Before Jerry Rice said the 49ers should sign Peyton Manning, he should have thought back to the history of the team when he was there.
In 1993, Joe Montana returned after missing all but one quarter of one game in the previous two years because of injuries. Steve Young had been the league MVP one of those years, but coach George Seifert said Montana would be the starting quarterback going into training camp.
Montana was more realistic. He went to club president Carmen Policy and told him he wanted to be traded to a team that wouldn’t bench him if he had an off game or were injured again. So, Policy traded him to the team Joe asked for, the Kansas City Chiefs.
In his absence, Young got the Niners one more Super Bowl championship, after the 1994 season, and continued a career which got him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Montana played two more seasons, then retired and soon went into the HOF.
Now, the Niners face a similar situation. I don’t think Alex Smith is another Steve Young, but he’s a solid quarterback who knows the Jim Harbaugh system and will improve when he gets better receivers.
Manning is in the Montana class, a cinch for the HOF. He’s had a great career, but the past tense is necessary. He’s had three neck injuries, the last of which sidelined him for the 2011 season.
Smith and Manning have the same agent, Tom Condon, so the 49ers couldn’t sign both. Niners GM Trent Baalke has said the team wouldn’t pursue Manning, which makes sense. No matter how good he’s been, he’s damaged goods. What if he got hurt in the third or fourth game, hardly an unrealistic thought. What would the Niners do then?
I suspect Rice’s statements came primarily from sympathy for another veteran player coming back from an injury who is underappreciated by his old team.
That was Rice’s situation after he lost almost a complete season in 1997 with a knee injury. Though he came back, he was not the same player, and he resented the fact that Terrell Owens had become the go-to receiver. Eventually, he went to the Raiders and had three productive seasons as a possession receiver, no longer the main threat.
Because he had no history with them, he could accept that.
That will probably be Manning’s fate, too. The Colts weren’t willing to pay him a $28 million bonus to come back, not when they’re set to draft Andrew Luck. In today’s NFL, college quarterbacks are stepping right into starting roles and Luck is especially well equipped to do that because at Stanford, coaches would give him three options and he’d decide on the play to call based on the defense he saw — much like Manning did with the Colts.
Frankly, I think Manning should retire, instead of risking further injury, especially to his neck.
But he seems determined to play, so his chances are probably better with a team like the Miami Dolphins, who have no good options at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Baalke is working to strengthen the team where it needs it. Quarterback is not one of those positions.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of an era
Quarterback Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, making him a free agent after a brilliant 14-year run with the team:
-- Selected first overall at the 1998 NFL draft by the Colts out of the University of Tennessee
-- After 3-13 rookie season, posts 138-54 record over the next 12 seasons with the club
-- Four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, was named to 11 Pro Bowls
-- Won Super Bowl MVP award in 2007 after leading Colts to 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFL title game
-- Threw for more than 4,000 yards in a season an NFL record 11 times