Peyton Manning has many suitors, but don’t count out the Redskins

Sally Jenkins
Columnist March 8, 2012

The smart-aleck money says the Washington Redskins are the ugliest of Peyton Manning’s 12-and-counting suitors, and they can’t compete with the warm allures of Miami or Arizona. But I’m not so sure. Mike Shanahan has the best relationship with Manning of any coach vying for him, and there is nothing in Manning’s career that suggests ease is what he’s really after. Otherwise, he already would be on television.

Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen have to at least try for Manning, who even as a sore-necked 35-year old remains the free agent catch of a generation.

Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

Here is what Shanahan’s pitch to Manning should be: “You are our missing piece. Partner with me, and we will make this historical franchise a winner again overnight. Don’t just play out your last years in a sunny clime. Let’s do something great together, in a place that matters.”

Shanahan and Allen will need to put the Redskins’ best foot forward, of course, employ every bit of their pin-striped gravitas to convince Manning that a decade of amateurish dysfunction under owner Daniel Snyder is over. But they can make a surprisingly strong sell, based on how much they have done to upgrade the outfit in just two years. Here is the argument they can legitimately make to Manning: “We are a team on the brink and you are the tipping point.”

Yes, the Redskins were 5-11 last season, they will say, but all the signs and arrows tilt in the right direction, upwards.

In two brief offseasons, they have transformed the Redskins from one of the oldest teams in the league to one of the youngest, with an average age of just 26.

They have cleansed the locker room of its toxic influences, drafted strongly, and been resourceful but sensible in free agency. They have gotten younger and more talented while creating more than $40 million in cap space to fill in their remaining holes.

“And that is a dramatic break with the recent past,” Shanahan should say. “We are no longer handcuffed by overspending and lousy draft judgment. Our problems are nothing that one more round of strong offseason player acquisitions can’t cure, and we have the ability to go after any receiver and offensive lineman you like. Reggie Wayne? Pierre Garcon? We will open the checkbook.”

If there is such a thing as a promising losing team, the Redskins are one, Shanahan will argue. He can say without sounding silly, “We are closer to winning than we appear.” He can stress the 3-1 start before they lost nine starters to injuries. Six of their losses came by one possession, seven points or less. And that was with Rex Grossman and John Beck under center. There is no reason why they can’t flip those results with Manning. The bright side to the injuries is that it gave some young players a chance to develop.

Interestingly, they played some of their best football against playoff teams, giving the San Francisco 49ers all they wanted before losing, 19-11, and the same with the New England Patriots, 34-27.

It needs no repeating that they beat the Giants twice. They also beat two of Manning’s more avid suitors, the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.

The endless speculation about what Manning wants in a new home, whether warm weather, or a dome, or an AFC team, tends to miss the mark. The smart suitor will understand he is looking for something deeper than all that. Manning made it clear in his classy news conference that what he values above all else is a sense of attachment, partnership. The Redskins have the ability to address that craving in Manning to an extent that his other suitors do not.

Shanahan and Manning have deep mutual regard dating from the 2007 Pro Bowl, and as Manning said back then, it’s hard to find a coach of Shanahan’s quality. “The grass is not always greener,” he remarked. No other coach in the league has forged such successful partnerships with veteran quarterbacks as Shanahan has, from John Elway to Steve Young, who still raves about him.

Shanahan will say: “The idea that we can’t coexist is total nonsense and we both know it. We got a taste of what it would be like to work together at the Pro Bowl, and came away tantalized.

“I’ve said for years there is not another quarterback in this era who can run an offense like you do, who deserves to be fully in charge of his check-offs and protections. You know my opinion of you, and I know your opinion of me. It would be a meeting of like minds. I’m your safest and best choice for a coach.”

There are drawbacks to playing for the Redskins, of course, and Shanahan can’t sugarcoat those.

There is still work to be done on the roster, and Snyder remains an owner with an unpredictable tripwire, despite two years of restraint. But every other team courting Manning has drawbacks, too.

Miami’s Joe Philbin has never been a head coach at the age of 50. Rex Ryan’s style makes for a volcanic, rivalrous New York Jets locker room, and what’s with how easily disenchanted he is with young Mark Sanchez? Arizona has to build an offensive line almost from scratch, unlike the Redskins, who are much further along in rebuilding their interior, and Ken Whisenhunt has no more job security than Shanahan does.

In fact, the Redskins have as good a chance of landing Manning as any team.

They can’t know what will be the decider.

It won’t be money, which at this point in Manning’s career is simply a mark of respect. It’s more likely to be an intangible, some instinct or affinity or caution. It’s said he doesn’t want to play against his brother Eli and the Giants twice a season, but is that a deal-breaker? Who knows?

Meantime, the Redskins have plenty of attractions to throw at Manning, including one seldom mentioned: the power of location. No other team can offer Manning the chance to live in, play in, and partner with such an illustrious city.

Shanahan should say: “We know from your obvious emotion at leaving the Colts that you are seeking more than just a job, you’re seeking an attachment, a relationship. Come visit us. Stand on the roof of the W Hotel and look at the monuments by moonlight, glittering like a necklace of jewels against dark velvet. What other city can promise you such a splendid, prestigious, and appreciative home? It would be a rich reward to win here, of all places.”

For previous Sally Jenkins columns, go to washingtonpost.com/jenkins.

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