Seahawks should make run at Manning

SEATTLE — On a couple of occasions since they moved into their shiny new digs, the Seahawks have tried to woo big-name free agents by flying them to their lakeside headquarters in a seaplane.

Well if T.J. Houshmandzadeh was worthy of a ride in a single-prop seaplane, then Seahawks owner Paul Allen ought to be rigging a Boeing Dreamliner with pontoons to bring Peyton Manning to the VMAC.

Preposterous you say? Probably. But so is the idea that a four-time MVP, one of the greatest quarterbacks of his or any other era, is available as an unrestricted free agent. Yet there Manning is, a risky but potentially franchise-changing player, ready to be snapped up by a team willing to shell out some big money and trust in a surgically fused neck.

Now, there is a ton we don’t know right now.

For starters, no one other than Manning and perhaps a few members of his inner circle know if he is willing to play in Seattle. He’s never lived close to the west coast, let alone Seattle, the most remote outpost in the NFL.

Nor do we know if he’ll be against playing in an outdoor stadium in a soggy climate after a spending his career putting up big numbers in a dome.

Then there’s that not-so-little issue of Manning’s health. He missed the entire 2011 season following a series of neck surgeries, and nerves in his throwing arm are still regenerating.

But for the sake of the rest of this column, let’s assume two things (because if we don’t there is no sense arguing about whether or not the Seahawks should make a run at Manning).

One, let’s assume Manning hasn’t ruled Seattle out as a destination to finish his career. We know he visited Denver on Friday, and according to the Denver Post he also plans to visit Miami and Arizona, but we don’t yet know he won’t check out the Seahawks.

And two, let’s assume that Manning will be healthy and ready to play football by the end of the summer. No, he may never be the same player he was before missing an entire season, but even at 80 or 90 percent of his old self, Manning would be one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

So, if Manning can play next year, and if he is willing to consider Seattle, should the Seahawks make a big push to sign him? Absolutely.

Manning won’t come cheap, nor is he a long-term solution at the position that has been a question mark for the Seahawks for the past three seasons. But Manning is a player who could turn the Seahawks from a good, up-and-coming team in 2012 to a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Seattle’s defense went from promising to just plain good in the second half of last season, and with a rejuvenated running game, the Seahawks are good enough to have a winning record next year with Tarvaris Jackson under center. But with Manning running the offense, the Seahawks and their fans could dream big.

“He elevates everybody’s game,” said Brock Huard, who was a backup quarterback behind Manning for two seasons in Indianapolis. “That’s offense, defense, everybody. Everybody’s job gets a little bit easier. Last year in Indy, you saw how disastrous that was when he was taken away. He would make Mike Williams infinitely better, he’s going to make those slot receivers better, he’d make Zach Miller better. He would even make Marshawn Lynch better because of his ability get to the ideal run plays.”

Huard, a former Husky and Seahawk who now co-hosts the Brock and Salk show on 710 ESPN Seattle, was immediately impressed with Manning when he joined the Colts in 2002. And it wasn’t Manning’s physical skills that stood out as much has the way the Pro Bowl quarterback prepared.

“It is his commitment to the craft,” Huard said. “It’s every last-minute detail. He’s maniacal in his approach to his fundamentals and techniques. It really is all encompassing. … There are no days off for him. He’s seven days a week for 20 weeks a season. No one spends more hours on it than him. I would have half a dozen or a dozen pages of notes going into each game; he would have 40 or 50 pages of notes. It looked like hieroglyphics. Most importantly he could retain that information and regurgitate it in a split second.

“He’s a phenomenal talent as a quarterback, but the preparation and commitment and work ethic is second to none.”

Those assets that Huard describes won’t be gone even if Manning isn’t quite the same physically. And Manning certainly understands why the Colts would decide to move on and take Andrew Luck with the first pick in this year’s draft, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be motivated to show he is still one of the game’s best quarterbacks.

And here’s the thing: Signing Manning, while expensive, shouldn’t keep the Seahawks from building for the future. Signing Manning requires no draft picks or players as compensation.

So the Seahawks can still draft a quarterback this year or next year to bring along slowly, and they will still have a young nucleus with or without Manning that will make the team good this year and even better down the road. So where is the harm in trying to speed up the process with a future Hall of Famer?

Maybe Green Bay backup Matt Flynn, a free agent who some say Seattle might go after, will be a great NFL quarterback. Or maybe one of the college quarterbacks that will be available to Seattle with the No. 12 draft pick will develop into an elite quarterback, but in those cases, maybe is the key word.

Manning — again, assuming for a second he is healthy — is a known commodity. There is no maybe in his game. He’ll turn 36 later this month, which is hardly young, but that’s not prohibitively old for a quarterback either.

Yes, the Seahawks in 2015 might be a little bit further behind if Manning spends a few of years here, but for a franchise that has been to only one Super Bowl — and I don’t need to remind anyone how that game turned out — isn’t that a risk worth taking if it means a drastically improved chance at a long-awaited championship?

It is worth the risk. So call Boeing, Mr. Allen, and see about making that Dreamliner seaworthy.

Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.

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