West Palm Beach, Fla. • It’s almost to the point where Peyton Manning staying in Indianapolis would be a surprise. The Colts have changed out everything from the front office to the coaching staff and are in position to keep the extreme makeover going with the No. 1 overall draft rights to Stanford star Andrew Luck.
The good news for any team looking to take advantage of this situation, and that list includes Miami, is that a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player might soon be cut loose after 14 seasons with the same franchise.
The catch is that Manning is coming off a season lost to neck surgery and will be 36 in March.
Because of NFL tampering rules, the Dolphins can’t talk about their interest in Manning. But the most important clue in gauging the Dolphins’ risk/reward philosophy here is reading the history of Carl Peterson, business partner and trusted football advisor to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
Even without a title or a formal position in the Dolphins’ organization, Peterson participated in all major interviews during the recent head-coaching search that ended with former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin getting the job. When Jeff Fisher touched down for his Dolphins interview, for instance, it was Peterson riding with him in Ross’ private helicopter.
No reason, then, to expect that Ross will value the advice of General Manager Jeff Ireland alone when it comes to quarterback. It was Peterson, after all, who worked the trade to bring 36-year-old superstar Joe Montana from San Francisco to Kansas City in 1993.
A little age on a quarterback never worried Peterson. He ran the Kansas City Chiefs as president, general manager and CEO from 1989-2008 and in all that time the Chiefs leaned almost completely on veteran passers imported from other teams, at one point even signing 43-year-old Warren Moon to back up Elvis Grbac.
Montana, of course, is the one we remember. He had his own Peyton Manning moment, and Peterson surely has told Ross all about it.
Steve Young, another Hall of Famer in the making, was on a roll in San Francisco in the spring of ‘93 while Montana was coming off a season-and-a-half ruined by elbow surgery. The 49ers gave Montana permission to shop his services and Joe hustled off to Kansas City and Arizona, eager to prove he could still play.
“We worked him out in our indoor facility,” former Chiefs head coach Marty Schottenheimer said this week from his San Diego home. “It was amazing. Here we are with Joe Montana and we don’t have any receivers. He’s throwing passes to equipment guys and assistant equipment guys, but Carl and I wanted to work him out.
“To this day, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever been involved with, looking at these guys 5-feet-9 and 125 pounds catching passes from a Hall of Famer.”
Needless to say, Montana passed the audition, which was a test of his physical readiness alone, and came to Kansas City for the price of a first-round draft pick. By the end of the season he had the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in Buffalo, a game the Bills won 30-13 after Montana went to the locker room with a concussion early in the second half.
The following season, Montana’s last at 38, the Chiefs made the playoffs again.
“Joe was terrific for us in ‘93,” Schottenheimer said. “That was the best team we had when Carl and I were together in Kansas City. We were just looking at him and saying, ‘This thing will work.’
“The elbow really wasn’t an issue while he was with us. I remember we had a gathering with Carl and I and Joe and his representatives. We sat down and talked about it. I don’t know that there were any discussions about everything that was going on. It wasn’t that complicated.”
Easy to imagine Peterson seeing the Manning issue the same way now. If Peyton says he’s ready and he looks ready in a workout somewhere down the road, what’s the problem?
Brett Favre surely showed himself useful after 16 seasons in Green Bay by leading the New York Jets to a 9-7 finish and the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC title game.
Other legendary quarterbacks, however, weren’t so successful in switching teams at the end of their careers. Joe Namath’s knees were shot when he left the New York Jets for the Los Angeles Rams in 1977 and he didn’t last a season. Johnny Unitas’ failed experiment in a San Diego Chargers uniform was much the same in 1973, though having the Baltimore Colts great as a teammate represented an unforgettable opportunity to teammates.
“For me, it was better than good,” said former Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts, who at the time was in a rookie season of his own Hall of Fame career. “This was Johnny Unitas, man. What more do you have to say?
“For some reason he took a liking to me. We talked about a great deal of stuff and had a few beers together. He taught me a couple of cool things about reading defenses.
“I was really sad when he got hurt and left the team. He was 40 years old and had been through so many wars. He didn’t have the legs anymore, but he could still throw it.”
Sounds a little like Dan Marino, who was nudged into retirement by the Dolphins at the end of the 1999 season. Minnesota coach Dennis Green wanted Dan to play on with the Vikings. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed some interest, too. There even was a brief flirtation with the Steelers of his Pittsburgh hometown before Marino decided, at 38, to give it up.
“Bill Cowher called me about playing,” Marino said five years later, “but I had to make a decision within a couple of days because he already had a guy that he was going to sign.
“At the time, I just kept thinking back to how my body felt the year before. And, to me, there was something special about playing 17 years in one place. Although I was pretty close to (joining Pittsburgh), it just didn’t feel right. I probably could have played another year, no doubt.”
From the sound of things, Manning believes he is good for three or four more years.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have other options in search of an upgrade over Matt Moore. They could chase potential free agent Matt Flynn, a Green Bay backup who has worked with Philbin, or trade away the farm to move up in the draft for Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin or, far less likely, Luck.
If Ross listens most to Peterson, however, all the Colts have to do is move on from Peyton, the way San Francisco did with Montana, and the Dolphins can be expected to take a serious swing at him.
Dave George writes for The Palm Beach Post.