This isn’t the first time the Arizona Cardinals have been
linked to a future Hall of Famer.
The last time was in 1993, when the San Francisco
49ers were looking to trade Joe Montana.
Always needing a QB and never opposed to adding someone
who would sell tickets, the Cardinals did their best to
land one of the best signal callers the game has ever
seen, only to watch Montana spurn Big Red in favor of the
Kansas City Chiefs.
At the time, many felt Montana used the Cardinals to drive
up the price, never having any real intention of heading
to the desert.
Roughly 10 years later the Cardinals pursued former
Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who was clearly on the
downside of his career and was just hoping to pick up a
few more yards to add to his NFL-record total.
Always needing a running back and never opposed to adding
someone who would sell tickets, the Cardinals offered a starting
job as well as a nice contract.
Smith took the deal, though many at the time knew the 33-
year-old had little left to give the NFL, and instead was
just signing with the Cardinals because they were the only
team who would give him the ball. While he wasn’t bad for
the team, Smith did nothing to change the culture and, at
one point in his first season with the team, was reduced
to tears over what was transpiring on the field.
Trust me Emmitt, many a Cardinals fan has shed tears over
the team’s play, too.
However, nearly 10 years after that the Cardinals are once
again being mentioned as a suitor for one of the all-time
greats, only their rumored pursuit of Peyton Manning has a
different feel to it.
The Cardinals would not be used to simply drive up the
price, nor are they the only team that would offer Manning
a starting job. They would not be after him just to sell
tickets (though he’d certainly help), and he’d be brought
in as the missing piece to a championship puzzle, not
because of name recognition.
Assuming the Cardinals are interested in Manning (and
really, why wouldn’t they be?), there’s really only one
other hurdle to clear. You know, Manning actually having
interest in Big Red. Never before has a player who most of
the NFL coveted actually picked the Cardinals. Never
before have the Cardinals been a great place for a great
QB to come and play.
But that’s exactly what’s happened.
ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter and CBS NFL analyst (and
former NFL GM) Charley Casserly have said it, and ESPN columnist Ashley Fox has
written it: Manning to the Cardinals makes sense.
Tell me, Cardinals fans, does a still-great player wanting
to come to Arizona and play for the Cardinals make sense
to you? Maybe not in the past, but that just goes to show
how much things have changed for this organization.
No longer are the Cardinals a laughingstock, an
organization known for being as cheap as it was poorly
run. Sure, there is still a national perception that the
team refuses to spend money – and at times it’s probably
still accurate – but they’re no more frugal than plenty of
other teams in the league.
If these Arizona Cardinals were the same as your father’s
version, Larry Fitzgerald would not have signed a contract
extension last summer. If these Arizona Cardinals were the
same as my father’s version, they would not have rallied
to finish 8-8 last season after a 1-6 start.
In the early 90s the Cardinals tried to trade for a great
player, one who could have changed the franchise’s
fortunes but likely never really wanted to have much to do
with Arizona. In the early 2000s the Cardinals signed a
past-his-prime running back, who likely never really
wanted to have much to do with Arizona, but found no other
place to go.
These Arizona Cardinals are different, and that fact can
be seen in the moves they could make as much as it
can in the ones they’ve made.
Does Peyton Manning want to be an Arizona Cardinal? We
can’t be sure, at least not yet. But the fact that the
idea of a great player having interest in the team because
he thinks he can win – and not just make the most money or
find a starting job no one else will give him – is a sign
of just how far the team has come over the years.
And, with any luck, the Cards will actually land a guy the
rest of the NFL covets, proving once and for all that the
“same old Cardinals” are officially dead.