On Monday, FOX Sports Arizona will install a hidden camera outside Arizona State University's Verde Dickey Dome. If Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has any secret workouts planned with a certain quarterback, we'll catch him red-handed -- unless, of course, that rumored dinner date with Peyton Manning answers all of assistant GM Fitz's questions.
The Super Bowl hasn't even been played and we already know which Cardinals story will be dominating the headlines over the next month. It's not defensive end Calais Campbell's contract negotiations and impending free agency. It's not quarterback Kevin Kolb's recovery from his second (at least) career concussion. It's not an unlikely reunion with former offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
It's an anonymously sourced story that Arizona will be among the destinations a future Hall of Fame quarterback considers if the Colts release him.
Despite Colts owner Jim Irsay's insistence that no decision has been made yet on Manning's future, the best quarterback of our era is apparently searching for a new home. That's one hurdle allegedly cleared. But there are a host of others before this far-fetched fantasy can even approach reality.
For one, Manning must be healthy enough to play. He has been cleared to resume playing by two doctors, one of whom performed the most recent surgery on his neck, sources told ESPN on Thursday. The sources said Dr. Robert Watkins, who performed the procedure on Manning, examined him recently in Los Angeles and concluded the stability in his neck would have allowed Manning to play this Sunday if the nerves in his arm had regenerated to a satisfactory performance level.
But those nerves haven't regenerated enough, and the timeline on that recovery is problematic for teams, including the Colts, as they ponder the Manning possibility. Irsay said this week that Manning has not passed a Colts physical and has not been cleared to play with the team.
Manning is due a $28 million option bonus on March 8 that will trigger the final four years of a five-year, $90 million contract he signed before the 2011 season. There is widespread belief that Irsay will not exercise that bonus since the Colts have the No. 1 pick in the draft and seem to have Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck already in their plans.
Manning, meanwhile, has said he'd like to settle his future with the Colts "sooner than later."
Any team interested in paying Manning's hefty price tag will want to do more than kick the tires given the significance of the surgery and Manning's age (he'll be 36 next month). They'll want a full diagnostic -- a lengthy workout that tests Manning's stamina as well as his accuracy after a year off.
If Manning switches teams, he'll also have to learn a new system. Ken Whisenhunt tailored his offensive system to quarterback Kurt Warner, and he would be wise to do that again if Manning were to come aboard. But as Warner told The Arizona Republic, learning a new system with new terminology takes time. Warner said it took him three years to feel fully comfortable. So even if the Cards did bring Manning aboard, how long would it take for him and his teammates to get up to speed on the system and each other?
There is also that little problem of Kolb's $7 million roster bonus, which is due on March 17, a mere nine days after Manning's bonus is due. If the Colts wait until the last minute to decide, that leaves the Cardinals with a tiny negotiating window for Manning before they must make a decision on Kolb. And if Manning isn't healthy enough to complete a full workout yet, how do they make that commitment?
One hurdle that won't likely exist, depending on how Manning structured his new contract, would be the salary cap. If the Cards cut Kolb, they'd save $41 million over the remainder of his deal. They may also part ways with left tackle Levi Brown, whose cap number is almost $17 million next season. Arizona likely would have plenty of wiggle room under the cap.
But just as local media types are weighing all the reasons Manning makes sense in Arizona (while ignoring the reasons he doesn't), other writers, broadcasters, bloggers and fans are doing the same in cities such as Washington, Miami and New York, where Manning could play in the same city and building as his brother, Eli.
In a perfect world, the upcoming scouting combine in Indianapolis would provide a perfect opportunity for team doctors to examine Manning, if he's available, giving teams such as the Cards the time to weigh their options.
But we're guessing this saga won't play according to those perfect-world scenarios, and we still view the Manning-to-Arizona possibility as a long shot. In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on that ASU camera and report anything out of the ordinary.