As the tears fell down the cheeks of one millionaire, and one billionaire, lovingly, achingly talking about the pain of separation, the feelings they’d shared, the beautiful memories they had created together, the way they’d “been there” for each other, Jim Irsay—friend of Rob Lowe and Mark Cuban wannabe—asked, through his lamentations, “if there are any questions?”
Of course there are questions, Jim, of course there are. Predominantly, who will play you in the movie? Will you stick with type—Kiefer Sutherland as Jim, Matthew McConnaughy as Peyton, or go traditional Hollywood rom-com and cast Kate Hudson as Jim and Matthew McConnaughy as Peyton?
But once that particular conundrum (Adam Sandler and McConnaughy?) had faded with the sounds of Joe Cocker’s You Are So Beautiful To Me, the credits rolled and the sporting world turned their collective minds to the big question of the day: How would this affect the Bengals?
All over America bets are being laid on where Number 18 will end up. Miami offers great weather and a lack of income tax, but surely he’s learned from LeBron James that any athlete is only one ill-advised South Beach talent-taking from universal loathing. Washington would love him but might have their sights set on RG3 and, more importantly, don’t have any good players at all. The Jets have realized that Mark Sanchez is better at wearing skin-tight cream jeans on GQ covers than he is at throwing a football, but would Manning really want to step on his (now more successful) baby brother’s turf? Seattle? He’d have to not have noticed that Pete Carroll is a) too creepy and b) not a real coach. Cleveland? He’d have had to have not heard of Cleveland.
So where does that leave him? The Bengals have a talented but young offensive coordinator. Jay Gruden would be inventive and aggressive but would also allow Manning to change his mind at the line of scrimmage like an old person in front of you at Starbucks when you’re in a hurry. Mike Zimmer controls a defense far superior to the colanders he dragged to the playoffs year after year. He would have the opportunity to throw to the hottest young receiver in the league in A.J. Green, and he might bring Reggie Wayne to complement him. The Bengals have an abundance of high draft picks to surround him with young talent over the final four or five years of his career. Most of all, unlike a previous certain former franchise QB, it seems unlikely he’d have issues with either the temperature or the small-market nature of Cincinnati. This is a guy who, lest we forget, has plied his entire adult trade in Indianapolis. The Bengals could undoubtedly pay him more than almost any other team. No question, Cincinnati could be a great fit for Peyton Manning.
But would he be a good fit for Cincinnati? Certainly we need to fill up some of that hefty cap space Mike Brown has carefully accumulated for just such an event (cough, cough). And what better way than with one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game? Manning could mentor Andy Dalton, who exceeded all expectations last year but is still far from a finished product. Under Manning, Dalton could, one might argue, learn more than from under the undoubtedly lovely Bruce Gradkowski. On top of that, the risk that comes with Manning’s multiple neck surgeries is mitigated somewhat by having a battle-hardened and talented young back up. If Peyton can turn Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon into viable NFL receivers, imagine what he could do with Green. Dalton struggled in the playoffs, but, hey, if this is a playoff team now, imagine what it could be with a first-ballot Hall of Famer calling the shots!
And yet…and yet…if this were occurring 12 months ago it would be a no-brainer. With Manning as Socrates to Dalton’s Plato, the Bengals would be set behind centre for the next 15 years. It would be the perfect fit.
But this isn’t a year ago. Dalton is the leader of the locker room. It was a baptism of fire, sure, but he came through with flying colours. This is his team. He made the playoffs in his first year, who knows where he’ll go form here? This is not 2010. No big shots. Everyone in it together. This team isn’t built around Andy Dalton but it is built through him. In the immortal words of Alexandre Dumas: All For One And One For All.
The only way I’m picking Peyton this year is if he drops to the fourth round in my fantasy league. The Bengals should be similarly cautious. We may not have a GM but Mike Brown appears to be immortal. And in 15 years, maybe we’ll get tears of our own. Maybe Brown can be played by Mickey Rooney and Dalton by Damien Lewis (look him up; best I could do.) I don’t know. But Dalton deserves the opportunity to show us. And I believe he will.
Damn I hope Peyton doesn’t go to the Ravens…