Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wishful Thinking: Making Peyton an Eagle

For the inaugural post on Heckling Santa, let's go off the deep end, shall we? There's a case to be made for cutting Michael Vick loose--and a related case for going all-in on a couple seasons of Peyton Manning.

Last offseason, the Eagles made the decision to sign Michael Vick to a long-term extension. He responded with an injury-filled, turnover-filled, disappointment-filled season. The Eagles actually set a franchise record for yards gained in a season, and it still bought them only eight wins.

How does a team with the fourth-best offense in football win only eight games? By finishing with a -14 turnover margin, tied for 30th in the league. And while the defense wasn't winning any awards last year, the Eagles' 38 giveaways were second-most in the league. In 13 games, Vick personally turned the ball over 18 times.

It appears the Eagles were blinded by a miraculous 2010 season, in which Vick's interception rate was a miniscule 1.6%. In 2011, that reverted to 3.3%, much more in line with his career averages. Likewise, his completion percentage dropped back below 60%, as it had been in every season of his career before 2010.

Some were quick to blame the offensive line for Vick's woes. But it's tough to argue that Herremans at right tackle wasn't an upgrade from Winston Justice, or that Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins weren't improvements over Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles from the season before.

Truth is, Vick is just an extremely sack-prone quarterback. Even in 2010, in just 12 games, Vick was sacked 34 times. In Atlanta, in the four years in which he played at least 15 games, Vick took 33, 46, 33, and 45 sacks, which placed him 10th, 2nd, 4th, and 6th in the NFL, respectively, in those seasons. His 5.2% sack percentage this year was by far the best of his career, yet barely above average by NFL standards.

So let's assume we've seen the very best of Michael Vick, and that by all accounts, he's an inaccurate, turnover-prone, injury-prone, sack-prone quarterback. Has a team ever won a Super Bowl with a quarterback with that many weaknesses? Not without some divine intervention or a record-setting defense.

Peyton Manning presents a unique opportunity for the Eagles. There's no doubt that at full strength, he's significantly better than Vick--more accurate, less turnover-prone, and less sack-prone. His ability to audible at the line compensates for Andy Reid's play-calling weaknesses, and his two-minute drill would vastly improve the Eagles' clock management.

On top of that, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Jason Avant, Brent Celek, and DeSean Jackson, should the Eagles choose to retain him, would represent the most talent Manning has had around him since Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Edgerrin James wore Colts uniforms. Plus, with Howard Mudd coaching the Eagles' offensive line, Manning would already be familiar with the protection schemes.

One question is whether or not Manning will recover fully from his multiple neck surgeries. There has been much debate over the past several months about Manning's health. However, it's important to note that as soon as he underwent surgery, the assumption was that he would likely be out for the full season.

The Colts, for a variety of reasons, chose to wait as long as possible to rule out his return during the season, but when they did, it was hardly a surprise or the result of a setback. Doctors have said that it can take a full year for someone to return to full strength following a surgery like this. All we're finding out now is that Manning isn't drastically ahead of schedule. But by all accounts, the surgery and recovery have so far gone off without a hitch.

Add to that the opportunity for the Colts to draft Andrew Luck first overall. If the Colts were drafting eighth overall, and less in a position to pick up Manning's successor, we'd likely be hearing a lot more about when, rather than if, Manning would be returning at full strength.

So let's assume that Peyton is in play, and represents a big upgrade over Vick. What team would possibly deal for a quarterback with that kind of contract and the limitations described earlier?

Luckily, there are plenty of teams desperately in need of a quarterback. Though Vick's flaws are apparent, he's still an above-average NFL quarterback. Teams searching for a franchise signal-caller could include Cleveland, Seattle, Washington, Indianapolis, and possible Miami, Jacksonville, Buffalo, and Arizona, depending on how they gauge their current situation.

Not all of those teams will be able to find ready-to-play replacements in the draft or free agency, which means at least some will be facing down the prospect of another season with the likes of Tarvaris Jackson, Rex Grossman, or John Skelton manning the helm. Any or all could be looking to upgrade via trade, especially with a proven starter like Vick.

Even Vick's monster contract is far from prohibitive. At the beginning of the 2011 season, ten teams had the salary cap room to take on a contract the size of Vick's, including Jacksonville, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Seattle. Presumably, as contracts expire at the end of this year, more teams will have the requisite cap space to take on that kind of commitment.

Even with five years remaining on the deal, teams would be incurring little risk. Only $35.5 million is guaranteed in the contract, and every cent of that will be paid out by the end of next season. At any point after next year, a team could cut Vick without owing him any additional money. If he were playing up to his contract, they could keep him; if not, they could let him go. Though they'd still suffer a hit on their salary cap for the remainder of the contract, it decreases from about $4 million in year three, to about $3 million in year four, to less than $1 million in years five and six.

Vick is not a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. He has too many obvious flaws, and at this point in his career, especially after his regression in 2011, it's difficult to say that he'll eventually turn a corner. His contract isn't prohibitive to any deal, the Eagles would absolutely be able to get high draft picks in return, and there are

Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Even at 36, he represents a significantly better shot for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of 2011 has been Eagles management's willingness to adopt a "wait-and-see" approach in the aftermath of one of the most disappointing Eagles seasons ever. Bringing in Manning would fix that, and would make the Eagles a significantly better team on the field.


  1. See, this is the kind of professional, full-length post that we 1. Don't get in fantasy 2. Don't actually read in fantasy. Well done.

  2. FYI: anyone looking to do a full-out agreement/critique/rebuttal piece should make a new post.