Peyton Manning could have been the quarterback of the Washington Redskins.
Just a few days after his longtime team, the Indianapolis Colts, released Manning following 13 seasons with the club, the stunned quarterback was just starting the process of finding a new home. On his list: the Redskins.
Manning met with coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle, the offensive coordinator, at their suburban Denver home. Washington had been an intriguing possibility for the free agent, who was released on March 7, 2012 before a massive bonus was due from the Colts. Indianapolis' 2-14 season without Manning the year before had it in line to select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
"I wouldn't have met with [the Redskins] had I not been considering a number of options," Manning said in a conference call on Wednesday. "That was very early in the process for me and I was just getting a feel for how this whole process works. ... I enjoyed that visit with him and Kyle both. I was very impressed with Kyle Shanahan and Mike and I have had somewhat of a relationship for quite some time now."
But that meeting was tempered by a major event the day before. That's when Washington acquired the second pick in the 2012 draft for three first-round picks and a second rounder. The prize? Robert Griffin III.
Manning ended up in Denver, where in his second season he has the Broncos rolling at 6-1 and with the NFL's top offense. They finally lost for the first time this past weekend against Indianapolis.
That becomes Shanahan's problem this Sunday when his 2-4 team faces Denver on the road. But he doesn't think back on that conversation with Manning much anymore. Given the Griffin trade and the presence of Peyton's brother, Eli, in the NFC East quarterbacking the New York Giants, the prospect of Peyton coming to Washington quickly became unlikely.
"I really had a strong feeling after talking to Peyton," Shanahan said. "Any time you have a brother within the same division, that wasn't going to happen. And so even though I enjoyed spending time with him, my gut was understanding from a family standpoint it would be very tough to come within the same division."
Manning is off to one of the best starts of an eventual Hall-of-Fame career. Through seven games, he has completed 207 passes (71.6 completion percentage) for 2,565 yards and 25 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Manning's career best is 49 touchdowns in 2004. Four times in the previous 14 seasons he has topped 4,500 passing yards.
"I don't know a lot about the older guys. [Dan] Marino, those guys, yeah, I grew up watching those guys," Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said. "But right now [Manning is] the best that ever did it. And I say that because you seen it. You seen it firsthand and you see him do it week-in and week-out. Him playing the game is like a guru of the game."
Manning is on pace to set personal bests in passing yards and touchdowns at age 37, just two years after the neck surgery that cost him the 2011 season and threatened to end his playing career early. It is a remarkable recovery and his arm strength, though not what it once was, has recovered enough.
"We have to play our best game. And I think defensively we've had some really good moments," Redskins safety Reed Doughty said. "And you can have moments just like the Colts had moments. And then [Manning] scores 21 real quick. Obviously, [Indianapolis] ended up getting the better of that game because of turnovers. But he can put them on you. If you play three great quarters and have one bad quarter you're going to lose the football game."
Manning has remained healthy since joining the Broncos until last weekend when he sustained an ankle injury. Manning did not practice on Wednesday, but told reporters in Denver that he would be on the field Thursday. That's a limited boost to a Redskins defense that must contend with a quarterback who seemingly knows everything his opponent wants to do on a given play.
"[Manning is] the best in the league at doing it," Washington linebacker London Fletcher said. "He's been doing it for so long. It's definitely somewhat of a chess match and he's a master chess player."
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