- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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It was breathtaking -- and occasionally funny -- how Manning made many lesser quarterbacks richer or infinitely more attractive than they already were on his way to expertly extracting $96 million from the Broncos and separating Tim Tebow from that shotgun marriage with John Elway that was probably never going to last anyway, judging from the way Elway seemed to applaud every winning drive Tebow pulled off like some director faking happiness at the Oscars when someone else wins Best Picture.
Elway at least got the quarterback he wanted. The other red-faced NFL executives who went swan diving into the Manning Sweepstakes are now paying for it through the nose.
Many of them invoked the phrase "just doing my due diligence" as if they were hoping to confer a sort of chummy, "nothing personal!" feel to their chase of Manning.
But pretending there was some dispassionate set of scientific steps they were duty-bound to follow hasn't spared them from having to acknowledge the cold truth: Even teams that had no chance at Manning leaped into the sweepstakes like besotted goofs with lyin', cheatin' hearts. And now they're finding the quarterbacks they already had or desperately want as their Plan Bs fully intend to exercise their own due-diligence right to pout or complain or leverage free agency for every last promise and nickel they can get. Because after seeing all that "kicking the tires" on Peyton -- oh dear, oh my, will you look at that -- the other quarterbacks know why the runner-up GMs were suddenly making phones ring again: You didn't get him, did you?
Isn't that why you're calling me?
"It's hush money," former Eagles linebacker Hugh Douglas said with a laugh after the Jets made the head-scratching announcement that they'd given their beleaguered quarterback, Mark Sanchez, a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension the same day word surfaced that they didn't make Peyton's short list.
Sanchez seemed to have little leverage after last season's dip to an 8-8 finish. His existing contract still had two more seasons to run, and patience with him among some players in his own locker room is far shorter than that. After seeing the 49ers' Alex Smith tweak his own team by heading off on a take-that visit to Miami, it was almost adorable -- it really was -- when Sanchez said the message his new deal sent to the Jets' divided locker room was "I'm the leader" around here. As if all bets aren't off next spring should Drew Brees shake loose in New Orleans after his franchise tag year.
The Jets' extravagance was hardly unusual. The Redskins sent everything but the Smithsonian to St. Louis for the right to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III when Manning passed on them.
Titans owner Bud Adams stopped just short of writing Manning into his will to try to lure him back to Tennessee, the state where Manning played his college ball.
Seattle and Pete Carroll had the bright idea of sending a private jet to Denver while Manning was visiting there, hoping the unsolicited gesture would flatter him so much, why, he'd hop on board to be whisked away on an unscheduled recruiting trip. Manning passed instead. If anything, the stunt may have creeped him out. Isn't there a whole oeuvre of B-movies where body-snatching aliens pull the same thing? You're told you're heading to Seattle, sure -- then boom! Next stop, Polaris.
And how good is it to be Matt Flynn right now? The Seahawks were so desperate to avoid looking like the Miami Dolphins West, they treated Flynn as if he might someday be indistinguishable from Aaron Rodgers, the man he backed up the past few years in Green Bay.
Seattle was willing to pay Flynn millions more than Miami, which is now battling San Francisco to avoid becoming the biggest loser in the Manning Sweepstakes by turning its full attention to Smith (in addition to pulling castoff Jacksonville backup David Garrard off the scrap heap, too, just in case Smith patches things up).
Smith's flirtation with Miami started only after 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh began wooing Peyton -- this after acting as if Smith had hung the stars and the moon in the sky over Candlestick Park during the 49ers' 13-3 season that fell just a field goal shy of the Super Bowl.
Harbaugh's about-face was a weird bit of triangulation, was it not? Remember, Manning was the guy who replaced Harbaugh as the Colts' quarterback back in 1998, and before leaving Stanford for the 49ers, Harbaugh coached Andrew Luck, whom the Colts intend to take with the No. 1 overall pick this year, the planned move which resulted in Manning being cut loose as a free agent and made eligible to be wooed by Harbaugh? (Yes, the room is indeed spinning. It's not you.)
Manning is the NFL's Robin Hood, all right. He's a rainmaker, not just a heartbreaker.
Somebody is about to make Smith even richer than Flynn just became. And either way, Harbaugh has some serious explaining to do.
Smith recently said, "Nothing in the NFL surprises me anymore."
Which is true enough. But it will still be staggering if Smith goes to Miami and the 49ers are the ones left without a quarterback. The same will be true if Tebow wafts down in Jacksonville, the place where he grew up, and saves that franchise from constant rumors it may have to relocate, same as Manning's arrival once upon a time saved Indy.
Both outcomes would perfectly dovetail with the pattern of Manning's free-agency tour taking from the rich and giving to the poor. And let's face it, when it comes to quarterbacks, the Dolphins -- who have plowed through 17 of them since Dan Marino retired -- are about as quarterback poor as an NFL team gets.
Teams that had no chance at Peyton Manning leaped in like besotted goofs. Now they're finding the QBs they had or want as their Plan Bs intend to exercise their right to pout or complain or leverage free agency.