As if the stakes in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes weren’t high enough.
Once the front-runners to sign Manning emerged, two other teams made major moves Friday night to address their quarterback situations. As first reported by FOXSports.com NFL insider Jay Glazer, the Washington Redskins traded a boatload of draft picks to St. Louis for the No. 2 pick in the draft. The selection will be used on Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.
The New York Jets also extended Mark Sanchez’s contract by three years. This ended the remote possibility that he wouldn’t be back for a fourth season after the franchise had reportedly expressed interest in Manning.
The trickle-down effect will continue once Manning makes his decision. Here is a look at the teams most affected by what unfolded Friday and how it potentially impacts who will be under center for them in 2012.
Washington: Moving up four spots in the draft to leapfrog another team (Cleveland) with strong interest in RG3 wasn’t going to come cheaply. The ultimate cost: Washington’s first- and second-round picks this year and first-round choices in 2013 and 2014.
Is that price exorbitant? Not if Griffin can transfer his dynamic style of play to the pro ranks. The Redskins didn’t have much of a choice but to swing a deal for Griffin considering: A) The NFL’s barren landscape for available quality starters; B) The Manning snub; C) Washington’s inability to address the position the previous two seasons under head coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen.
Another year with a Rex Grossman-style starter would assuredly have led to a fifth consecutive finish in the NFC East basement and perhaps prompted Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to clean house once again.
Cleveland: Outmaneuvered by the Redskins for RG3 and never a contender for Manning, the Browns now must weigh whether pursuing Green Bay’s Matt Flynn in free agency is a better option than sticking with Colt McCoy as their 2012 starter. Another option is using the No. 4 overall pick on Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, who has the skill set to run the West Coast-style offense favored by Browns head coach Pat Shurmur and top executive Mike Holmgren.
Tannehill might not be a better overall NFL prospect than highly regarded talents like Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon or Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne. But the premium at the position elevates the value of quarterbacks taken in the 2011 draft, such as Tennessee’s Jake Locker (No. 8 overall) and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder (No. 12).
Should the Browns target Tannehill, the biggest risk they run is another interested suitor trading with Minnesota to land the No. 3 pick. This is an option Miami might consider if the Dolphins, who pick No. 8, strike out on Manning and don’t sign Flynn. Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman was Tannehill’s college head coach.
Denver: The full-court press to sign Manning began in earnest Friday when he was flown to Denver for a visit with team officials. That was a ballsy move by Broncos executive vice president John Elway knowing there would be strong backlash among fans convinced that Tim Tebow already was the team’s quarterbacking answer.
The heavy Manning pursuit proves Elway doesn’t believe Tebow is that guy. It also will leave the Broncos with a major mess on their hands if they can’t sign Manning.
While Tebow did a fantastic job of not being affected when his status became the NFL’s hottest debate during the 2011 season, it will be far more difficult for Tebow to lead and continue drawing respect from teammates now that the Broncos have made it clear he is as replaceable as Kyle Orton. If the Broncos want to run a more conventional-style NFL offense and avoid the type of quarterback controversy that can rip teams apart, cutting ties would be a wise idea, even if it infuriates a large portion of Broncos supporters.
Under that circumstance, the leading contender for Tebow could very well be . . .
Jacksonville: Connect the dots.
New team owner Shad Khan wants to make a splash. He also is on record as being a Tebow fan.
New head coach Mike Mularkey has enjoyed success before working with an unconventional quarterback in Kordell Stewart.
The Jaguars aren’t set under center after 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert had a shaky rookie debut.
Tebow is from Jacksonville, and his presence would ensure the Jags won’t have to use tarps to cover empty seats in the upper decks.
Plus, the trade compensation wouldn’t be excessive since Denver would be looking to move Tebow and there won’t be a Manning-sized market for his services.
Even if the Broncos don’t sign Manning, this is a trade that both sides should strongly consider making.
Arizona: The cupboard isn’t bare in Arizona with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton currently set to compete for the starting spot. If Manning comes aboard, Kolb would be a goner before collecting a $7 million roster bonus due March 17.
Don’t cry for Kolb, though. He would have a strong market for his services.
Two potential landing spots are Cleveland — Shurmur was his quarterbacks coach with Philadelphia — and Seattle, which also runs a West Coast system and has a placeholder starter in Tarvaris Jackson. To keep him from an NFC West rival like the Seahawks, Arizona would need to find a trade partner for Kolb rather than releasing him outright.
New York Jets: Players who have disappointing seasons usually aren’t rewarded with massive contract extensions that include $20.5 million guaranteed. That’s what makes the financial commitment made to Sanchez so baffling, especially since two years remained on his rookie deal.
Sanchez’s extension also impacts the caliber of backup the Jets can draw in free agency. Potential targets like Chad Henne who still harbor hopes of being NFL starters might not be as willing to consider the Jets now that the franchise has made it clear who it wants with the first-team offense.