Down and Distance
Could Peyton Manning end up quarterbacking the 2012 Dallas Cowboys?
The Indianapolis Colts’ story this year is well-worn territory: Manning recovered poorly from a neck injury during the lockout, and has been unable to play, despite signing a record-breaking contract. In his absence, the Colts have not only failed to win a single game with backup goofball Curtis Painter under center, they’ve failed to even look competitive in most of their matchups. Their latest, a 31-7 beating by the Atlanta Falcons, was just another in a string of pathetic appearances from a once-mighty team that’s been within sniffing distance of the Super Bowl every season for the past decade.
That’s all been discussed to death, but what we haven’t heard much about is what that might mean for a team like the Dallas Cowboys.
What does that have to do with Dallas?
If I could find a bookie taking long odds on Peyton Manning wearing the #18 jersey with a star on his helmet next year, I’d drop him a twenty and put my name on it. Manning’s contract carries an unbelievable $29 million dollar signing bonus that goes into effect the fifth day of the 2012 league year.
Now that the Colts have been exposed as a team full of deep problems though, tying up $29 million in salary cap space in a single player would also be downright stupid. If the Colts continue on the path to drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, which they’d possess if the season ended today, Manning’s contract is a burden. While there’s been plenty of talk about letting Manning, who’s 35, play out the final years of his career while Luck learns from the league’s sharpest quarterback, it’s hard to imagine a team going that route at the cost of $29 million dollars. If they have Luck, it seems a lot more likely that Manning would end his career elsewhere.
There are only a handful of teams that would fit what Manning is likely to be interested in: The team would have to be a Super Bowl contender loaded with talent, in need of an ace quarterback to put them over the top. That would rule out QB-starved losers like Washington, Miami, Seattle, and Denver; the team would have to play either in a dome or in warm weather, ruling out but-for-the-quarterback Northern teams like Baltimore and the New York Jets. In fact, it’d limit the market to just about two teams: the Jacksonville Jaguars, who could be a legitimate playoff contender if their quarterback weren’t some kid named Blaine Gabbert; and the Dallas Cowboys, who can always pin at least a couple of losses a year on Tony Romo. And there’s no way the Colts would trade Manning to a division rival like the Jags. That leaves Romo.
“That’s my teammate! That’s my quarterback!”
Of course, Cowboys fans love Tony Romo. They’ll defend the guy to the death, arguing about risk/reward and talking about the fastest release in NFL history. I asked my friend Adam, who holds great convictions about Romo’s potential to bring Dallas a championship, how he’d feel if the Cowboys traded for Peyton Manning.
“I would totally be bummed,” he said. “Would Peyton give the Cowboys a better chance to win over the next two years? Probably. Either way, I don’t want Peyton. The Cowboys didn’t pick up undrafted Peyton when he was a no-name. The Cowboys didn’t almost cut Peyton until Quincy Carter failed a drug test. T.O. wasn’t tearfully defending Peyton after the playoff loss to the Giants.”
Most Cowboys fans that I know would echo that sentiment. Everybody wants their team to win, yeah, but it’s not as much fun to see it happen with a hired gun. We root for our boys.
That’s why the whole country picked Dirk over LeBron last summer
“Loyalty” is an important concept in America. Always has been, but over the past few decades, as we’ve grown more cynical and the gap between – yeah – the 1% and the 99% has widened, it seems even more important. We no longer trust that our employers will be loyal to us – layoffs happen too often, for reasons too flimsy, to trust that our hard work is being recognized. The financial crisis of 2008 was caused, in no small part, by bankers and traders who deliberately tanked their clients, and even their own companies, for a personal payday.
If we can’t have loyalty in the real world, we damn sure want it in sports. That’s why there are countless Bears fans (including LeBron himself!) threatening to #occupysoldierfield if running back Matt Forte doesn’t get a contract extension—even though it makes more sense for the organization to use the franchise tag to keep him around the next two years without long-term guarantees.
We’ve seen that loyalty doesn’t pay off in the real world. And while the advent of free agency is often pointed to as the death of loyalty in sports, it’s clear we still value it. So is there a way that the game could be structured to reward loyalty to a player like Manning, or Romo, or Forte, or soon-to-be-free-agent Houston back Arian Foster?
You knew I’d say yes, right?
Here’s my friend Adam again: “Maybe the NFL should have a system in place that rewards managers for remaining loyal to long-term players,” he said. “There could be a collective pool of money or extra cap space that could be given to teams who have, say, an eight year veteran that they drafted themselves.”
An idea like this is kind of brilliant. It hurts nobody, and mitigates the every-player-for-himself aspect of free agency that turns fans off, without reinstating the pseudo-slavery of long-term contracts. It makes fans happy, because we get the long-term investment to our teams from the players we love; it makes players happy, since most of them claim to want to retire with the team that drafted ‘em, except that it’s a business; and it’d have to make management happy, if they can get around the salary cap by sticking with their own guys. The only people who’d be hurt by it are the teams that draft poorly and hope to succeed through free agency, and why work a system to reward them?
There’s no way to know at this point where Peyton Manning will end up in 2012. It may be with the Colts, but it may well be elsewhere. If he were to play for the Cowboys, though, it’d bum out fans of both Indianapolis and Dallas, and that’s not an ideal situation—just like it wouldn’t make Bears fans happy if Forte were playing for Arizona in 2012, or Texans fans if Arian Foster were in the Miami backfield in 2013. These are uncertain times, and loyalty is more important now than ever.