Perhaps no cliché has proven itself to be as true in sports as the old adage, "The grass is always greener on the other side." Teams in pursuit of former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning are likely to learn that lesson the hard way.
The sporting world watches every year as teams whip themselves into frenzies in pursuit of the latest prominent player who is considered the best on the market. Hours of ESPN coverage are devoted to tracking the every move of the current biggest name in sports that could be about to switch jerseys.
As the big-name player moves to a different team, expectations rise drastically. The player's new team is automatically considered a title contender, and the hype continues throughout the rest of the offseason. More often than not though, the hype proves to be unwarranted. The hyperbole fades away and the player often falls underwhelmingly short of expectations, whether due to unfamiliarity and poor chemistry with the new team, laziness induced by satisfaction with a big new contract, or the player just being overrated in the first place.
The phenomenon follows the same pattern nearly every time a big-name player in sports is about to find a new team, yet media and fans are duped into thinking the current big name is any different from the rest of them.
Such is the case with Manning. The name and the hype are at the forefront of the media discussion, and fans and media are convinced Manning can instantly make any team a Super Bowl contender. In theory, it's possible. For any team not absolutely desperate for a decent quarterback though, the risk of signing Manning certainly isn't worth the reward.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans best exemplify the two schools of thought in regards to signing Manning. The day before the Colts released Manning, the 49ers immediately ruled out any possibility of signing Manning when he became available.
"We haven't had Peyton in here nor are we even talking about those things internally right now," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said on KNBR-AM radio in San Francisco. "Is he going to play? I don't know. That's for the doctors to make the decision on and for him himself."
Titans owner Bud Adams took the opposite stance on Manning, telling the Nashville Tennessean's Jim Wyatt the Titans "hope to be one of the teams (Manning) looks at."
"He is the man I want. Period," Adams said, per Wyatt. "And the people that work for me understand that. They know who I want. I want Mr. Manning with the Titans and I will be disappointed if it doesn't happen."
Manning will likely be intrigued by the chance to beat his former team twice per year and reciprocate Adams' interest. Kenny Britt and emerging starting tight end Jared Cook give Manning two appealing targets to want to throw to in Tennessee, and a ground game that got back on track at the end of last year will make Manning's job easier if he goes to Nashville.
Of course, nobody has any idea if Manning even can throw, so worrying about who he can throw to is premature. Adams seems to be channeling the spirit of Al Davis, showing why owners need to write checks and stay out of their front office staff's way. Adams is displaying a complete lack of understanding of the risk-reward, decision-making process that must take place before signing Manning.
The 49ers' choice to focus on re-signing quarterback Alex Smith, widely viewed as a bust until this past season, over Manning, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play football, speaks volumes about Manning's current value. Smith improved greatly in 2011, but by all means is no more than a decent to slightly above-average quarterback.
Manning, if he plays like he did before his neck surgeries, would be a tremendous upgrade over Smith. Of course, if the best-case scenario was the only factor affecting teams' decisions towards Manning, at least 25 of the teams would have faxed contract offers to his agent Tom Condon the second the Colts released him. NFL decision-makers must also factor the worst-case scenario into the possible outcomes of signing the former Colts quarterback.
The issue with Manning isn't just his health, but also his time away from the game. He hasn't played football in over a year and nobody, not even Manning, has any idea how rusty he'll be even if he is perfectly healthy. When he missed just the pre-season in 2008, he looked shaky and out-of-rhythm for quite a few weeks. The first half of the season he threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That's hardly an awful performance, but it's far below Peyton Manning's typical level of play. With a whole year and a half away from football, who knows what he'll look like?
For a team with a subpar quarterback situation, pursuing Manning makes sense because such a team has less to lose. A team with even a slightly above-average quarterback, stands to lose much more if Manning doesn't pan out this year because such a team would be both signing a bad quarterback and getting rid of a good one. The Titans fall squarely in the latter category, with arguably the best quarterback situation in the league.
Matt Hasselbeck had a far better season than expected last year, completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 3,571 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 touchdowns. In addition to throwing for more touchdowns than any Titans quarterback since 2004, Hasselbeck was efficient at turning the Titans' possessions into points, throwing 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions inside the opponent's red zone.
The Titans had well above-average quarterback play last year, even with wide receiver Kenny Britt sidelined by a season-ending ACL injury and running back Chris Johnson rendered ineffective for most of the year due to being out of football shape and unfamiliar with the new playbook after a contract holdout. With Britt healthy and Johnson presumably ready to actually do his job and play football, the Titans' offense should be more than fine with Hasselbeck under center.
If Hasselbeck starts to fade down the stretch, as he did last year when he threw four touchdowns and six interceptions in the final six weeks of the season, second-year quarterback Jake Locker will be more than ready to take the reins.
Locker impressed coach Mike Munchak enough in 2011 to convince Munchak to open the quarterback position up to competition in 2012. In limited playing time, Locker threw four touchdowns and no interceptions, displaying excellent touch on the deep ball and phenomenal accuracy when throwing on the run.
With Hasselbeck and Locker on the roster, the Titans' quarterback position is in solid shape for both the present and the future. Adams and the Titans need to take Forrest Gump's mother's advice and avoid trying to fix something that isn't broken.
A team starving for decent quarterback play would be justified in seeing the potential reward as a worthwhile reason for banking on Manning's health. A team with a quarterback situation as enviable as the Titans' has much more reason to pass on the passer Adams covets.
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