What if Manning had gotten on to that private jet two years ago to talk with Seahawks general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll? What if they had sold him on the idea of being a Seahawk, and instead of playing against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, he was playing for them?
As it turned out, Seattle's interest was mostly one-sided, so we were probably never actually that close to seeing Manning in a Seahawks uniform. But still, it's impossible not to consider the possibilities now that the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl facing a future Hall-of-Fame player they briefly courted two years ago.
Carroll said Manning initially reached out to him, but when he and Schneider made a surprise trip to Denver on owner Paul Allen's jet, Manning, reportedly not a fan of surprises, didn't get on the plane, nor did he agree to any future meetings.
"Well, he called me, that was good," Carroll said. "He called us. That was a good start, then from there it just went downhill. I did not do a very good job on the phone."
Carroll can of course laugh about the situation now seeing as his team found its franchise quarterback in Russell Wilson later that spring and made it to the Super Bowl two years later.
"No I haven't spent much time on that since we've moved on," Carroll said. "It's kind of interesting that we're playing against them at this point and we wound up with Russell (Wilson) and they wound up with Peyton. So it's pretty cool."
But even if Carroll doesn't care to waste his time on a hypothetical, what else are we going to do with a week remaining until the Super Bowl? We've got time to kill, right? So let's go ahead and play the what-if game. Had the Seahawks landed Manning two years ago, we wouldn't simply be looking at this version of the Seahawks with a different quarterback.
Instead, the Seahawks would in all likelihood be a very different team. One of the biggest advantages teams with young quarterbacks have over the rest of the NFL is the money it frees up to spend elsewhere, and nowhere is that more evident than in this Super Bowl matchup. Russell Wilson had a base salary of $526,217 this season, and counted $681,085 towards Seattle's salary cap. Manning, meanwhile, made $15 million and counted $17.5 million towards the cap. He'll cost the same next year, while Wilson will again be one of the NFL's biggest bargains before he is eligible to negotiate a new deal following the 2014 season.
Being the architect of the team, Schneider is man who has to think multiple years ahead, yet he admits he also looks back when it comes to Seattle's attempt to land Manning.
"Yeah, often," he said. "I just think that we would have continued to do things the way we do it all the time. I know that we wouldn't have been able to afford several players, but we would have competed in other areas to compensate for it in where we were deficient in our roster. It's a daily process."
The "Legion of Boom" secondary would likely still be intact since none of those players have finished out their rookie deals aside from Kam Chancellor, who got an extension last offseason that may have been impossible with Manning on the books. But with Manning on the books, there would be a much higher probability that Richard Sherman or Earl Thomas would head elsewhere in free agency when their deals expire, or that Chancellor would be one game from free agency had Seattle not been able to extend him.
That trade for Percy Harvin, which so far hasn't amounted to much anyway, likely wouldn't have happened because the Seahawks wouldn't have been able to give him a big contract. The Seahawks perhaps could have added Cliff Avril or Michael Bennett in free agency, but certainly not both of them. And it's almost certain that a few veterans who have played big roles in this Super Bowl season wouldn't be on the this year's team, having been cut last offseason or the year before to help the team afford Manning's big contract.
Seattle's offense would almost certainly play a different style as well.
Yes, Carroll would still want to run the ball, but they would be foolish not to throw it more with Manning. Perhaps Seattle also would have signed players who fit specifically with Manning, both receivers who mesh with his style and also linemen who are better pass-blockers even if it comes at the expense of run blocking.
We'll never know if the Seahawks are better off as the deeper, more balanced team they are now, or if they would maybe be playing in a second straight Super Bowl with a high-flying offense Manning could have brought to Seattle. What we do know is that both teams came out of that decision pretty well, and that the Seahawks are in great shape at quarterback going forward.
And speaking of that, what of Russell Wilson?
Imagine how different his life would be right now if Manning had spent the past two seasons putting up big numbers in Seattle. Wilson might just be a second-year backup who nobody is talking about instead of one of the NFL's biggest young stars. Or maybe, feeling the need to improve the team around Manning, Schneider and Carroll, while still enamored with Wilson, would have decided to use that third-round pick on an offensive lineman or a receiver or tight end. Maybe Wilson would be proving his doubters wrong in some other city.
Carroll, however, says that Manning or no Manning, Wilson would still be a Seahawk, adding, "Knowing what I know now, we'd have taken him a little bit higher."
Manning was one of the biggest free agents in sport history, so it's hardly a stretch to say that a different decision two years ago would have drastically altered the future of (at least) two NFL franchises. We'll never know for sure how things would have turned out for the Seahawks, the Broncos, Manning or Wilson, had Manning gotten on that plane two years ago, but a week before the Super Bowl, it's still a fun to ask:
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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