Remember that time that Peyton Manning almost came back to Tennessee to finish his playing career? What if he actually did? Manning told the Tennessean last week that he almost did.
What would the franchise look like right this very second had Manning come to Tennessee? I'll dive into that in this post. One man's decision turned one franchise into a powerhouse and left another one in the dust.
Remembering the chase
In what was probably the wildest, edge of your seat free agent wooing session you'll ever see, the Denver Broncos beat out the Tennessee Titans for Peyton Manning. For Titans fans the thought of Peyton Manning under center was intoxicating. Manning is the poster boy for Tennessee football, becoming an icon just down I-40 at the University of Tennessee. However, Manning had become a nemesis to most in Nashville as he led the Colts to division title after division title in Indianapolis. But now the Titans had their chance.
The rumors were insane. Not only was Manning going to get a near 100 million dollar deal, but supposedly Peyton was set to get a future stake in the Titans' organization when he retired. A quarterback of this caliber had never hit the open market like this in the modern era. However, you still had those lingering questions about Peyton's neck and whether or not he was going to be the same physically, but that was a risk that the Titans were clearly willing to take.
What Peyton would walk into
Mike Munchak was coming off of a 9-7 year in his first as the Titans' head coach. The reigns were set to be handed over to the 8th overall selection of the 2011 NFL Draft, Jake Locker. Locker was viewed as a flawed prospect coming out, but one that had all the tools to turn into something down the road. The idea of Locker working behind Manning like Brock Osweiler did was an added bonus.
Manning would inherit an offense that was built around Chris Johnson. The offensive line was still a strength at that point with Michael Roos and David Stewart. Manning would probably have one of the better offensive fronts that he had had during his entire career.
The offense would still involve Chris Johnson, but much less focus would be on No. 28. Johnson was coming off a frustrating 1,000 yard season in which he posted just four yards per carry. Part of Johnson's downfall in Tennessee was the lack of a passing threat, so teams just loaded the box on him. Just the presence of Peyton under center probably gives Johnson plenty more room to get loose in 2012. There's a good chance that Johnson ends his career in Nashville, possibly even retiring with Peyton.
Peyton would have a decent cast of receivers and may have actually been able to save Kenny Britt's career. Britt was one of the most frustrating Titans of all time, simply because you knew the talent was somewhere in there. I'm betting Manning would get the best out of him. Kendall Wright may have turned into a legitimate star with Peyton -- he probably isn't entering a contract year this season with four years of Manning under his belt. Maybe Wes Welker even decides to follow Peyton to Nashville as he did in Denver.
How different are things today?
Does Mike Munchak get fired? I don't think he would. There's no way he goes 6-10 with Peyton Manning under center. We're probably sitting here talking about Mike Munchak as one of the best coaches in franchise history right now. We would probably be talking about how excited we are to finally see Jake Locker get his chance in this offense. Maybe things would turn out differently for him.
Marcus Mariota isn't a Titan. Taylor Lewan likely isn't either. Chance Warmack? Nope. There's no chance the Titans would be picking that highly each season, so the roster would look totally different. Would the Titans attract all those big name defensive free agents like the Broncos did?
Is Ruston Webster still the General Manager? He took over in 2012 and would be building around a hall of fame quarterback. I'd guess he probably still is around and people would have an entirely different perception of him.
What about right now? Peyton has just retired and will now own part of the team. Would he pull an Elway and move into a front office role? So many things went out the door when Manning chose the Broncos over the Titans. You can't fault him for it -- I'd say it turned out alright for him, but it's fascinating to think where this franchise would be if he did choose the Titans. Maybe, just maybe, the Titans would have a Lombardi trophy sitting at Saint Thomas Sports Park right now.