It’s enough to drive any 49ers fan completely insane.
As the San Francisco 49ers made the biggest splash of their own free agency period last week with the signing of beleaguered-yet-talented WR Randy Moss to a one-year deal, many wondered what they would do next. After all, one of the main philosophies was to “keep the band together”, and they are working to do that, for the most part – despite losing cogs like Blake Costanzo, Adam Snyder and Josh Morgan. The only in-house free agent they have managed to sign was CB Carlos Rogers – an important piece to their top-ranked defensive team – to a four-year deal.
But, now, there have been apparent stalls in negotiations between the 49ers and their QB, Alex Smith. While there are those in the media who believe that they may be better off with a different signal-caller, head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke have repeatedly, and emphatically, endorsed Smith as their quarterback moving forward. And, while Smith has also stated his intent to return to the Bay, saying recently he was content with the 49ers’ latest contract offer, the question remains: why haven’t they reached an agreement yet?
Well, the following development may be one possible reason:
Rumors had spread, shortly after Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts, that the 49ers would take an interest in signing the four-time MVP quarterback. First Take debater (and MSR favorite) Skip Bayless had repeatedly stated in recent weeks that Peyton Manning, if he went to San Francisco, and if healthy, would make the 49ers instant favorites to win the Super Bowl for the next three years.
However, it was not long (as recently as two weeks ago, in fact) before Baalke and Harbaugh stated that they had no interest in Manning, and would proceed with negotiations to sign the incumbent Smith for the long-term. The fan base, from there, began to splinter – one camp clamoring for Manning, while another in the defense of Smith.
After all, it was hard to argue against Smith’s miraculous rise in leading the 49ers offense to a 13-3 record, as well as game-winning drives vs. Philadelphia, Detroit and New Orleans in 2011. Then again, the prospect of a healthy Peyton Manning leading San Francisco’s passing attack is wildly enticing, even for the staunchest of Smith supporters. However, it now seems that things have changed.
Again, with a contract not officially struck between Smith and the 49ers, the rumors resurrected that they may have been holding out hope all along for Manning. Despite the fact that other teams had made the official pitch to Manning, including an NFC West rival in the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers stood pat. As the decision seemed to come down to two teams – the Tennessee Titans and the Denver Broncos – the 49ers continued to refuse fanning any flames that Manning would be wearing red-and-gold.
That is, until today.
Reports by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter have confirmed that Manning had worked out on Tuesday for the 49ers coaching staff, including Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, with Harbaugh reportedly saying that he looked “very impressive”, enough to give him a physical the next day. While Manning still has a final stop in Tennessee to work out for the Titans, the 49ers have officially thrown their hat in the ring.
The question now is: What does this mean?
It has been pointed out that a number of things go into the 49ers’ moves on Manning, and some may have nothing to do with actually wanting Manning. While a deal between Manning and the 49ers seems like a match made in heaven – Manning wants Super Bowl rings, while the 49ers need a QB to take them over the top – there is always the chance that Harbaugh and Manning could clash on who runs the offense. It was Harbaugh’s offensive scheme that took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game, and some doubt he would be willing to relinquish that role, even to a “QB-as-OC” like Manning.
Then there is the fact that the 49ers succeeded as a unit – a band of brothers with an “us against the world” mentality. It was a mindset that got them pretty far, and that included one Alex Smith. Teammates like RB Frank Gore are still in Smith’s corner as the starting QB.
Having said that, the moves Harbaugh and Roman just made might have just been a cunning strategy, for two reasons: 1) to officially knock Arizona out of the running for Manning; and 2) to leverage Alex Smith’s camp to make a deal quickly.
After all, sports agent Tom Condon represents both Smith and Manning, and the 49ers organization may be playing them both, to get the man they may ultimately want – Smith – to sign on the dotted line and end the speculation of who will be the 49ers QB moving forward. Furthermore, Arizona incumbent Kevin Kolb was set to be either be released by the team or given a substantial $7 million roster bonus by 4:00 PM (ET) today, effectively taking them out of the running for Manning. The ploy may have given Cardinals brass a measure of pause.
And, what do you know: the Cardinals are out of the running, as of a few hours ago.
Schefter had even said earlier today that the 49ers only have an outside shot of landing Manning, as he has not even visited the team facilities in San Francisco. That isn’t stopping the internet from blow up with speculation of Peyton Manning in a 49ers uniform.
At this point, for any 49ers fan, it is hard to say what to root for – bring in Peyton Manning’s talents and possibly become the Philadlephia Eagles of 2012, while simultaneously losing an improving Alex Smith; or possibly lose the best shot at winning a sixth Super Bowl to either the Broncos or Titans.
Until a deal is reached for Peyton Manning – by any team – the insanity will continue.