Bird Feed: Peyton Manning and the Eagles

Last week my brother passed along word of a rumor involving Peyton Manning and the Eagles. Although it was, and still is entirely a rumor (and an unlikely one at that), Manning to the Eagles would be a welcomed addition.

Obviously, adding a player of Peyton Manning’s caliber is always a good idea. Considering he’s a stellar quarterback, the move makes even more sense.

As you well know, for the majority of the Andy Reid era the Eagles ran a manila offense and relied on the athleticism and skill of Donovan McNabb and Jim Johnson’s impenetrable defenses. When Reid finally built the offense to match McNabb’s talent, the Eagles went to the Superbowl. Then, Reid reverted back to midlevel receivers and relied too much on Brian Westbrook and McNabb. By the time Reid brought in elite talent again, McNabb was passed his prime. Then the Kevin Kolb era came and went in less than 30 minutes. After two years of Michael Vick, the Eagles still can’t find consistency at quarterback.

Enter Manning.

Even in his late 30’s, Manning is better than any quarterback the Eagles have had in the past five years, and maybe even ever. Manning would bring his unprecedented consistency to a position that has deeply cost the Eagles in recent seasons. More importantly, the Eagles are built for Manning.

As I’ve complained about since Terrell Owens left, the Eagles lack big, physical receivers to minimize the consequences of inaccurate quarterbacks. With Manning’s precision, the Eagles current stable of receivers is a perfect fit. Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson (if re-signed) could expect precision passes and spend less time fighting for balls in the air against bigger, more physical defensive backs. Manning made a living throwing to the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clarke, Brandon Stokley, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. None of whom were/are big, physical receivers. All relied heavily on speed and quickness. Furthermore, LeSean McCoy is an ideal receiving back and would provide Manning his most dynamic backfield since Egderrin James.

Most important of all, the Eagles boast the NFL’s best left tackle in Jason Peters. Michael Vick made the Eagles offensive line look a lot worse than it actually was. Vick doesn’t understand how to work and move within a pocket. He panics and makes the offensive line’s job twice as hard. Manning is probably the best pocket passer in NFL history. I’m certain the Eagles offensive line is more than adequate to protect Manning.

Even the defense is tailored to Manning’s strengths. Andy Reid and Juan Castillo built the current Eagles defense based on the assumption that they’d have leads to protect. They were right. Unfortunately, the Eagles defense couldn’t protect those leads until it was too late. As the last month of the season revealed, the Eagles pass rush needed time to adjust to the new defensive scheme. Although there’s no guarantee the unit will continue that level of play in 2012, it’s not completely crazy to expect a full season of what we saw in December from the Eagles defense. After all, Manning won plenty of division titles and even a Superbowl with a defense that relied heavily on a pass rush spearheaded by Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Of course, it would be irresponsible to take on Manning without considering the unfortunate reality of his situation; one hit and Manning may never play again (if he even plays at all). Vick is still, for the most part, in his athletic prime. Manning is unquestionably on the down slope of his career. Is it really wise to mortgage a bright future with a young offense to bring in an aging legend while keeping your fingers crossed he won’t suffer a career-ending injury? The answer: yes. Here’s why.

Although Vick is younger and has more spring in his step, he puts the Eagles in the exact same position. Vick hasn’t played a full season for the Eagles yet. His style of play makes devastating hits and injuries unavoidable. Besides, if the Eagles and Vick don’t win (or at least reach) the Superbowl in 2012, the whole team is getting blown up anyway. Reid will be out. Vick would almost certainly been gone as well. It’s not as if adding Manning would scuttle some master plan the Eagles put in motion years ago. At this point, the franchise is year to year. If Manning were to play, and the Eagles were to bring him in, I’m certain he and the Eagles would ensure he’s healthy enough to play at or near the level he was at in 2010. Manning’s chances of being lost to injury are no worse than Michael Vick’s. In fact, if Manning gets a clean bill of health, I’d bet on him taking more snaps than Vick.

Also, if Eli Manning wins another Superbowl next week, what better way for Peyton to take back the Manning family crown than to pursue (and hopefully win) another Superbowl in the same division as his brother?

Of course, all this is based on the shrinking likelihood that Peyton Manning ever plays again, the somewhat probable chance he’s released by the Colts, and the minute possibility he relocates to an outdoor team in a cold city in one of the fiercest divisions in football.

But hey, one can hope.

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