The ripple effects of Peyton Manning’s move in free agency have stretched from coast to coast.
From New York and Miami to Seattle and San Francisco, and in between, the wake left by Manning’s decision to play for Denver altered every team he touched — and some he didn’t. It also brought into sharp focus the adage every player in the NFL has come to understand: When it comes to this league, “Nothing personal, just business.”
When the Washington Redskins and New York Jets were rebuffed early in the Manning sweepstakes, both reacted quickly and decisively.
Washington gave a king’s ransom to the St. Louis Rams to move up so they could take Robert Griffin III with the second pick of the upcoming NFL Draft. Some say it was too much, but with Manning not even bothering to visit Washington, moving up to get the Baylor product was the only move left for the Redskins. Ripple!
Because the Redskins were forced into this move, it pushed them past the level the Cleveland Browns were willing to go to get the same trade with the Rams. Going after a Peyton Manning and throwing your current QB under the bus can at least be explained by Manning’s future Hall of Fame status. To do it for a rookie, even as talented as RG3 appears, makes it abundantly clear what the Browns think of their third-year starting QB, Colt McCoy. Like the teams that went after Manning and didn’t land him, the Browns left their organization, and their fans who have endured double-digit losing seasons in eight of the past nine years, feeling as if they might have to endure the same for a while longer. Ripple!
When the New York Jets got shut down in the Manning derby, they reacted quickly by giving Mark Sanchez a $58.25 million extension. Although it is a good move by the Jets that shows confidence in their embattled QB and clears some cap space, it smacks of the extension the Dolphins gave coach Tony Sparano last year after going after Jim Harbaugh and striking out. And now they’ve added Tim Tebow, displaced in Denver by Manning. Ripple!
Miami had no such problems in going after Manning. The Dolphins did not have to worry about offending, or at the least, showing no confidence in their QBs, because their need for a new QB was made clear from the minute they fired Sparano. Even though Manning has a residence in Florida, there is no shame in the fact Manning thought better of going into a division that has Tom Brady in it. But when Matt Flynn, and his two starts, turned down the Dolphins to go to Seattle, it added to the list of people (Nick Saban, Bill Parcells, Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Manning) who have decided to take a pass on going to (or staying with) what used to be one of the most storied franchises in the NFL. This has fans storming the gates, literally, at Dolphin Park after the teams has made only one playoff appearance in the past decade. Ripple!
To many, including me, the Kansas City Chiefs seemed to be one of the best situations for Manning. They have a good, young receiving corps with Pro Bowl pick Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston. A promising young tight end, Tony Moeaki, coupled with running back Jamaal Charles and a solid offensive line all looked inviting. Add in a defensive-minded head coach who would stay out of your way in a division that has been, well, let’s be respectful and just say that it is fluid. Yet with all this, the Chiefs couldn’t even get a call back. This has left the fan base wondering why general manager Scott Pioli whiffed in the process. Ripple!
Seattle fared a little better in the Manning derby by not actually getting too deep into the process. The Seahawks were able to land the other QB prospect, Flynn. Coach Pete Carroll drew on his USC experience and outrecruited the Dolphins for Flynn. Still, the Seahawks did so after striking out on Charlie Whitehurst — he returned to San Diego — whom they traded to the Seahawks for a third-round pick and a swap of second-round picks that allowed San Diego to pick at 40 instead of 60. San Diego used that pick to move up in the first round in the 2010 draft and pick up running back Ryan Mathews. Seattle then got QB Tarvaris Jackson to cover that mistake and now has signed Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract to “compete” for the starting job. As a coach, you can’t survive a miss at the QB position in the first round (believe me, I know) or roll through QBs at the rate Seattle is going. Ripple!
Arizona found itself in a tougher bind. The Cardinals got drawn into the Manning sweepstakes after extending themselves in last year’s swap with Philadelphia to get backup QB Kevin Kolb. Arizona did so after giving Kolb a five-year, $63 million contract with $7 million of the $20 million guarantee due early in the 2012 free-agency period. That forced a timetable for the Cardinals in their Manning chase.
Besides giving up cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Cardinals also gave up their second-round pick in this year’s draft. The pursuit of Manning came after the pursuit of Kolb, who was acquired to cover the drafting of Matt Leinart with the 10th overall pick in 2006 and giving him a six-year, $50 million contract. Kolb was given the $7 million bonus to “compete” with John Skelton for the starting QB job. I don’t think Skelton got anything, except the chance to “compete” for the job. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was not around for the drafting of Leinart but is part of all the efforts to find his replacement after letting him go. Ripple!
That brings us to the final two contestants in “Who Gets the Hall of Fame QB?" — the San Francisco 49ers and the eventual winners, the Broncos. Harbaugh, the 49ers’ coach, took a chance in bringing back QB Alex Smith last year, and it paid huge dividends with an appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Harbaugh grew increasingly indignant when people had the temerity to question how good Smith actually was. At season’s end, Harbaugh proclaimed Smith was “our” guy and that no one should question that. Yet, the 49ers offered their guy a contract that was less than Ryan Fitzpatrick’s in Buffalo, Flynn’s or Kolb’s. Then they chose to throw themselves into the Manning sweepstakes late in the process.
Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke are becoming one of the best combos in the NFL. They have maneuvered the 49ers roster brilliantly, and Harbaugh has drawn on his former playing credentials to connect on a personal level with his team as well as any coach in the NFL. However, this last move starts Harbaugh on the inevitable path of every head coach in the NFL. That being that in the “best interest of the team,” you have to toss aside those personal relationships and get to the “nothing personal, just business” part of his job. When Smith returned to the 49ers and signed a reported $24 million, three-year contract, the 49ers reported that they had “extended their relationship.” That certainly should make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Ripple!
Likewise in Denver, VP John Elway and coach John Fox have had to walk that fine line of supporting their starting QB and embracing him as team leader, the whole time knowing they would go to unprecedented lengths to replace him with the first opportunity that came along. It is stunning to me to hear the comments from the Broncos players and how quickly they were willing to separate themselves from Tim Tebow and all that they did the latter part of last year. The players have learned well: “Nothing personal, just business.” Giant ripple!
Through this entire process, one thing that cannot be contested by any rational person: The NFL is truly king. Here we are in March, when the NFL should be dormant, yet it continues to dominate the headlines. When it comes to American sports, the NFL is No. 1, the NFL offseason is No. 2 and everything comes after that.
If you have any doubt of that, watch the ratings of the NFL Draft next month. What is basically a show of nothing more than making a list likely will outdraw the competing NBA and NHL playoffs and the opening of the MLB season.