By Rich Tandler
There has been a lot of back and forth about the future of Peyton Manning in the last 24 hours. In the morning, an article on Yahoo.com said that many thought that Manning’s playing career was over. Then in the afternoon, Manning himself came on the air and said that he was encouraged by what the doctors were telling him and that he had no intention of retiring.
This came on the heels of Kyle Shanahan saying that he didn’t think that Manning’s age (he will soon turn 36) will be an issue with him resuming his playing career and a report that a source said that the Redskins would be interested in obtaining the services of a healthy Peyton Manning.
It seems almost certain that Manning will be a free agent sooner rather than later. While Colts owner Jim Irsay does not have to decide if he will pay Manning a $28 million option bonus until March 8, Manning indicated in his interview that a meeting and decision could come as soon as next week. Clearly, both parties have a desire to get this matter behind them.
Most believe that Colts will release Manning whether or not they think that he will be able to continue playing. Irsay has made it clear that they will draft either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III (they almost certainly will take Luck) with the first pick in April’s draft. If they pay Manning the $28 million the salary cap will dictate that they keep him for at least two more years, probably three. The can’t keep the top pick in the draft on the shelf for that long; remember that under the new compensation system they only have the rights to them for five years.
When we have Manning as a free agent we enter uncertain and uncharted territory. It is extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, for a quarterback of his stature to be on the open market. There really aren’t any established parameters for a contract in this situation.
But that is putting the cart before the horse. Before the Redskins any team would talk contract with Manning they would want to see if he can play. If he had missed the 2011 season with, say, a torn ACL, doctors could do an MRI and some other tests, make an evaluation of how the rehab is progressing based on data from similar injuries to other in the past, and make a recommendation to the team based on that.
In this situation, however, coming up with an evaluation is much more difficult. They can examine the vertebrae that were fused and see how those are doing. According to reports, those have healed as expected. The issue is the nerves going to Manning’s golden right arm and how those affect his throwing. Predicting how those nerves will regenerate is beyond the capabilities of modern medical science. We do not know when we will know whether or not Manning will be able to play football in 2012 or ever.
Let’s bring this home to the Redskins’ situation. They need a starting quarterback. They could get one in free agency or in the draft. Free agency opens on March 13 and, unless there are some surprise salary cap casualties out there, the QB pickings will be slim. If the Redskins are interested in Manning they may have to wait. They many know about the condition of his arm by late April, when the NFL draft takes place, or they may not.
If the Redskins are indeed interested in Manning, can they afford to wait? Can they bypass an opportunity to dip into that shallow pool of free agent quarterbacks while waiting to see if Manning will be able to throw a deep out with the velocity that has helped him get onto the short list of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game? If the rehab to his arm can’t be judged until May, do they make a big move for Griffin in the draft?
And if the Redskins want Manning, does Manning want to play in Washington? His choices will be limited and few of them will not be teams that participated in the playoffs this year. Most of them have quarterbacks.
Given that he will have to choose between flawed teams, Manning might want a one with better receivers and a more solid offensive line (although the Redskins’ OL has improved and is more middle of the pack than bottom of the barrel). On the other hand, he might look at how Mike Shanahan was able to win two Super Bowls in Denver with an aging John Elway at quarterback and think that he could do worse.
You’re probably getting the gist of things here. Once the big question about Manning’s health is answered, a whole bunch of other questions will pop up. There is a long way to go before Peyton Manning winds up in a Redskins uniform or any uniform.