The Washington Times - March 8, 2012, 12:05PM

If the Redskins manage to reel in Peyton Manning, the biggest fish in the free agent sea, they’ll probably try to tell us what a “rare opportunity” it was, something they “just couldn’t pass up.” But it’s really not that rare an opportunity. A similar one, we tend to forget, presented itself in 2006.

Imagine how differently Redskins history might read if the team had made a play for Drew Brees that offseason. Granted, I’m exercising 20-20 hindsight here, but it’s still fun to think about. After all, in the six years since, Brees has thrown for 201 touchdowns, broken the record for passing yards in a season and led the Saints to their first NFL title. Who knows? He might have worked similar magic in Washington with receivers like Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and Brandon Lloyd, a running back like Clinton Portis and an offensive line that featured Chris Samuels in his prime. (Yeah, I know Lloyd was a disaster here, but Brees might have brought out his Better Brandon.)


Alas, it never happened – for a variety of reasons. For one thing, Joe Gibbs didn’t feel he needed a quarterback at that point. The Redskins had made the playoffs in ‘05 with Mark Brunell, and in the draft that year they’d traded up to take Brunell’s successor, Jason Campbell.

Unfortunately, Gibbs did need a QB; Bruney’s career, as it turned out, was in retrograde, and Campbell didn’t prove to be the long-term answer at the position. Two years later, Coach Joe retired for the second time, and the Redskins have been adrift ever since.

And to think they could have had Brees… . He wasn’t, obviously, the exalted figure he is today, but he had already made the Pro Bowl with the Chargers and was only 27 – nine years younger than Manning will be next season. The Bolts had decided not to franchise him because they figured Philip Rivers, their top pick in 2004, was ready to play (which, of course, he was). There also were concerns about a shoulder injury Drew had suffered in the last game of ‘05, a torn labrum that required surgery. As a result, only the Saints made a strong bid for him; the Dolphins, his other suitor, got scared off and wound up trading for Daunte Culpepper.

In many ways, then, Brees was the Peyton Manning of 2006. Like Manning, he was an accomplished quarterback who, due to unusual circumstances, was available in free agency. He was also, like Manning, seen as possibly damaged goods. Obviously, Washington wasn’t the only club that missed out on him, but, yikes, talk about Paradise Lost. I mean, the Redskins have been looking for stability at the QB spot for two decades now.

Ironic, isn’t it? The Redskins (who should have gone after Brees but didn’t) and the Dolphins (who did go after Brees but then backed off) are both pursuing Manning, with Miami thought to be the frontrunner. Drew, meanwhile, has had the franchise tag slapped on him by the Saints, who can’t imagine life without him. (And he’s still, at 33, three years younger than Peyton.)

It’s enough to make a Redskins fan bang his head against the wall.