No matter who quarterback Peyton Manning chose to sign with in spring of 2012, it was going to change NFL history. And create a set of "what if?" questions for a few franchises.
Multiple teams courted Manning before he signed with the Broncos. Manning finished second for the 2012 NFL MVP and won the award in 2013. He has led the Broncos to the top seed in the AFC two straight years and the Super Bowl last year.
And the Houston Texans never tried to get him, because they would have had to jettison two or three good players to fit him under the salary cap.
In a quote at the end of Tania Ganguli's story on ESPN.com about J.J. Watt's future in Houston, Texans owner Bob McNair brought up Manning and his free agency in 2012.
"Some people said, why didn't you sign Peyton Manning?" McNair said. "Well, we just couldn't do it. We would have had to let go of two or three of our outstanding players to create enough room in the salary cap to do something with him. Those are the decisions you have to make as you go forward. You hope you make the right decision."
Well that's interesting. The Texans saw quarterback Matt Schaub implode last year; they dealt him to the Raiders for the small price of a sixth-round pick this offseason. Houston was the worst team in the NFL last year, and will enter the season with perhaps the most uncertainty at quarterback of any team in the league. The Broncos are co-favorites to win the AFC, along with New England.
Regrets? How could there not be?
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Last year there was a story from the CBS affiliate in Houston, saying that Peyton's father Archie Manning reportedly told fellow CBS commentator Spencer Tillman that Houston was Peyton Manning's first choice in free agency. That's far from being a direct quote from Peyton Manning on the matter, so take it for what it's worth. When asked during a conference call last year before the Broncos played the Texans, Manning danced around that subject but said the Texans never contacted him.
One of the reasons for passing on Manning was the Texans were still sold on Schaub, and not so much on Manning's health because he was coming off multiple neck surgeries.
“We’ve got a quarterback (Matt Schaub) that we think is sound. We think his foot is going to be fine. He’s got a great arm and he can take us to a championship.” McNair said on SportsRadio 610 in March of 2012, via that CBS Houston story. “(Manning) says he’s 80-85 percent healthy but you don’t know if he will get to 100 percent. There’s a lot of risk (other teams are) taking because they can’t work him out.”
Manning might not have had the supporting cast in Houston to accomplish what he has in Denver, especially if the Texans would had to have cut a few players to sign him. So there's no guarantee even if the Texans had landed Manning that they'd be a contender. And it's easier to criticize with the benefit of hindsight. The Schuab quotes about him being able to take Houston to a championship look funny now, but Schaub was still considered a good quarterback headed into the 2012 season.
But still. It's Peyton Manning. And the Texans apparently never seriously considered going after him. That has to sting.
In the story about Watt, McNair talks about the potential big contract the star defensive end will be in line for when his current deal expires after the 2015 season. He says the Texans would consider using the franchise tag on Watt if nothing can be worked out. Whatever the Texans do, it'll be a decision that impacts the path of the franchise for many years.
As McNair said, you hope those major decisions are right. If not, you'll spend a long time wondering what might have been.
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