Shanahan’s pedigree, larger market could tempt Manning

Imagine this: Peyton Manning coming out of the tunnel at FedEx Field this September, poised to lead Mike Shanahan’s Washington Redskins to glory while solidifying both his and the coach’s Hall of Fame legacies.

Does that sound too good to be true? It might be, but that won’t stop downtrodden Redskins fans from dreaming.

Almost a fortnight into the NFL’s offseason, the Redskins‘ search for a franchise quarterback has begun anew. The hunt has produced more questions than answers over the past two decades. This year’s version involves an unparalleled level of intrigue surrounding Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play. That, of course, means more questions.

The most important is whether Manning, who turns 36 next month, is healthy after missing the 2011 season following multiple neck surgeries, including a cervical fusion procedure. As one informed source recently put it: “If the Colts release Peyton, it’s because they believe he is damaged goods.”

Let’s say for a moment, though, that Manning is healthy enough to resume his career and Colts owner Jim Irsay releases him for the sake of continuing his organizational overhaul. At least a half-dozen teams would vie for Manning, who would accept a new contract with little guaranteed money, according to an ESPN report.

But why on Earth would a 36-year-old icon choose to sign with an offensively challenged Redskins team that has won only 11 of 32 games over the past two seasons?

Well, this is the nation’s capital, not to mention a rabid football town. There are enticements on and off the field.

From a football perspective, the Redskins‘ recruiting pitch would have to center on the opportunity for Manning to team with Shanahan. Manning has one Super Bowl ring, and Shanahan has three. Manning in 2010 ranked second in the NFL with 4,700 passing yards, while Shanahan is intent on upgrading from incumbent quarterback Rex Grossman.

Both love being in control, but that isn’t necessarily a precursor for conflict.

“I think there’s no question in Mike’s mind that would be a beneficial pairing,” said Mark Schlereth, an ESPN analyst and former offensive lineman who won two Super Bowls under Shanahan in Denver after winning one in Washington for coach Joe Gibbs.

“Everybody that plays the game and coaches in this game has an ego — it’s just the way it is — some more than others,” Mr. Schlereth said. “But ultimately what trumps ego is wins. I think Mike is ultimately about winning, and championships are what really count. So I don’t think he’d have any problem at all orchestrating and constructing something that fits both of them.”

Manning might be deterred by the very reason the Redskins would pursue him — the rest of their offense lacks potency. Redskins coaches hope to add more playmakers at such positions as wide receiver to help the next quarterback, but Manning could choose a team with more established talent, such as Miami.

Schematically, though, Shanahan and Manning might mesh well.

“Some people talk about how Peyton likes to run multiple tight ends without a fullback,” Mr. Schlereth said. “I know in Mike’s offense there’s plenty of opportunity to do that. Some of Peyton’s best play-action stuff is off the deep stretch handoff, which there’s plenty of that kind of motion in Shanahan’s offense, as well.”

Where the football reasons end, the off-the-field incentives begin. If you don’t watch football, surely you’d recognize Manning’s pronounced forehead from one of the many commercials for products and brands he endorses. There’s Sprint, DirecTV, MasterCard, Gatorade and more.

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