Dallas an unlikely landing spot for Manning

Peyton Manning in a Cowboys uniform?

At first thought, that sounds like a pretty good idea. Who wouldn’t want a future Hall of Famer quarterbacking their team?
Then reality creeps in.
First and foremost, it will never happen because of the salary cap. While trading Tony Romo to make room for Manning would be the optimal move, either trading or outright cutting Romo carries salary-cap implications and the hit would likely handcuff the Cowboys from making any other moves.
And if you have Peyton Manning quarterbacking your team, you might want to upgrade that offensive line which got Romo sacked 36 times last season.
But beyond those details sits the principal of the whole thing. Quarterback is not an area of need for the Cowboys. Romo, for as much heat as he takes from fans and some media, passed for 4,184 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. He had just 10 interceptions in 522 attempts and finished with a career-high 102.5 passer rating.
A healthy Romo was not the reason the Cowboys missed the playoffs last season — some may point to his bruised throwing hand as the reason they lost the win-or-go-home season finale to the Giants.
Sure, Romo made some bad decisions early in the season that likely cost the Cowboys wins over the Jets and Lions. But he also played hurt (remember the Week 2 OT comeback win over the 49ers in which he finished the game playing with cracked ribs?) and he showed he could play within himself, and play well, following his three-interception performance against the Lions in Week 4. He threw only five INTs the rest of the season following that game. And I believe some of his reckless early-season play falls on the coaching staff.
Romo will be 32, in the prime of his career, when the 2012 season starts. Manning will be 36 and on the downside. Not to mention those three neck surgeries that leave Manning’s physical status a gamble (one report on Monday night even indicated that sources close to the situation believe Manning’s slow recovery will prevent him from playing again).

Even if Manning can play again, signs increasingly seem to point to him leaving the Colts. With Indianapolis having a chance to draft either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III with the No 1 pick, the logical move for Colts owner Jim Irsay is to give Manning his honorable discharge — and also avoid paying him a $28 million bonus if he’s still on the team March 8.

Romo’s contract was re-structured in September to free up more cap room. According to the contract tracking website spotrac.com, he made a base salary of $810,000 – the veteran minimum – in 2011 with the rest of the money owed him converted into an $8.19 million signing bonus.

The restructuring also included a three-year extension to 2016 – which is voided if Romo is still on the team in 2013 – to stretch out the impact of the new bonus, plus remaining bonus money from the original contract.  

All of that bonus money is accelerated if Romo is released or traded and would amount to about a $10 million salary cap hit in 2012. Because they Cowboys have re-worked Romo’s contract several times, some media outlets have reported the actual cap hit to be $12 million.

It has also been widely reported the Cowboys will have at least $20 million in “dead money” on their 2012 salary cap because of the release of several high-paid veterans last offseason.

The ideal landing spot for Manning is a team that is just a quarterback away from contending. I have no idea which team that is, but I do know that it’s not the Cowboys, who have major holes in the offensive line and secondary, not under center.
His destination also needs to be a team that will hand over play-calling duties to Manning, who basically served as his own offensive coordinator throughout much of his career with the Colts, carrying the freedom to change plays before every snap. That’s not the Cowboys, either.
It’s hard to imagine Jason Garrett, who made his name in coaching as an offensive wunderkind, giving up so much control of the offense. He would have to defer to Manning if owner Jerry Jones forced him to, of course, but all signs indicate that Jones is still a huge Romo fan.
In all, the Cowboys would have to go to a lot of trouble for what could be just two good years out — or less — out of Manning . . . if his neck holds up. Health withstanding, they can get another 4-6 good years out of Romo and not engage in salary cap self-destruction.
The only reason to make the move, even if it were possible, is if the Valley Ranch hierarchy is convinced they will never win a Super Bowl with Romo. As of now, that’s not the way the wind is blowing.
But it sure would be fun to see Manning wearing a star on his helmet, if only for the media circus. For one thing, you’d get Peyton vs. Eli twice a year. For another, how would the hyper-demanding Manning react the first time Dez Bryant blows a route?
No, if the Cowboys want to bring in aging superstar who’s a health risk, they could get more bang for their buck by stealing Terrell Owens away from the Allen Wranglers.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire