Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
As covered here earlier on Between the Beers, NFL free agency is just days away with some attractive, high-profile names about to enter the market. But of course, after Peyton Manning’s shockingly inevitable breakup with the Colts was finalized on Wednesday, the attention has fittingly turned to the quarterback market, highlighted by Manning, Baylor quarterback and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, and Packers backup Matt Flynn. All three come with tremendous upside for their suitors but also tremendous risk. In the cases of Flynn and Griffin, there is the question of whether the flashes of tantalizing promise they’ve shown can be repeated on a consistent enough basis to make them franchise quarterbacks. In Manning’s case, the risk lies in his ability to recover from a third neck surgery. Some of the Super Bowl-contending teams rumored to be in the market for Manning also have to decide whether an ostensible upgrade at quarterback is best for their long-term outlook and current roster cohesiveness. The list of teams that have at least been tangentially linked to one or more of these quarterbacks features everyone from perennial bottom-feeders to playoff mainstays:
-The Dolphins are ready for Take 17 in their ongoing efforts to find the heir to Dan Marino’s throne, with both fans and the owner seemingly enthralled with the idea of luring a big star like Manning to South Beach.
-The Jets may be willing to exile Mark Sanchez to backup land (Matt Leinart, save him a seat) if it means landing Manning and providing them with the proven effective leader under center that can help the veteran team finally fulfill their Super Bowl ambitions before their window closes.
-The Cardinals may be willing to scrap the Kevin Kolb experiment after barely a season if it means the possibility of watching Manning and Larry Fitzgerald form the most electrifying quarterback-to-receiver combo in the game. At least Darnell Dockett is thinking this.
-The Broncos are apparently willing to deep-six America’s sweetheart and not-Bachelor-star Tim Tebow if bringing in Manning as a replacement helps them repeat as champions of an underwhelming AFC West and make a deeper playoff run. I’m already excited for this story to be incorporated into a Rick Santorum stump speech on religious persecution.
-Mike Shanahan needs to win now to stabilize his job security in Washington. Dan Snyder has shown no aversion to blowing draft picks and throwing around gobs of money, and this is the rare case in which he’d only need to do the latter.
-Among the Super Bowl-ready teams with good but not great quarterbacks, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Houston could jump into the mix if even a year of near-elite Manning can push them over the hump.
-Among other plausible but much less likely destinations, there are long-shots like the Chiefs, Browns, and Seahawks, although the latter two (along with Washington) are more likely to be deeply involved in RGIII discussions; Dallas, who despite being committed to Tony Romo has a quasi-desperate coach and an owner who can never say no to a headline-stealing splash; and of course, teams with young quarterbacks whom they may not be entirely committed to like the Titans, Vikings, and Jaguars.
The way this seemingly unfolds is that Manning lands somewhere first (he is free to sign anywhere before free agency officially begins because he’s on the waiver wire). After that, teams will begin taking a long, hard look at whether Flynn is a viable option. In the meantime, the Rams are openly shopping the second pick in the draft and are free to seal the deal with whichever team is willing to pay the ransom it’ll take to move up and draft Griffin.
In other words, unless your last name is Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Brees, Newton, Rivers, Stafford, Cutler, or Manning (the one that just won the Super Bowl), your job is not safe. Literally 20 teams may at least to do a cursory exploration of the possibility of making a move for one of these three quarterbacks.
Every team involved will be required to mortgage a big chunk of their future to get one of these players while simultaneously running the risk of setting themselves back several years if they align themselves with the wrong option. Each one carries major risk and requires a major investment and commitment, especially with the money and draft picks at stake: Manning obviously is battling health uncertainty relating to his neck; Flynn is an unproven commodity due to his lack of playing time; and Griffin, while arguably the safest of the three, nevertheless could be the latest in a long line of draft prospects who had us salivating at college highlights, 40 times, and combine drills while avoiding paying careful consideration to how these explosive skills would translate to the NFL.
In the few cases where a team with an incumbent quarterback is even discussing a potential Manning deal, the risk of alienating the incumbent quarterback and fracturing the locker room is immensely high, particularly considering the tendency for these stories to leak out even when a general manager thinks talks are confined to his inner circle. (I love the theories about how Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub or even a lesser guy like Tebow or Alex Smith would sit while Manning came in for a year or two. Does anyone remember when Josh McDaniels merely inquired about Matt Cassel while Jay Cutler was still on the Broncos’ roster? How’d that work out? And unlike Cutler at the time, three of these guys won playoff games last season.)
So with all those caveats, do you know who my pick is to be the big winner of quarterback roulette this offseason?
The fucking Indianapolis Colts.
They don’t have to trade a single draft pick to get a franchise quarterback. They don’t have to worry about relying on damaged goods with multiple neck surgeries or a guy with 2 1/2 games of pro-level play on his resume. They don’t have to worry about a potential “What if Luck is a bust?” scenario destroying their future outlook with a cap-crippling contract because of the revamped rookie salary scale implemented through the new CBA last year. They get a low-risk, high-reward polished talent with an extensive body of quality collegiate work, quarterback genes (again!), and the character and intellect necessary to assume a leadership role from day one without any distractions. Plus, with an entirely new regime in place after the ouster of executives Bill and Chris Polian and head coach Jim Caldwell, not to mention the painful flashbacks of a near-winless season still fresh in fans’ heads, the benchmarks for progress and improvement will be low and the patience granted toward the Luck era will be plentiful.
As crazy as it sounds considering he’ll be the successor to the greatest athlete his new town has ever known, Luck will actually have less pressure than Manning and Griffin in the upcoming season. Between the hefty price tag a team will pay just to be able to select Griffin, plus the expectations raised because of the excitement factor he brings, fans may be a little more intrigued by what RGIII brings to the table, which means there’s also a greater chance for disappointment if he doesn’t instantly deliver; by contrast, we’ve spent two years exhausting any and all research into Luck and his story doesn’t feel as novel or fresh. And it should go without saying that the idea of Manning joining only the second team of his illustrious career will generate massive interest. Thus, does anyone really expect ESPN and NFL Network coverage to be surrounding Colts training camp this August to the same extent they will be hovering around wherever Manning and Griffin land?
There’s an old saying among sports executives (I forget who actually deserves credit for it, but it’s a good one): Your best place to be in sports is at the very top or the very bottom.
While nearly every other team is about to spend March fighting it out for the quarterback of their choice, the Colts might get the best quarterback of all just by sitting back and not doing a damn thing. From 1999-2010, the Colts were at or near the top. In 1997 and 2011, they bottomed out at the perfect time.
Perpetually mediocre teams, you should be envious: The Colts are so good they even suck better than you.