- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Picture Peyton Manning in a Washington Redskins uniform. Just entertain the possibility, even though there’s no telling if it’ll ever happen. Would he have to slip Terrence Austin a few bucks to gain proprietary rights to the number 18? So many thoughts rush through your head.

Something is going to happen soon with Manning. It might happen as soon as next week, when the Super Bowl leaves town. The Indianapolis Colts have a decision to make regarding their franchise quarterback, and their franchise quarterback — and his doctors — have a decision to make about his surgically repaired neck and career prospects.

Manning has said he’d like to keep playing. Why wouldn’t he? He’ll be 36 this spring, not 76. And if there isn’t a place for him in Indy, which is expected to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft, then there’s certainly a place for him somewhere else. In fact, there’s a place for him here, with the Redskins, who have been casting about for a QB for the better part of two decades.

A tantalizing prospect, to say the least. All the more so because, as I said, there’s such a hunger in Washington for a quality quarterback who could lead the club back to prominence. If Manning took the Redskins to the playoffs a few times, made them relevant again, he might become as beloved in D.C. as Sonny Jurgensen is. Such is the depths of Redskins Nation’s despair.

At the moment, though, there are a mountain of “ifs” separating possibility from reality. First, Manning has to get reassurances from doctors. They’re “encouraged” by his progress, he says, but that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’ve been given the green light.” He also has to resolve his contract situation with the Colts. They owe him a $28 million bonus March 8, five days before free agency begins, and if they don’t pay it he can peddle himself to the highest bidder.

Owner Jim Irsay is in a tough spot. He might not know by March 8 if Manning is capable of playing this season (or any season). If he does know, though, he might opt to keep Manning around for another year or two so Luck could be eased into the starting job.

It’s not likely, but Irsay has been doing some unlikely things in the wake of the Colts‘ 2-14 bottoming-out. Nobody, for instance, foresaw the firing of vice chairman Bill Polian (and his son, Chris, the team’s general manager), not after so much success. And I won’t even get into the “4 finger circus clowns” episode on Twitter. (It’s a long story.)

Anyway, say Manning cleared the first two hurdles and became available. What would make him want to come to Washington? We’re talking, after all, about a pretty smart guy. He could just as easily survey the scene at Redskins Park and say: “Oh, great. They’ve got a left tackle who’s a toke away from yearlong suspension.”

Or: “Do I really want to spend my last few seasons in a division that has three teams that can really rush the passer?”

Or: “I’d have go to against Eli twice a year. Who needs that circus?

Still, the Redskins would be nuts not to take a run at Manning, even with all the question marks hovering over him. After all, he still was playing at a high level in his last healthy season (33 touchdown passes, 91.9 rating). And while he turns 36 in March, plenty of quarterbacks that age — and older — have gone to the Super Bowl (e.g. John Elway, Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton), and some have even won it. Heck, Brett Favre was an OT away from the Super Bowl at 40.

And let’s not forget, the Redskins have been successful in the Snyder era at sweet-talking free agents into signing on the dotted line. They always seem to get their man, for better or worse, whether it’s Deion Sanders, Jeremiah Trotter or Albert Haynesworth. Mike Shanahan’s sales pitch could be very convincing. “Look at what I did with Elway in the late ‘90s, when he was at the end of his career and had never won a Super Bowl,” he could tell Manning. “We can do the same things here.” To make Peyton even more comfortable, he could promise to sign his top target in Indy — five-time Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne, whose contract is up.

So much is at stake here. For Shanahan, whose past five teams have missed the playoffs, it’s a chance to resurrect his reputation. For Manning, it’s all about how the Final Chapter is going to read. Does one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time have any magic left? Can he change uniforms late in his career and lead another club to glory (while also buying Shanny time to groom a successor)?

Who wouldn’t want to see that story play out — however it did — in Washington? And there’s no reason why it can’t. But first Manning has to heal. And then the Redskins have to make it happen.