This past weekend, Peyton Manning spent six and a half hours talking to Arizona Cardinals officials. It's been no secret that since Kurt Warner left the team, the Cardinals have struggled to find consistency in their passing game. Quarterbacks have shuffled in and out. Despite this, here's why I think the Cardinals do not need to sign Peyton Manning.
The first- and perhaps most obvious reason- is money. One website reports that Skelton signed a four-year, 1.97 million dollar deal in 2010. He has already served two years of his contract. Assuming that he will be the starter in 2012 (which by no means is a sure bet), he will be paid $490,000. Conversely, the Colts signed Manning to a lucrative contract in which he would have received an average of $19 million per year. While Manning may not command that sort of salary after spending all of 2011 on the sidelines with an injury, it's safe to say that he will be making more than John Skelton in 2012- perhaps even more than Kevin Kolb, who signed a 5-year $63 million dollar contract in the off-season last year. With multiple teams interested in Peyton Manning, it seems doubtful that he will go to the team offering the least amount of money.
The second reason- surprisingly- is wins. Peyton Manning has an outstanding won-loss record during his career of 141-67 (67.8). Any Colts fan can tell you how much he's meant to the franchise. However- and this is the really important point- in his young career, John Skelton isn't far behind with a 9-5 record (64.3%) over 2010 and 2011. Through 14 weeks of a regular season, a 9-5 team has a pretty good shot at making the playoffs. I would be remiss to note there that Peyton Manning won a lot of games all on his own- especially at home in Indianapolis- while Skelton's games were often won on good defense and team effort. Still, the statistic is there: John Skelton is a winner. He hasn't won games in dominating fashion, but that fourth quarter courage is there, something every playoff team wants to have. Projecting Skelton's current win percentage into 208 games (the number Manning has played), Skelton ends up with a 133-75 record. Most teams would be very happy with a winning percentage like that, especially if they could get away with paying a very low salary to get it.
Thirdly, we have the offensive line of the Cardinals. Arizona's offensive line has been well...offensive. By now, the team should have run out of patience with Levi Brown and looked towards younger players. Of course, not every offensive lineman turns into Joe Thomas or Dermotti Dawson, but there are better players out there. Dominating the line of scrimmage has not been a priority for the organization for some time, and there's a lot of danger putting an aging quarterback who has had multiple surgeries to his neck behind a group of guys who have struggled protecting the passer. Nor is Manning a mobile quarterback- his ability to protect himself lays in his quick release, not his ability to scramble and extend plays. What happens when the Cardinals visit the 49ers and their tough defense? Will Manning make the offensive line better, or will further risk for injury occur? This is a huge question mark the Cardinals need to address before they sign anyone.
Lastly, when you have a franchise quarterback like Peyton Manning, the general rule of thumb is to build around that player. The Saints have done it with Drew Brees and the Packers have done with Aaron Rodgers. These teams are oriented towards the offense. After all, if you put Drew Brees behind center for the Cleveland Browns, who is there to throw to? Does it even matter if you have the best quarterback in the league if there's not much talent there? Of course, Larry Fitzgerald is a world-class receiver. He's on a path straight to a first-ballot hall of fame entry. There's no doubt that these two would keep defensive coordinators up at night, perhaps the same way that Manning to Marvin Harrison did in 2002 when Harrison caught 143 passes. But outside of Fitzgerald, who is there? Neither Early Doucet nor Andre Roberts have proven themselves as of yet, despite Arizona's pass-happy offense. Part of that has to do with quarterback inaccuracy but part of that also has to do with inconsistent play from wide receivers not named Fitzgerald. Despite showing a ton of potential last year, Rob Housler didn't really grow into the all-pro tight end he certainly can be. Acquiring Peyton Manning might mean acquiring another group of players- perhaps Stevie Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon or another receiver. Signing Peyton Manning re-defines the entire organization. It automatically forces a shift in a different direction, one which the Cardinals did not appear headed towards as the 2011 season ended.
Given all these reasons, I believe it's in Arizona's best interest not to sign Peyton Manning. If the team can win without him, why not do that?