Washington likes nothing better than a quarterback controversy, or a quarterback debate, or a quarterback scandal — even in an election year.

That’s why the very words “Peyton Manning” have the same effect on Redskins fans as that of dangling a drool-soaked tennis ball over a Labrador’s head right before tossing it in the yard.

Once again, the lab — and a lot of Redskins fans — will go running.

But not all Redskins fans. Some will look at that beat-up tennis ball and lie right down on the porch, waiting for someone to take a fresh ball out of the can.

And that’s what makes it a great debate topic, at least for those whose sports heart died last Sunday with the end of the Super Bowl. Those hearts might temporarily restart for next week’s NFL Combine, but the real adrenaline shot is the draft in April. So until then, this is what they’ve got.

And it’s a legitimate debate. They don’t want another season of Rex Grossman, with John Beck as a sort of midseason palate cleanser that, somewhat miraculously, made them want Grossman back. Peyton Manning — with his Super Bowl ring and his commanding presence and his confidence — looks pretty good after whatever that was we saw last season.

Except that Manning turns 36 next month. And while he is among the least-sacked quarterbacks in the league, that didn’t prevent him from needing three neck surgeries and missing the entire 2011 season. Bones in his neck have been fused and he’s been cleared to play by his surgeon, which everyone takes to mean that he’s just fine.

If I were the Redskins, I’d do a lot more tire-kicking. A doctor not affiliated with either the Redskins or Manning should evaluate him — in fact, several should. If you’re the team that signs Manning, you celebrate. If you’re the team that Manning is playing for when he suffers a career-ending — or even life-altering injury — that’s something else altogether.

Manning is going to have his choice of teams: Miami, Arizona and Kansas City have been mentioned. So have the Jets, who would have to throw Mark Sanchez under the bus but might be okay with that.

All of those teams have better offensive lines and better wide receivers than the Redskins.

Whom is he going to throw to in Washington? Sure, the Redskins can draft a big-play wide receiver — and then they’ll have one. That’s not a huge selling point.

And what offense is he going to run, after all those years in Indy, calling his own shots? The Shanahan offense? Will he get his very own wristband? Donovan McNabb’s should still be somewhere at Redskins Park; check behind his locker.

If the Redskins had a young quarterback that needed a mentor, maybe I could see it. They don’t. If the Redskins had all the pieces in place and their quarterback was going to be out for a season with, say, a serious neck injury, maybe I could see it. They don’t. If his injury was a shoulder injury, or an ankle injury, or something a little less worrisome than the neck. But it isn’t. If if if.

The Redskins, while not using the “rebuilding” word, have been rebuilding. This would not be a rebuilding move. And while Manning would be a great locker room presence — nice guy, but I’m guessing he’d harsh the buzz of any offensive player who got suspended for, say, four weeks for recreational drug use — that’s not enough. In fact, he’d set back the process.

If they really want to build a winner, they need to build their own quarterback. It’s quite clear they can’t pound an existing one into the uniquely shaped hole that is their offensive system, their coaching style and their expectations.

Do we really want to see them try to do that to Manning? Because he would pound back, and while that would be fun to watch, another season would be wasted, and Redskins fans would once again be living for April, not September.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.