Hall of Fame quarterbacks don’t enter the free agent market too often. Seattle needs an upgrade at quarterback and has very few options (possibly none) in the draft that will address this need. The Seahawks have enough cap room to sign a premier free agent, and the team is probably a quarterback and pass rush away from being a true Super Bowl contender. This should be a no-brainer. Give Peyton Manning a Top Pot donut, an umbrella and a big check. Call the Mayor’s office and start preparations for the ticker tape parade next January. The truth is, it might be that simple. Manning is that good, and teams have made bigger jumps to the Super Bowl than the Seahawks would have to in 2012. The more likely outcome is far less glamorous, and should be familiar to Seattle sports fans who have seen super stars come to Seattle for the final few gasps of their storied careers. A few major concerns come to mind when evaluating the possibility of Manning coming to Seattle.
The Cost Of The Peyton Manning Offense
Manning was drafted by the Colts, and has played his entire career there. The team was built around him. He runs an offense unlike any other in the NFL where the quarterback controls every aspect of what will happen from play-to-play. He makes the line calls, decides between run and pass, chooses which run and which pass, and does it all based on unparalleled understanding of defensive sets, personnel, and tendencies. There may never be another quarterback who both desires, and is capable of, taking on that level of responsibility.
Seattle runs an offense close to opposite the of Manning’s. Pete Carroll’s philosophy is to take as much pressure off the quarterback as possible by establishing a healthy running game that gets the team into manageable third down situations and reduces the chances for the other team’s offense to get on the field and score points. He finally saw the first glimpses of this approach toward the end of last season. That does not preclude Carroll setting aside his philosophy for an extraordinary exception like Manning, but it would absolutely be a major departure from the identify Carroll is trying to establish.
Assume that Carroll does believe it is worth changing the offensive identity for Manning. Assume that Manning can play at a high level for a couple of years. Do you think Josh Portis or Kirk Cousins or any other quarterback the Seahawks decide to groom behind Manning would be capable of running Manning’s offense? Not likely. Not likely at all. That means that the team would have to brace for a big drop-off once Manning leaves as the team has to install a new system that has not been practiced for a few years. That would be worth it if you have a few trophies to show for it, but would be a major detour from a championship if the team has not won one with Manning.
Nerve Damage And Spinal Injuries Are Unpredictable, Uncontrollable
Manning is not recovering from a torn ACL, broken leg, or even a shoulder injury. He has had four surgeries in less than two years on vertebrae in his neck. Nobody seems to know for sure if it was repeated surgery on the same disc in his neck (single-level degenerative disc disease), or separate surgeries on different discs (multi-level degenerative disc disease). The outlook varies dramatically depending on which type of situation Manning is facing. Degenerative disc disease is not something you recover from, or something that can be controlled. The surgery Manning had removes a disc between two vertebrae to seal/fuse them together so that they don’t pinch the nerve between them. Pinching the nerve is what causes loss of strength, numbness and tingling, which is what caused Manning to get the first surgery. Fusion can address that particular problem, but spines are not meant to be fused, so the lack of flexibility can result in problems in other discs and/or arthritis in the fused section of the spine. There is also risk of the nerves effected by the surgery never fully recovering. You can’t go to the gym and rehab a nerve. It either recovers, or it doesn’t. Assume that Manning has the best-case scenario single-level degenerative disc disease, and that his nerves recover fully. He would be able to throw well enough to get signed. What happens when he takes his first hit? His 40th hit? Discs are designed to handle shock and impact by compressing without allowing vertebrae to collide. Taking one out creates more strain on the remaining discs, and can lead to more nerve damage. As someone who has degenerative disc disease, and has experienced intense pain from the simple motion of shampooing my hair, it is very hard to imagine how someone could play a sport like football very long before serious problems crop up.
Manning Is Not Conducive To Perennial Contention
John Schneider and Pete Carroll regularly talk about wanting to contend year in, and year out. Evidence suggests that Super Bowl winners breed a culture of winning, as opposed to flashing and fading. The best franchises win the lion’s share of championships. It is possible that Manning could come in and help the team get its first Super Bowl trophy, and that’s nothing to belittle. It is hard to see, however, how it would not hamstring the teams attempt to build a perpetually winning franchise. If building a winning franchise is like building a house, the quarterback is the foundation. Manning is more like the foundation, the electrical wiring, the furnace, and the plumbing. Swapping him out is no easy task. Ask the Colts. The Seahawks will be contenders for the division title with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. They are getting their system in place, have a young developing line, and an emerging running game. All of that gets shelved if Manning comes in.
Manning famously prefers to take all the reps in practice, as opposed to the 2nd string QB getting ~10-20% and the 3rd string getting ~5%. Nobody doubts that Manning would be a short-term solution, which means the team would be 2-3 years from needing a replacement. How do you develop his replacement while running a different system while giving him no reps? Manning is not known for his mentoring abilities either. In fact, he is known for seeing his quarterback teammates as threats. Again, that would probably be forgiven if he wins you a championship, but how sure are you that will happen?
Money Spent On Manning Is Money Not Spent Elsewhere
The Seahawks are on a fantastic trajectory as it is. Signing Manning is an “all in” scenario that means they must win it all in the next few years, and then be willing to suffer some growing pains for the years after he retires. The alternative is to spend the estimated $23M per year on pass rushers, linebackers, wide receivers, and extending talent already on the team. Seattle’s entire starting defense by the end of last season cost roughly $20M.
None of these reasons individually are enough to scare someone off from signing Manning, but all of them together make adding him a questionable move. The Seahawks are onto something great with the patient approach to building a roster through the draft. Patience has not even been all that necessary given the amount of talent added in just two drafts. Going big on Manning feels like it could put the entire process at risk without enough reward to justify that risk. The next obvious question is, “if not Manning, who?” The answer nobody wants to hear is that there may not be a good answer this year. The draft offers a variety of options. Portis may grow up to be more than expected. The team could draft two quarterbacks this year, and another one next year. The absence of a clear quarterback solution, however, does not warrant making a rash decision.