Can the 49ers actually land Peyton Manning?
The answer is yes, and it's worth going back 14 months to understand why. Back in January 2011, Jim Harbaugh, not Manning, was the white whale of the NFL world, the hot commodity multiple teams were clamoring for, including the Dolphins and the Broncos.
What allowed the 49ers to land Harbaugh was their business-like approach. While Dolphins owner Stephen Ross came onto Harbaugh like a drunken prom date - flying his private jet to the Bay Area and offering Harbaugh untold riches - the 49ers played it cool. They invited Harbaugh to sit down with general manager Trent Baalke and team President Jed York in the private home of a mutual friend, and the three talked football until the sun went down. Harbaugh was sold.
This appears to be the team's approach to Manning as well. And Manning, who like Harbaugh is from a football family, respects a football-first mentality. After all, he's already crossed Ross and the Dolphins, who aspire to create a Hollywood-like atmosphere at their games, off of his list. He prefers discreet over flamboyant, and the 49ers courtship has been so discreet, no one knew about it until today.
And it very well may be that it was Manning, not the 49ers, who made the first overture. Through Monday the 49ers have consistently said that they want Alex Smith to be their quarterback in 2012, and they have offered him a three-year contract. Remember on March 7 when, as Manning and the Colts were publicly parting ways, Manning's former coach, Tony Dungy, said he thought the 49ers would be the perfect fit? Given today's news, you now have to wonder if he'd been talking to Manning beforehand.
That concept is bolstered by something that Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter wrote this week. He wrote that the owner of a 2011 playoff team that wasn't currently pursuing Manning "would seriously consider signing him (pending a positive medical report) if he phoned and said he wanted to play for them." Are the 49ers that team?
Manning is reportedly seeking a deal that is similar to the one he would have gotten in Indianapolis - five years for $90 million - if he hadn't been released. All of the teams still involved in the Manning race have the salary-cap space for such a deal. The 49ers, according to CSN Bay Area, still are $18 million under the cap. In a deal like the one that Manning will receive, the last few years promise to be back-loaded. Years 1-3 are the ones that will count.
Finally, the 49ers' other big selling point - and perhaps the aspect that attracted Manning - is that they came oh-so-close to going to the Super Bowl. That they lost to Eli Manning and will play the Giants at least once in 2012 might be an obstacle (Manning reportedly doesn't want the spectacle of a Manning bowl). Still, it pays to be a winner. And with Harbaugh at the helm, that's what the 49ers are perceived to be.
-- Matt Barrows