"What if Jerry Richardson and Bill Polian parted ways amicably?"
Fans of the Carolina Panthers have a lot to thank Bill Polian for. Jerry Richardson and his PSL plan depended on generating early hype and excitement to support the adoption of the franchise by potential fans. To this end it was Polian who was charged with executing this plan, and he did so to a tee. This is what brought in Kevin Greene, Sam Mills, Wesley Walls- some of this franchise's best players were acquired during this initial push to win the hearts and minds of fans in the area.
Even fifteen years later we're not sure how things soured, but we know there was a power struggle and a falling out between Polian and Richardson. From what we can piece together it seems that Polian wanted more control over the organization, and JR (like most business owners) didn't want to relinquish it- this was coupled with personnel upheaval and drama that caused things to go badly quickly. In 1997 Bill Polian left the Carolina Panthers to join the Indianapolis Colts where he got full power over football operations, and played a major role in the financial direction of the franchise.
Despite the early success it was time for Polian and the Panthers to part ways- that much is known, and there was a good chance this could have ended amicably because of the Colts' offer that was on the table. Now as we reflect on this breakup there's one thing that stands out... the Panthers could have had Peyton Manning.
More after the jump
A few months ago Scott Fowler wrote a ‘what if' regarding Peyton Manning and the Panthers. He recounts Polian's continuing allegiance to Kerry Collins at the time, and the Panthers near-desperation to make a deal in the 1998 draft to move up and select the Tennesee QB.
Carolina offered Collins, other starting players, draft picks- whatever the Colts wanted if they could move up for Manning, but the sides couldn't come to terms. While it's possible Polian saw in Manning the player he became, realistically if you go back to the period prior to the '98 draft you'll see that analysts weren't completely sold on Manning, and the Colts were listening to deals from other teams too... so why couldn't they reach terms with the Panthers, who were offering the world?
Like most things the answer is pretty simple- a grudge. Sure, it may seem childish to let a grudge get in the way of business, but even today on ESPN you'll see Polian be especially harsh on the Carolina Panthers, recently calling Robert Griffin III "Cam times 10", continuing to refrain from giving Newton credit for the 2011 season that broke his own draft pick's records.
Had Jerry Richardson and Bill Polian shook hands, parted ways, and remained friends there's a good chance a trade could have been worked out that gave Polian a QB he still believed in, Kerry Collins- as well as more draft picks.
That part is easy. Seeing the progression that lands Peyton Manning in Carolina is simple, but the ramifications of a move are much more difficult. The continuation of the ‘win now' movement brought in George Seifert and led the Panthers to a mostly bad place. The players brought in to start the ball rolling got older, and the culmination of bad front office moves was the trade for Sean Gilbert- a move we'll definitely be looking at down the road.
Even though the Panthers found a Pro Bowl QB in Steve Beuerlein, it was always a short-term union. Seifert's mismanagement of drafting process, and making insane trades ultimately led to the 1-15 season. It's unclear whether Peyton Manning could have averted this, so I'm working under the assumption the Panthers still fell from grace; Though it's obvious that a 4,000 yard QB wouldn't have made the fall so hard.
So what would have happened if John Fox and Peyton Manning were united in 2002 instead of 2012? The Carolina Panthers had the offensive line, they had the receivers, and with Fox's personality they brought in the running backs. There is no doubt the Carolina Panthers win the Superbowl in 2003, and possibly get another one in 2004 with Peyton at QB.
I say this with such surety because of the Panthers defense. Indianapolis was only able to win one ring with Manning at the helm due to a consistently mediocre defense. Some label Peyton as ‘choking' in the playoffs, but he was asked to completely make up for the defense his entire time in Indy. Give an All-Pro QB the Carolina defensive line that generated turnovers, give him Steve Smith, Muhsin Muhammad and Stephen Davis and the Panthers win a ring.
If Peyton leads Carolina to a Superbowl they aren't going to allow the offense to break up, and pony up the big money for Muhsin Muhammad instead of him leaving for Chicago. Give Peyton the Panthers offensive line and he doesn't get hit enough for his neck to deteriorate.
Let's assume that something happened that caused the Panthers to still go 2-14 in 2010, and have the #1 pick in the 2011 draft. Now things get even crazier. You've been warned, this requires a little suspension of disbelief.
The Carolina Panthers were looking to hire Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach. The organization can deny it, but there's credible evidence that they had targeted him. However, Harbaugh was close to Polian and the Colts organization. This surely impacted his decision to rebuff the Panthers. In turn, Peyton advised Andrew Luck to stay in school one more year. That's right... there's a reasonable chance that if Polian and Richardson remained close that Harbaugh and Luck could have left Stanford as a package deal to arrive in Carolina.
What happens if Polian and Richardson parted way amicably?
... at the very least it's likely the Panthers wind up with Peyton Manning after offering a generous offer to former GM Polian who builds the Colts around Kerry Collins and his other pieces.
... at the most the Panthers get Manning, potentially win a Superbowl and years later Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck come to the Carolina Panthers instead of Cam Newton.