to borrow a term from Marv Levy, before a player begins to rust. Now, I'm not setting out a time frame by which we have to acquire someone (to succeed Manning). I mean, you can do that by trade in a day. But somewhere between one and four (years) seems to be the right number for a guy to do his apprenticeship.''
Manning is 35 years old and has never suffered a major injury. There's no reason to think he won't continue to stay near the top of his game for another three years, and continue to play and be very productive for at least another five years, up until he is 40.
In a perfect world, you bring in his replacement one full season and maybe two before Manning retires. So we're talking 2014? 2015? Maybe later?
There's no rush.
But it's going to be on management's mind as it moves forward. More, it's going to be on Chris Polian's mind; this was the first draft he's truly led, and it's going to be his challenging and wholly unenviable job to find the man to follow Manning.
The Colts will not go into a specific draft and say, "This is the year when we have to find the successor.'' Instead, they will wait for the right guy to become available, whether that's next year or two, three years down the line.
"I have a great answer for you, but I know I'm going to foul it up,'' Bill Polian said. "There was a song by Hall & Oates, 'When the Right One Comes Along.' Actually, I can't remember (who sang it), but that's the answer, when the right one comes along.''
At which point, Colts public relations man Craig Kelley chimed in, "It's England Dan and John Ford Coley. And I'm embarrassed that I know that.''
Actually, the song was called "Sad To Belong,'' but the chorus went, "When the right one comes along.''
Thank you, Google.
For now, this has all got to be about giving Manning what he needs to fulfill his destiny, to lead the Indianapolis Colts to multiple Super Bowl titles. That means rebuilding the offensive line with Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana. That means upgrading the interior of the defensive line with Drake Nevis. That means improving the running game, specifically addressing the team's eternal short-yardage woes, with Syracuse running back Delone Carter.
The only concern with this draft class -- beyond whether these guys can play, which is the eternal concern -- is the fact that the last two players chosen, Carter and Michigan State CB Chris Rucker, have had legal troubles in recent years. The Colts said they did their homework. Sometimes, it works out; see Marlin Jackson. Sometimes, as in the case of Ed Johnson, it doesn't.
There is no simple primer on how to replace a quarterbacking legend. The Buffalo Bills still haven't replaced Jim Kelly. Ditto the Denver Broncos after John Elway, and the Miami Dolphins after Dan Marino. It's even harder now with the salary cap; teams aren't interested in paying big dollars for a quarterback who might not play for a couple of years.
Still, it's hard to fathom what the Patriots were doing when they selected Mallett in the third round.
Not that Mallett can't play, or that all the pre-draft rumors about his drinking and/or drug use ranks as anything more than teenaged irresponsibility. The issue is the timing: Why, when you have the 33-year-old Brady newly signed to a four-year deal, do you spend a third-rounder on a guy who probably won't take a snap as a Patriot?
If you have a Brady or a Manning, you do everything -- in the draft and in free agency -- with an eye on right now.
These are once-in-the-lifetime-of-a-franchise quarterbacks, and unless Mallett has pass-rushing abilities we're not aware of, he's not going to help Brady and Bill Belichick win in the near future.
It's all about urgency now, about giving Manning every chance to put the finishing touches on that Hall of Fame resume. The Franchise isn't going anywhere, not for a while.
His successor? Let him attend his high school senior prom first.