CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 16: Peyton Manning the #18 of the Indianapolis Colts talks with Austin Collie #17 during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I know how the sausage is made.
So let's talk about Peyton Manning and the Houston Texans, a pairing that will apparently be role-played together hundreds of times between the time Manning's release is official later today and the actual date of his signing (free guess: Seattle Seahawks!) despite the fact that there is maybe a three percent chance that it happens. Mike Florio, captain of the voyage, was joined last night by Yahoo!'s Mike Silver, who listed the Texans as the best fit for Manning among his potential suitors.
Let's go over the three sides to this story. And yes, there are three sides. To simplify things a bit, even though I feel there are about five or six arguments against the Texans signing Manning, I'm just going to stick to two arguments for each side.
1) Matt Schaub is not an elite quarterback. Peyton Manning is.
I mean, most Texans fans have come to appreciate Schaub for what he is, but nobody can say with a straight face that his career will ever stack up to Manning's. That's fine. I will not argue that for a second. I won't even dip into the cliche vault of "Peyton is not a winner!!!!111"-isms. Watching Manning play in his prime was incredible, and watching him destroy the Texans year after year made me begin to think he was some sort of witch. And also that the Texans defense really, really, sucked.*
*-especially Eugene Wilson. But especially DeMarcus Faggins.
The problem I have accepting this argument at it's face is that you can give me all the abstract practice reports from his bunker at Duke (which, by the way Peyton, if you want to decrease the amount of "haters" you have, not practicing at Duke would be a great idea) that say he's throwing with more velocity and more zip. It doesn't mean diddly until we see him on the field again. He'll be 36 when the season starts, he's just missed an entire year with a relatively rare injury (for sports), and there is absolutely no guarantee that he will be the same quarterback that he once was.
But hey, it's not like 36-year-old quarterbacks don't come back from neck injuries all the time. Look at, uh ... look at me create a segue out of thin air!
2) The potential to deal Schaub for something extra could help strengthen other areas of the team.
The other logical corollary to this plan is the idea that I like to call Madden-ism. Remember when the older veteran players (a/k/a players who are washed up) were put in the early 2000's version of the game as free agents, then you could sign them and trade them to other teams for draft picks? It was fun figuring that out until you realized that the game's actual franchise system was about as naively unrealistic as 14-year-old MDC was about the chances that his voice would deepen.
So look, there is a cottage industry of fans going to message boards at this point and proposing ideas that never happen. That's fine on its own -- the internet was founded on this principle -- but they also sort of view it as incredible that nobody in any NFL front office has ever thought of this idea yet, as if they were the first humans to discover pooping, and need to run and tell us all about how great it feels. Every site has them. You know who you are. The fact of the matter is that these kinds of trades are rare because once someone in the NFL knows that someone is making a trade, the value of the asset goes down. Take the whole Matt Flynn drama (not -sanity...never -sanity, never again) over whether he'd be franchise-tagged and eventually traded, for example. That never had any chance of happening. The theoretical moment he was franchised and locked into Green Bay's payroll, trade offers would have been immediately replaced with mocking laughter.
(Yes, I remember the Matt Cassel trade. Keep in mind that there was no Peyton Manning, free agent, or Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III that year. Also, the fact that Cassel and Kevin Kolb failed and reinforced how dangerous it can be to put your neck out there for an inexperienced quarterback probably did a lot to hurt Flynn as well.)
So let's say word leaks out, theoretically, that the Texans are going to be signing Peyton Manning and trading Matt Schaub. What happens to Schaub's trade value? Splat. By the way, if I am a team with a quarterback hole, why am I trading something of value for Schaub if I could already be signing Manning or Flynn? What is Schaub worth in your mind? A low first-rounder? A high second, maybe? He's coming off a season-ending injury of his own, you know.
Basically, any assumption that the Texans could milk Schaub for a high draft pick or star player only makes sense in the same world where I can sign Phillippi Sparks today and send him somewhere for a second-round pick tomorrow. Or where a trade agreed upon by three basketball teams was vetoed by the commissioner of the league for absolutely no reason. Shit, wait, nevermind.
1) Any argument based on adding Peyton Manning necessarily adds risk.
The crux of Silver's argument for why the Texans should sign Manning essentially lies in this sentence:
This team is a Super Bowl contender with Matt Schaub under center; if Manning is healthy and able to regain his throwing touch, I think the Texans are Super Bowl favorites.
Well, look, there's your problem right there: The theoretical Texans have manipulated the cap and gone crazy to sign Peyton Manning. What was the marginal upgrade in doing so? One favored game? Oh, right, and the chances of them actually going to that game probably go down once you factor in the chance that Manning is one clean lick from retirement. No pressure!
