Fascinating tidbits about the Cardinals' courtship of Peyton Manning in 2012


Keepin' it real!
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Nov 2, 2003
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Orange County, CA

Another really interesting read on The Athletic, with lots of great quotes. I'll excerpt Cardinals-related pieces of the overall story. Turns out the Cards didn't play the biggest role in the drama, but it was a lot bigger than I ever realized!

On the afternoon of March 7, 2012, Jim Irsay stood behind a podium in Indianapolis to announce, through tears, the Colts’ release of their franchise quarterback. After 14 seasons, four NFL MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowl selections, a Super Bowl victory and Super Bowl MVP award, nearly 55,000 passing yards and 400 touchdowns, Peyton Manning was suddenly — and apprehensively — a free agent.

What transpired over the following two weeks was one of the most unique pursuits in history, complete with helicopters, covert meetings, secret workouts and media decoys as Manning set out to find his second NFL home and prove he still had it after four neck surgeries.

Manning’s $96 million decision began one of the greatest comebacks in sports and altered the NFL landscape for years to come. But only recently did he, and close to 20 others involved in the chase, recount in detail his whirlwind tour. As a bonus part of The Athletic’s Best of Free Agency Week, we bring you the oral history of Manning’s wild two weeks as a free agent.

Archie: Peyton knew all the coaches and general managers in the league, and they were calling him. He lined up about six places he was going to go visit. I know San Francisco, Arizona, Tennessee and Denver were on the list.

Cooper Manning: There were a lot of factors to consider. Peyton was an AFC guy and wanted to stay in the AFC. There was a comfort zone to playing there.

After initially meeting with the Broncos and briefly with Mike Shanahan (Redskins) and Trent Baalke (49ers) in Denver. I believe this is Saturday 10 March 2012:

Peyton: From there, I flew to Arizona. Ken Whisenhunt (the Cardinals’ head coach) was a guy that I knew from, once again, a Pro Bowl. Wiz is a guy I had stayed in touch with. Frank Reich was their quarterbacks coach. I think I was going to places early that I had a comfort with some of the people.

Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals head coach: It just clicked. We came out of (the 2005 Pro Bowl) friends and stayed friends.

Peyton: (Seahawks coach) Pete Carroll flew to Denver on the Seahawks’ plane and was at the Denver airport (before I left for Arizona) and he sent me a text. He said, “Hey, I’m out here, would love to come out here and visit.” He was very nice and respectful, and I really tried to be nice and respectful in the same way. I called Pete and said, “Pete, I just don’t feel comfortable doing that. I’m going to honor my commitment to go out to Arizona.”

Stokley was killing me about that. “This guy flew all the way here and you won’t even get on a plane to see him?” I said, “Look, this is all new to me.” It kind of takes you back to college recruiting a little bit, but I never had anybody just show up on a plane unannounced and say, “Will you come and get on the plane?”

Anyway, the Cardinals pick me up.

Whisenhunt: It was crazy. There were a ton of people running around, looking for him.

Peyton: I remember (Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill) was there, so I had a visit with him, went to the facility, met with Frank, showed them that iPad, felt comfortable doing that.

Whisenhunt: He grilled everybody, but we were prepared. We had talked about it before he came in. Coaches talk to other coaches, and we did our research on him — what he was like in meeting rooms, what he was like around the team. So we had an idea he was going to ask hard questions, he was going to challenge us on why we did certain things and we weren’t going to be afraid to challenge him on things we felt were important. It was a really good exchange.

Rod Graves, Cardinals GM: I think Michael convinced him that we would do everything we could to put a winning product on the field. That other part was that we told him we had the other pieces in place to be a successful team. I thought we did a pretty good job of making that presentation.

Whisenhunt: As far as checking the box, we felt good about it. It was exciting.

Peyton: I went to dinner with some of the players. I remember Larry Fitzgerald insisted on carrying my luggage. He goes, “No, no, no. Whatever you need, I am here. Whenever you need, you’re not doing anything. Whatever I can do to help.” I said, “Come on now.”

Graves: I do remember that I couldn’t have been more impressed with him as a person and the humble nature with which he presented himself. There was no air of arrogance in any way, shape or form. I felt like that was really refreshing.

