Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison; Manning to Reggie Wayne; Manning to…Arrelious Benn? Hey, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. After 14 seasons as the face of the franchise, the Indianapolis Colts have decided to release the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. By doing so, Manning immediately becomes one of the biggest attractions on the free agent market. The Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, Cowboys, Chiefs and Redskins have been proposed as potential landing spots. I’m going to throw another team out there —The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
*&^!$#!, But Josh Freeman is our franchise quarterback! Ugh, I can already hear fans grumbling. I know that, folks. I like Freeman. I think he has the athletic ability to be a top-5 quarterback one day. And that’s why I’m proposing the Bucs make a play for Manning. In the grand scheme of things, this move benefits Freeman. Josh is young—still just 24—and needs a proven veteran to take him under their wing.
This idea has worked before with a quarterback named Steve Young. Maybe you’ve heard of him. Lifelong fans will remember Young as the number one overall pick in the 1984 supplemental draft. In two seasons with the team, he posted an 11-to-21 touchdown to interception ratio and looked like he was over-matched. Tampa Bay didn’t have an established veteran quarterback on its roster and in 1987, Young found himself second on the depth chart of the San Francisco 49ers, behind another quarterback you may have heard of—Joe Montana. Montana was in his ninth year in the league, had been selected to four Pro Bowls, and was a two-time Super Bowl winner. He was the perfect candidate for Young to mature under. He continued to learn from Montana, playing scarcely until 1992. After that, Young rolled off seven consecutive Pro Bowls en route to a Hall-of-Fame induction.
Twenty years from now, Bucs fans could be re-telling this story about Josh Freeman. Bringing Manning to Tampa might just be the ingredient that saves the franchise. First, the entire team will improve with him on the roster. He’s like a coach on the field. And really, I like what he’ll bring off the field even more than what he’ll do on it. The way he watches film, for example; Manning is a bit of a perfectionist. He studies every play and every defensive scheme, looking for any weaknesses he can use to his advantage. He reads coverage before the snap better than any quarterback I’ve seen. He’s a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. I’d like to think his precision would rub off on Freeman. Furthermore, Tampa Bay’s defense would improve with Manning under center. It’s like a baseball philosophy – If you can hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league, you can hit one off anybody. Playing consistently against Manning in practice would prepare Tampa’s defense for just about any other quarterback they’ll face. And if they can contain Manning and frustrate him, you can bet opposing quarterbacks will be too.
Secondly, Raymond James Stadium didn’t sell out much last year…or the year before for that matter. The city of Tampa needs a star attraction. It’s getting annoying to have to watch bits and pieces of Bucs games on a crappy Internet feed, due to a TV blackout because the game isn’t selling out. Manning in a Bucs uniform would change that in a heartbeat. He is a living legend – the player people can’t wait to see because they know they might not see a player of his caliber for the rest of their lives. I think even casual football fans would be interested. If you sign him, people will come.
Money isn’t a problem either. The Bucs have slightly more than $60 million in cap space available, the most in the NFL. Even if Tampa invests $20 million into Manning, that still leaves a hefty chunk of cap room that can be used to resign players, sign draft picks, and target other top tier free agents.
Signing Manning is a risk. I’m not disputing that. He’s coming off multiple neck surgeries. Usually that screams STAY AWAY! However, I believe he’s less hurt than people think. Video has leaked of him throwing in North Carolina and multiple sources say his workouts showed massive improvement. In today’s news conference, Manning clearly stated that he is not going to retire. And really, even a 90 percent Peyton Manning warrants free agent hype. His work ethic would completely transform Tampa Bay. He’s the veteran leader the Bucs desperately need – the missing link. Plus, just the other day, the Bucs signed former Colts quarterbacks coach Ron Turner to take the same position in Tampa. Could this be foreshadowing of things to come?
Honestly, no one has any idea where Manning is going to end up. That’s up to him. Arizona and Miami seem like solid venues but do they have the money available to afford him? I believe he’ll want to go someplace where he can start and have control of the offense. I think new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan would be fine with that. After all, he’s already had coaching experience in New York with his brother Eli.
Whether the Bucs sign him or not, a couple things are certain: Manning will work as hard as anyone to prove critics wrong, his work ethic will influence teammates to train harder, he’ll attract fans to the stadium, and he’ll give his heart and soul to the game – as he always has. What’s not to like?
Follow James on Twitter @JLoPresti87