NEWARK, N.J. -- Yeah, the Seattle Seahawks wanted Peyton Manning. Their quarterback odyssey under coach Pete Carroll had taken them from Matt Hasselbeck to Charlie Whitehurst to Tarvaris Jackson to a runway in Denver, where Carroll and general manager John Schneider arrived hoping they could persuade Manning to hear their free-agency sales pitch. But Manning had other plans. The quarterback headed for Arizona and a meeting with the NFC West-rival Cardinals before signing with the Denver Broncos. Seattle never had a chance.
With Manning's Broncos set to face the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, that moment in free agency two years ago shapes a classic championship matchup. The Broncos set a single-season NFL record this year for scoring because they had Manning and an offense geared to utilize his strengths. On the other side, the Seahawks led the league in scoring defense partly because they could afford upgrades that might have eluded them if Manning's massive contract was on the books.
All-time great quarterbacks rarely change teams near the peak of their abilities, and when they do, the consequences generally do not crystallize as clearly as they have in this case. It's just about impossible to size up the rosters for these teams without accounting for the decision Manning made in signing with Denver in March 2012. The Broncos were the big winners back then. Will they be the big winners again Sunday? Here, we consider the tradeoffs that come with signing an elite QB to big money, the implications, and another less-explored factor that could prove decisive in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Manning's contract counts $17.5 million against the Broncos' salary cap, the third-highest figure for a quarterback this season. The record 55 touchdown passes he threw during the regular season make the investment look like a bargain on the balance sheet. Consider that the two QBs with higher cap charges in 2013 -- Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning -- combined for 47 touchdown passes and 46 interceptions.