Peyton: I ended up staying at Whisenhunt’s house, kind of the same deal like with Stokley, just, I don’t know, made me feel comfortable. Since those were my first two, I needed to take a breath after that and tried to form some list.

He flew back to Indianapolis for a physical on Monday 12 March, then met with the Dolphins. He worked out for Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman (49ers) at Duke on Tuesday, then met with the Titans in Nashville on Wednesday, and worked out for the Broncos back at Duke on Friday. Saturday he worked out for the Titans in Knoxville. Then:

Peyton: It reminded me a little bit of college, and in the same way I just said, “Well, I like Tennessee, but I liked Florida. I liked Ole Miss and I liked Michigan.” You want to go to all of them, right? I liked the Niners, and Nashville would have been fun, and Arizona and Fitzgerald that would have been fun because Kurt Warner had gone there and turned it around. But I really liked Decker and (Demaryius) Thomas — those guys had a big role. I met both of them on my visit and thought they were two young receivers that — I never tried to make comparisons to the Colts, with Marvin (Harrison) and Reggie (Wayne), but I just thought they were some young guys that I liked. I knew Von (Miller) was such a talented player.

Fox: I just kind of felt like we were going to get him the whole time. It wasn’t automatic, but I just thought there were too many boxes that we checked along the way.

Archie: Some teams eliminated themselves because they had a quarterback situation where they had to know one way or the other if Peyton was going to come to them so they could do something contractually. They needed to know. But he wasn’t ready.

Peyton: I remember the Cardinals called on like a Tuesday and they said, “Hey, any chance you’re going to know by Thursday what you’re going to do?” And I was like, “I don’t think so. Why?” He’s like, “Well, we have to pay one of our quarterbacks a bonus on Thursday if he’s still on the roster, but if you’re going to come, we probably won’t pay it.” I’m like, “Look, I can’t make my decision based on your roster bonus situation.” But you felt a little bit of the tug of teams wanting to know (with) the draft getting closer. I didn’t want to lead anybody on and so I felt like I told maybe the Dolphins and the Titans probably around that time, and maybe Seattle around that time.

Whisenhunt: He was honest and fair and said he wasn’t ready to choose a team. We certainly were in the running and had a really good chance, but it really came down to we had to make the decision before Peyton was ready to make his. If it all happened a month earlier, things could have been different. The way it worked, we just ran out of time.


Peyton: Something about Denver just kept staying on my mind. I knew John Elway. I felt like he wanted to win now. I knew I had probably a smaller window to play with my neck situation. I just did not want to go to a place that was far away and had a long time to rebuild. San Francisco was similar. They were close. They went to the Super Bowl that year, right? That just kind of kept coming back.

I remember just waking up, and then Ashley and I talked about it and I decided, “I think I’m going to sign with Denver.”

Archie: In the end, John Elway, I think, was the difference. John didn’t pressure him. He told him, “You take as long as you want. Look at everything thoroughly.”

Peyton: I was always asking him, “What’s your deadline?” and I remember Elway saying, “There’s no deadline, there’s no deadline,” and I think that had a big role. When they would text or call me to check in, they were just checking in. There’s nothing worse than that person’s saying, “Hey, do you know yet? Do you know yet? Do you know yet?” Eventually you just go, “No, I don’t know yet, but because you’re annoying the hell out of me, I’m going to tell you no.”

Fox: My promise to Peyton was, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure you’re successful.

Peyton: I remember calling John and Fox and letting them know I was coming to Denver and I was going to announce it today. And then I called Chris Mortensen and said, “Hey, I’m going to Denver. You can let the word out.”



ASFN Lifer
Apr 25, 2003
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It makes me feel like we might have gotten him if there had been no pressure by us for him to make a decision. I don't think we would have won a superbowl with him though so I do think it worked out for the best..


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Mar 25, 2005
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SE valley
thanks for posting and thanks for bumping. I missed this originally. super cool.

Red Bird

Mar 8, 2015
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That stupid Kolb deal cost us a shot a Peyton. It's easier to say this now, but they should've just cut Kolb and went all in on Peyton.

On a side note, I wonder how it would've been if BA and Keim had taken over that year instead of 2013. I would think that would've changed things a bit with BA being his first QB coach in the NFL.

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