No sport is more subject to further review than the NFL and a decision made years ago can have a ripple effect to multiple franchises. Like dominos falling, one personnel move can have ramifications not only for the team that makes it, but also those that are impacted by it.
In 2008, the Green Bay Packers made the decision to part ways with Brett Favre and hand the ball over to Aaron Rodgers. At the time an unknown commodity to almost everyone outside the Packers organization, it was a controversial move when Favre decided he wanted to return. The Packers were left in an untenable situation. They had spent an offseason convincing the team that Rodgers was the more viable alternative – a decision that was borne out when the Packers won a Super Bowl title two years later.
It was known that the Vikings wanted Favre, but the Packers had no plans to let him come to Minnesota. They didn't want him, but they didn't want the Vikings to have him. Instead, they cut a deal with the Jets to ship him off to the New York with a poison pill put in the deal to assure the Jets didn't cut a side deal with the Vikings to get Favre into Minnesota.
The decision looked great early on. Despite being a fish out of water in a foreign offense, Favre led the Jets to an 8-4 start. However, a bicep injury impacted his level of play and the Jets collapsed down the stretch. In the process, head coach Eric Mangini was fired and the new regime made Mark Sanchez their first pick in the 2009 draft. Favre was no longer needed and asked for his release, which was granted and made him an unrestricted free agent.
The Vikings knew that Favre wouldn't be the long-term answer, but had little to no competition for his services. Many thought Favre was washed up, but he responded with one of his best statistical seasons and brought the Vikings from being a playoff team to the brink of the Super Bowl before throwing his last pass of the season across his body that was intercepted and snuffed a chance for Minnesota to win the game. Favre had come to the Vikings as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. 2010 was supposed to be the season that Favre and the Vikings sealed the deal. That didn't happen.
As a result of the disappointing 2010 season, the Vikings had their hand played for them and used their first-round pick in the 2011 draft on Christian Ponder, marking the third time in his career that a first-round QB in the draft led to Favre's ouster from an organization. However, the Favre magic of 2009 left an indelible mark on the Vikings and the NFL that would be repeated just three years later.
In 2011, Peyton Manning missed the entire season after undergoing multiple neck surgeries that left his career in doubt. The Indianapolis Colts were so bad in 2011 that they got into the position to land the first pick in the draft, which they used on Andrew Luck. Like what Favre had experienced both in Green Bay and New York, Manning was no longer needed in Indy. Having learned from the messy divorce between the Packers and Favre, a loving press conference was held featuring Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay professing mutual love, yet doing so knowing that they were going to part ways for financial reasons. Like Favre, Manning felt he had some good football left in him and wanted to prove his doubters wrong.
Unlike Favre, there was much more of a market for Manning. Favre had proved that a veteran QB could come into a new system with new players and succeed. Manning would repeat the Favre history (eerily so in some instances) and had just as wide an impact.
Manning held his spring U.S. tour, heading across the country to discuss bringing his Hall of Fame resume to a town near you. It didn't take long to whittle the potential teams down to four – Arizona, Denver, San Francisco and Tennessee. The Cardinals and Titans would soon fall out of the competition, leaving it to Denver and San Francisco to bid for his services.
The 49ers and Jim Harbaugh made a strong push for Manning, but he chose Denver. The move to the Broncos forced John Elway to rid himself of Tim Tebow, who was traded to the Jets because Favre's replacement (Sanchez) had struggled badly and Tebow was viewed as a viable option in case Sanchez continued to stink out the joint in the clutch. It also left the 49ers out in the cold … for awhile.
Like Favre in 2009 with Minnesota, Manning had one of his most impressive statistical seasons of his career with Denver. But his 2012 season ended after he threw an interception across his body in the playoffs that left Denver watching the Super Bowl from the sidelines. While there is still reason for optimism in Denver in 2013, the same was true with Vikings fans who assumed the team would take the final step to the Super Bowl with Favre in 2010. We know how that story finished.
Had Manning chosen San Francisco, the 49ers may still well have made the Super Bowl, but he would have still been a short-term answer. Perhaps more importantly, nobody outside of the 49ers locker room would know that Colin Kaepernick was a viable NFL quarterback – much less the face of the franchise moving forward.
In the cyclical process of the NFL, it can be argued that the investment the Packers made in Rodgers led to Kaepernick becoming a Super Bowl starter. It took a long, circuitous route to get there, but it is proof of how critical one decision can make on multiple franchises. If not for the Favre-Green Bay divorce, the Vikings likely wouldn't have Ponder as their starter moving forward. If not for Manning turning his back on an offer from the 49ers, Kaepernick likely wouldn't have the opportunity to show what he could do – just a sign of how quickly the fortunes of teams and organizations can turn on the personnel decisions they make.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.