Rationale Behind Arizona Cardinals' Courting of Peyton Manning As Iffy As His Health

By Greg Archuleta

Speaking of necks, Peyton Manning’s won’t be the only one sticking out if he signs with the Arizona Cardinals.

If Arizona gets serious in the discussion for Manning’s services, it means the organization believes it resembles the team that finished the season winning seven of nine games to record an 8-8 season in 2011 – rather than the team that started 1-6.

Quick – how many of those seven foes the Cardinals beat during their upswing had winning records?

One not only is the loneliest number, it’s also the answer. Arizona beat the San Francisco 49ers 21-19 in Week 14.

Now, not that a 7-2 record isn’t anything to sneeze at; the Cards have shown before how to get hot at the right time and make it to the Super Bowl. Heck, the New York Giants have turned it into an art form.

The problem is that Arizona and the rest of the league won’t know how far along Manning is with his recovery from his year-long neck injury. The Cardinals have no idea whether they’ll be signing damaged goods. Especially with rumors floating of a fourth neck surgery that may have taken place and that he can’t throw to his left with any velocity.

If he is healthy enough to give it a go, don’t expect Manning to sign for the Michael Jordan discount, either – at least not for Arizona. Jordan spent the bulk of his career playing for a few million dollars for the Chicago Bulls because he made so much money in endorsements and he wanted to win so bad that he allowed the Bulls to use his reduced contract to sign other players.

That was earlier in Jordan’s career. His last contract with the Bulls, he went from $3.85 million to $30.1 million and $33.1 million in 1996-97 and 1997-98, respectively.

Manning, too is nearing the end of his career, pain in the neck or not. Though the Cardinals improved during the last half of 2011, they certainly won’t be a Super Bowl favorite in 2012, and Manning also would be taking more of a risk signing with a team that isn’t considered an immediate Super Bowl contender.

That means that whatever it will take for the Cardinals to sign him will also handcuff the team in improving its offensive line. Sure, left tackle Levi Brown was a much improved player during the last half of the season versus his first half. But with a fragile QB under center, can the Cardinals just dismiss the first half of the season?

The counter-argument is that Manning’s decision-making will reduce the time the line has to protect. Just because he got rid of the ball in Indy didn’t mean he didn’t pay for it.

And speaking of pay, what about the $10 million owed to Kevin Kolb, who was the Cardinals’ free-agent signing coup in 2011? Arizona would basically be writing him off with the signing of Manning. The Colts showed that no one could do what Manning did under center last season, so there’s no reason to think Kolb would learn from Manning.

Speaking of which, the offense that Arizona runs with Manning would be a huge question mark. Can the Cardinals run anything similar to what the Colts ran just to appease the four-time NFL MVP? Not unless the other 10 guys on offense can suddenly master what took Indianapolis years to establish.

By the same token, would Manning, even if healthy, be as effective immediately with another offense?

To be fair, Kolb really hasn’t had the chance to be called “washed up” yet. Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt used the term “knuckleheads” to describe both Kolb and John Skelton, but wasn’t that one of the kinder remarks said of San Francisco’s Alex Smith his whole career until 2011? It would not seem any more daunting a task to rehabilitate Kolb mentally as it would Manning physically.

It wasn’t just the Cardinals, after all, who thought Kolb could be a longtime starting QB in the NFL. The Eagles got rid of Donovan McNabb and had Kolb ahead of Michael Vick to start the 2010 season. Several NFL coaches and scouts once were on the Kolb bandwagon. Were all those people wrong?

Of course, Manning could come in, a la Joe Montana toward the end of his career in Kansas City, and lead the team to a conference championship game his first year. No one would complain about that.

Do the Cardinals think that is a serious possibility, and is that enough of a reward to risk an injury to Manning, a vote of no confidence to Kolb and another lost season?

Speaking of necks, how would those of Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves feel if the Cardinals signed Manning and didn’t get to the playoffs in 2012?


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