The Peyton Manning saga has hit what seems like is the final stretch, as he is now a free agent and can negotiate with the team of his choice. Per ESPN's Adam Schefter, there have been "a dozen teams" that have contacted Manning's people. The Arizona Cardinals are among those interested in Manning, and rightfully so. After Kurt Warner retired, they became one of the teams "looking for their next franchise QB." Matt Leinart didn't do enough and undermined his coach publicly. Derek Anderson was Derek Anderson (did the team really think he could be the guy?). They traded for and paid Kevin Kolb in hopes he could become the guy, but he spent most of his year injured and only showed flashes. John Skelton won games, but also was statistically one of the worst QBs in the league.
Manning is probably the biggest free agent name in the history of the NFL. Despite the rumors that he is willing to take an incentive-laden contract, it probably won't happen. Those types of contracts are for players that have no leverage. Manning has all the leverage. Someone is going to pay him a lot.
Which brings the Cardinals to this question. What do you do with Kevin Kolb and his contract?
Kolb is due a $7 million option bonus on March 17. The Cardinals can avoid paying that if he is cut or traded before then. Since his contract is a hard one to deal and he has yet to really show he can stay healthy for an entire NFL season, trading him could be very difficult.
So the obvious decision would be to cut him, right? That makes sense, at least in real dollars.
However, there are salary cap issues. If Kolb stays, his cap hit is $10 million. If he is cut, his contract represents $8 million in dead weight. So, there would be only $2 million in cap savings.
One thing to consider is how the salary cap worked for last season. The Cardinals were $7 million under the cap in 2011. According to the new CBA (and this is a little hazy because I saw two separate reports that said different things), the teams can carry over their unused cap space to 2012...or they can carry over up to $2 million. One of the two.
If the $7 million carryover is true, then cap space is no real issue. The team could keep both Kolb and Manning.
The question is whether they would.
Keeping Kolb, since he is signed for another four seasons, could be kept as an expensive backup and insurance should Manning get hurt. However, John Skelton has already shown that he can play well enough (albeit inconsistently) in the league. He costs a lot less.
Then there is the issue of Kolb finding himself in another unfortunate spot. He had the starting job in Philadelphia, got hurt and Michael Vick had one of the most amazing QB seasons we have seen. Vick is the starter. Kolb comes to Arizona and gets hurt. John Skelton is not great, but the team wins a lot of games without Kolb. Fans are split. If Manning were to come, it would be just another case on something getting in the way of Kolb's career.
Would he be satisfied as a number two? Perhaps not, but he has so far shown to be a very good teammate and not a problem in the lockerroom. Plus, when your teammate is Peyton Manning, it's not like you can claim to be better. You have to take a backseat.
The question will be whether the Cardinals want to pay the $7 million in real money (not cap space) to a guy that will sit the bench. We must remember that cap space is simply money you are allowed to spend. It is not actual money spent. Not having cap space is an obstacle for the coaching staff in putting together a team, but it is not actually using more of the Bidwills' cash. Another question is whether or not they are willing to give up on Kolb for Manning.
Conventional wisdom says you do not pay two starting quarterbacks, so cutting Kolb is the most logical choice. But keeping him is not out of the question. The cap space is already used, why not keep him? He gets another year with the system, sees how Manning prepares for games and if Manning for some reason is not as effective as before or his health declines, you have a guy you still believe is going to be a very good starting QB.
Will that happen? Not likely. Kolb will likely be shown the door.
In the end, if Peyton Manning comes to the Cardinals and if he is the Peyton Manning we are used to seeing, whether or not Kolb stays or goes becomes irrelevant. WE WOULD HAVE PEYTON MANNING! And that is all the fans would see. The Kolb trade and contract would barely be remembered.
All that fans really care about right now is PEYTON MANNING and more PEYTON MANNING. Until that possibility is gone, then nothing else matters.
You can talk more Cardinals over at Revenge of the Birds.