So you think the reason that Manning is a good fit is because a) he's better than Matt Schaub ... if healthy (conceded), and b) because he raises the overall ceiling of the team one game? And all it costs is manipulating every last bit of cap space Houston has, potentially setting themselves up for a disastrous 2013 offseason where they can lose many more Mario Williamses? Awesome! Where do I sign up?
The Texans are close enough to the prize -- and young enough to stay competitive far beyond this year -- that as long as they keep working the cycle, they don't need to resort to last-gasp chances on aging star quarterbacks. And since we're just going to focus on Super Bowls, let me throw my own heavily cherry-picked idea out here: How many okay quarterbacks have won Super Bowls? Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, off the top of my head. How many 36-year-old quarterbacks have won Super Bowls?
2) Organizational stability
Remember that time the Texans finally gave in to peer pressure, for three consecutive years in a row, and fired Gary Kubiak?
Oh wait, I don't. Because it didn't happen.
This is an organization that, more than anything, is founded on patience. Dom Capers made it four years here. David Carr five, without any improvement. Despite the fact that Kubiak had hired a pair of complete and utter failures at defensive coordinator, both of whom got a second season that they didn't deserve, Bob McNair stayed the course and believed that his offensive system was the right fit for the Texans. Kareem Jackson still gets to call himself a starting cornerback.
I don't know what Texans organization these guys have been paying attention to the last few years, but bold moves didn't get the Texans into the playoffs. It wasn't "bold" to sign a good defensive coordinator, a top-tier cornerback, or a solid safety last season. It was so fucking obvious that even we, the idiots of BRB, had sat here telling you for seasons on end that this team needed a new defensive direction and more talent.
Bob McNair doesn't do bold, guys. Bob McNair has oatmeal for breakfast. He still has Clay Walker singing our awful intro eleven years later. Gary Kubiak is his coach, and if he says you aren't doing a heckuva job out there, you're at least battling. If they ditched Matt Schaub for any reason short of another devastating long-term injury, I would be completely flabbergasted.
Bonus reasons: They're destroying their future payroll for Manning, but not Mario Williams? How does this team reconcile the fact that Manning isn't really athletic enough to run the PA bootleg system at this point in his career? (Feel free to add your own.)
The Invisible Hand
1) Nobody gives a shit about the Texans.
How many times were the Texans on national television during the regular season last year? Survey? Once. When was that game? Over the Christmas layover as everyone scrambled to get to their families. On the NFL Network. Other than the Pittsburgh game, I'm having a hard time coming up with a game where they were the featured early or afternoon game -- maybe the Baltimore game?
What I'm getting at is nobody watched the Texans last year, and so nobody cares about how they actually operate. When they were on TV with Schaub, Schaub was an afterthought as Andre Johnson went down and Gary Kubiak spent the entirety of the second half running Arian Foster into the ground.
Think about this from a ratings perspective: The rise of the Texans to national prominence just isn't really a sexy story. They didn't knock out a long-time foe to do it since Manning was gone. They didn't have an improbable run led by a mediocre quarterback who won a lot of games in college. The Texans were what happens when competence, a desire to win, and money come together.
But add Peyton Manning to the mix, and suddenly we have a team worth caring about! Blog posts by the thousands! How is Peyton's neck feeling this week? Will he get revenge on the hated Colts? Can he show them that he's still a Super Bowl quarterback?
You don't care. I know that. They care. They care badly enough to want Manning on the Texans. I guess that's flattering, in a way. But in another, more correct way, it's insulting. And a disservice to all the work this organization put in to get to where they are today.
...But I mean, we could always sacrifice that. Who cares about that? What we really care about here is:
2) Page hits!
The all-mighty currency!
Did you know that I can pull up page view numbers for any post on BRB? Did you know that, back when I was editing SBN Houston, there were specific keyword and title combinations that tended to get indexed in Google? That happened to draw more hits for the website than others? That we were actively encouraged to use them? They had moderated sessions on it and everything.
I'm not saying SBN is wrong to do this -- it's natural to want to draw hits when so much of your economy is based on them. But all Peyton Manning-to-the-Texans speculation essentially boils down to is page hits. Peyton is a topic. Peyton has to go somewhere. So even though there is little chance of this happening, and even though there is even less logic behind it actually happening, we are going to have to suffer through it. Because dammit, people care about Peyton Manning. A lot.
So just buckle in and enjoy the ride. The only credible evidence we have that the Texans are interested in Peyton Manning begins and ends with a third-hand account full of "possibly" that was given to Bob Allen by someone who is not Peyton Manning. Gary Kubiak, Rick Smith, etc., have never been quoted as even saying it was something they'd look into.
But hey, at least we all get to suffer together, right? Thank you for your page hit.