The current state of the Indianapolis Colts is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent NFL offseasons: a full-blown fire sale atmosphere. Everything must go! If it ain’t bolted to the ground, it can be had! As an Oakland A’s fan, I am familiar with this concept: The team gets a little long in the tooth, veterans are making too much money and you find yourself in an unsustainable situation—something has got to give.
But in the NFL, this is a rare occurrence. You hardly ever see an NFL team so willingly and swiftly blowing up the entire roster and committing to a full-on rebuild. Jerry Glanville famously said years ago that NFL stood for “Not For Long,” and impatience has become even more prevalent in the past few seasons.
Raheem Morris took a “rebuilding” Bucs team to a 10-6 season in 2010 but then found himself out of a job a season later. Tom Coughlin won a championship in 2007 but was one loss away from probably losing his job in 2011—lucky for him, the Giants won the Lombardi Trophy again. That ought to buy him another season-and-a-half before the rumors start again.
All of that preamble was just a way to get to this important point: Peyton Manning is a free agent. And as every sportswriter in America has told you, he’s likely the best free agent in the history of the NFL. A surefire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, who can be yours if the Price is Right. And he’s dangerously, precipitously, unnervingly close to signing with the Denver Broncos.
Apparently, when it comes to Tim Tebow, John Elway is the honey badger—he just don’t care. He looks at his team and sees a strong, play-making defense and some young, speedy receivers, but no quarterback to lead his team to victory. And it’s not as if the AFC West is the most dynamic of divisions: The Broncos won the division title at 8-8 last season. And if Manning does trade one horse-related franchise for another, it spells doom for Raider Nation.
The championship window in the NFL is fleeting. Only a few teams have sustained greatness for long periods (the Patriots, Colts, Giants), but they’ve had Hall-of-Fame caliber signal-callers. If you’re not lucky enough to have a Manning as your quarterback, your window of opportunity will be brief.
Despite their youth, the Raiders are a win-now type of team, because they don’t have a young, superstar quarterback—they have 31-year-old Carson Palmer. And while Palmer is a serviceable quarterback who has proven he can play at a high level, he is only going to play for a few more seasons. With no young quarterback waiting in the wings in Oakland (and before you say it, no, Terrelle Pryor is never going to be a star in the NFL), the window is right now.
No position matters more than quarterback, and the Raiders are only guaranteed to have a decent quarterback for the next three seasons. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess who is under center for the Raiders. Sometimes you get lucky and find a new young star to replace a veteran (like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay), but you could just as easily spend a decade trying to find a useful quarterback (Cleveland Browns, anyone?).
If Manning goes to Denver, the Broncos immediately become the favorites in the AFC West. The benefit of having the hyper-competitive Manning as your quarterback is unimaginable. Just consider what happened to his Colts: in 2010, they went to the playoffs; a year later, with almost the exact same roster (minus Manning), they became the worst team in the league. An 8-8 team can easily become a 10 or even 11-win team with a superstar quarterback at the helm.
The Raiders don’t have the defensive secondary to even slow Manning down, and do you really want to bet on Palmer to win a shootout with Peyton? Before 2007, pretty much every game the Colts won was a shootout—Peyton is the best at it.
Of course, the most important question when it comes to Manning is simple: Will he be healthy enough to be the prolific, accurate passer we’ve come to expect? Clearly most NFL teams think so, since no one has bowed out of the Manning sweepstakes citing health concerns. With his competitive nature and desire to win, who knows how many more seasons Manning might suit up—Three? Four? Brett Favre played into his 40s, and in 2010, was one stupid interception away from becoming the oldest quarterback to ever play in a Super Bowl.
If Manning is still playing in 2015, Palmer will be 35 years old and Darren McFadden will be 28 years old with seven years of wear and tear on his body. The Raiders will be much closer to having to start a rebuild of their own, with the prime years of their franchise quarterback and running back being wasted by having to face Manning’s Broncos twice every season.
So Raider fans, you better start praying that Manning likes Arizona or Tennessee a little more than he likes Denver (and on weather alone, that has to be a no-brainer, right?). Because if Manning is sporting orange and blue next season, Raider Nation will be feeling pretty blue for years to come.
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