INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are bringing one veteran quarterback out of retirement.
No, not that one.
The Colts agreed to terms Wednesday with Kerry Collins, making him the likely starter in case Peyton Manning isn’t healed completely from offseason neck surgery by the time the season begins Sept. 11 at Houston.
Not every player liked the move.
“We don’t even know him, we ain’t vanilla, man, we ain’t no simple offense,” receiver Reggie Wayne said. “So for him to can come in here and be the starter, I don’t see it. I think that’s a step back.”
Colts coach Jim Caldwell wasn’t available to talk with reporters about Collins, but he struck a calm tone in a statement released by the team.
“He is a veteran quarterback who has started many games and he brings dimension and depth to the quarterback position, which will be helpful,” Caldwell said. “He is familiar with our division and will make a great addition to our roster.”
Yet the move is another indication that Manning’s streak of 227 consecutive starts, including playoff games, is in serious jeopardy.
Manning had surgery May 23 to repair a nerve in his neck, and the recovery has gone slower than expected partially, Manning said, because he couldn’t work out with team trainers during the 4 1/2-month lockout.
On Saturday morning, Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter that the Colts had to be prepared to play without Manning in the opener against the division-rival Texans. Later that day, Manning acknowledged he did not expect to play in the final two preseason games and that he would need the next two weeks just to get healthy.
Caldwell hasn’t said when he expects Manning to return to the field after signing a five-year, $90 million contract to stay in Indy last month.
“I think he laid out pretty well where he is, and that he is working extremely hard to try and get back as quickly as he possibly can,” Caldwell said Monday. “He’s going to work hard at trying to get back and get ready, and he’s doing everything he can to do so.”
And if he’s not ready? Well, there’s Collins, who has played in 195 career games with Tennessee, New Orleans, the New York Giants, Oakland and Carolina before retiring in July.
Collins has a career 55.8 completion percentage and has thrown for 40,441 yards, 206 touchdowns and 195 interceptions. As the starter, Collins has led his team to the playoffs four times, including a Super Bowl appearance with the Giants in the 2000 season.
Wayne, a five-time Pro Bowler and one of Manning’s favorite targets, has supported backup Curtis Painter. And while he called Collins “a great guy,” he said he was worried about the Colts getting better.
“Who says Kerry’s going to be the starter?” Wayne said. “Just because we bring him in doesn’t mean he’s the starter. He’s got to learn too, right? Unless they gave him a playbook months ago, he’s got to learn to.
“I don’t care who you are, I mean I’m not going to let anyone just come in here and just push someone (like Painter) aside like you’re that dog now, you know what I mean?” Wayne added.
Painter has started both preseason games this year, completing 8-of-16 passes for 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. In Friday night’s 16-3 loss to Washington, Painter managed only one first down and couldn’t get the offense past its 29 despite playing the entire first half.
He hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2009. Another backup, Dan Orlovsky, has played in 13 games in six NFL seasons, and the other quarterback on the roster is undrafted rookie Mike Hartline.
For his part, Painter doesn’t expect it to take Collins long to get up to speed.
“He’s a veteran guy, been around a while, I’m sure the terminology across the league isn’t too different,” Painter said. “I expect he’ll come in and pick it up quite well.”
The good news is that Collins already has some familiarity with the Colts’ brain trust.
Indy vice chairman Bill Polian took Collins in the first round of the 1995 draft, No. 5 overall, when he was in charge of the Carolina Panthers. And Caldwell was Penn State’s passing game coordinator from 1988-92, during part of Collins’ college career.
Still, two huge questions remain.
How quickly can the 16-year veteran get up to speed in the Colts offense, which has traditionally relied on calls at the line of scrimmage? And did Collins rediscover his passion for the game in the past seven weeks?
“I have decided that while my desire to compete on Sundays is still and always will be there, my willingness to commit to the preparation necessary to play another season has waned to a level that I feel is no longer adequate to meet the demands of the position,” Collins said in announcing his retirement July 7.
Two weeks later, Collins said he had even considered retiring at the end of last season.
Irsay had tweeted to ask for suggestions about signing a veteran free agent and on Sunday said he was in Hattiesburg, Miss., stirring speculation that he might be trying to lure Brett Favre out of retirement (again). Instead, it was Collins.