John Smallwood: Birds should set a place for Peyton

Posted: January 30, 2012

HERE IS A hypothetical the Eagles should be thinking about down at One NovaCare Way.

If the Eagles truly are the risk-takers, innovators and out-of-the-box thinkers that owner Jeffrey Lurie continually claims they are, they should be closely monitoring what's happening in Indianapolis - and I don't mean Super Bowl XLVI.

Reading the tea leaves, it's almost 99.99 percent certain the Colts are going to release Peyton Manning rather than pay the $28 million team option due on March 8.

Despite the joint statement on Friday by Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay to "dispel any misperception that there might be any hard feelings between us," speculation is that it's almost an inevitability that the 14-year union between the team and the NFL's only four-time MVP will end.

The Colts have the first overall pick in the draft and would be idiots if they don't begin their rebuilding with Stanford's Andrew Luck, who might be the most highly regarded quarterback prospect since Manning in 1998.

Also, Manning still is recovering from his third neck surgery in 19 months, and no one knows for sure if he'll be able to continue his Hall of Fame career.

Logic says $28 million is too much to risk without an assurance that Manning will be back to full form, especially when Luck is your near future. That guarantee is not likely to be there come March 8.

So if Manning does become an unrestricted free agent and makes it clear that he wants to continue his career, the Eagles should be one of the first teams in line vying for his services.

Demonstrate that risk-taking, out-of-the-box philosophy by making a play that the second-best quarterback of this generation will play on.

It would be too good of a risk-reward situation for a team like the Eagles not to jump all-in. If Lurie has supposedly put the Birds under a "Super Bowl-or-bust" mantra for 2012 (which he actually did not do) how can you not take a chance on Peyton Manning?

If you're Eagles coach Andy Reid and your carcass is supposedly on the line if you don't win the Super Bowl (which it actually isn't), which quarterback would you rather hitch your future to: Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection who has won a Super Bowl; or Michael Vick, who is still an enigma after nearly a decade in the NFL?

It's a no-brainer to go with Manning, who, if healthy, is still a top-three quarterback.

Think of what Manning, with his ability to instantly read and adjust to any defense at the line of scrimmage, could do with weapons like Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek.

Heck, if Manning is the quarterback, the Eagles might actually find a reason to re-sign diva game-breaking wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

I know, I know: What about Vick?

What about him?

Sure, the Eagles just signed him to a 6-year, $100 million contract with $32.5 million guaranteed, but so what?

If 2012 is truly about winning the Super Bowl, the Birds can't be worried about the possible damage to Vick's psyche and/or ego if Manning is brought in: Let them compete for the job.

If Vick shrinks from the challenge, then he isn't the quarterback who is going to lead you to the Super Bowl anyway.

Vick is coming off a bad 2011 when he passed for a career-high 3,303 yards but completed just 59.8 percent of his passes and threw 14 interceptions to go with 18 touchdowns. He also missed nearly a quarter of the games again due to injuries.

The Eagles gave Vick a chance to resurrect his career and rebuild his fortune. Asking him to beat somebody out for his job would not be too much. It would probably make him better.

Considering Vick is under the same Super Bowl-or-bust edict (he actually is, because the Eagles can get out of his contract after 2012), what is the harm of bringing in Manning?

Sign Manning on faith and wait to see if he is cleared to play. If he is, then trade Vick.

If Manning isn't healthy enough by OTAs, go on as planned; Vick will get over it.

The questions concerning Manning's health are what would make this such an irresistible play for the Eagles.

The Colts can't risk $28 million on Manning, but no other team would have to spend close to that amount to sign him as a free agent. Manning knows he won't have the leverage to get what his substantial resume would normally command.

It won't be that big of a financial risk.

It certainly wouldn't compare to the $32.5 million the Eagles gambled based on 12 games from Vick in 2011.

If Manning continues his career, it won't be about money. It'll be because of his desire to win another Super Bowl.

The Eagles would be one of the perfect situations for him.

After finishing 8-8, the Birds were considered the biggest underachievers in the NFL. Still, most of the talent that had them rated as a preseason Super Bowl contender will be back.

Adding a Hall of Fame quarterback who is still highly skilled even at 35 could make a huge difference.

So how much money should the Eagles risk on the chance that Manning might be able to play in 2012?

Well, at least the $4 million they paid Vince Young as a backup to Vick, probably a few monopoly dollars more.

If 2012 really is going to be all about the Super Bowl, there have to be risks to gain rewards.

Peyton Manning would represent the biggest of both for the Eagles.


Send email to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood

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