The question hung over the Tennessee Titans throughout the 2012 season and never relented.
What if they had managed to sign Peyton Manning?
By all accounts, including Manning’s own, the Titans actually came pretty close. Coach Mike Munchak, in particular, impressed the future Hall of Fame quarterback to the point that he considered a return to the state where he had so much success as a college signal-caller.
If he had made that decision, the Titans certainly would not have had to endure the growing pains of Jake Locker in his first year as a starter. It seems a safe bet that the offensive line, racked by injuries, would not have been exposed to the same degree if it played in front of a quarterback renowned for his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. Perhaps even the defense would not have looked so bad had the offense gotten a few more first downs and scored a few more points, which most likely would have been the case.
How different things might have been. How many more games might the Titans have won? What if, indeed.
The 2012 season officially ended Tuesday but the Manning question lingers, albeit in a slightly altered form. Given what has taken place already in 2013 it is impossible not to ask what if the Titans had not pursued Manning at all?
General manager Ruston Webster showed that he can be decisive in the hyper-competitive free agent market and that he is willing to pay whatever the market demands to add players who figure to make the team better immediately. Within the first hour of the current signing period he had negotiated deals with two players.
Andy Levitre is exactly the kind of offensive lineman the Titans have not had in recent years. He is both seasoned and full of promise following a college career during which he built a nice reputation. Buffalo drafted him in the second round four years ago and plugged him into the starting lineup.
The Titans made him one of the highest-paid guards in the league to offset years of trying to get offensive linemen on the cheap in the middle or later rounds of the draft.
Tight end Delanie Walker is fresh off an appearance in the Super Bowl as a member of the San Francisco 49ers and is versatile enough to play multiple roles. After years of trying — unsuccessfully — to take advantage of Jared Cook’s one outstanding feature, Tennessee now has a guy who can do a lot of things to help keep an offense moving.
Of course, there are no guarantees that those deals will work out as hoped. Every NFL team has a history of transactions that looked much better in March than in September, but these deals got done — quickly — and that’s the point.
But what if things do go as hoped?
The only thing guaranteed by last year’s pursuit of Manning was that no such moves were made. Munchak and Webster talked about how that process handcuffed them through the first couple weeks of free agency and by the time Manning made up his mind to go with Denver, many of the top names at other positions had signed elsewhere.
Given that it was Webster’s first year on the job, that was our first impression of how he operated. It’s only days into his second year but already we know for sure that he can do better … and that he could have done better, if given the chance last year.
Think about it. What if the Titans had signed defensive end Mario Williams and one of any number of veteran centers last offseason?