Of all the wily personnel moves that the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos made to get to Super Bowl XLVIII, none were wiser and more blessed than the moves they made to acquire their starting quarterbacks.
The Seahawks selected Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Broncos signed free agent Peyton Manning to a five-year, $96 million contract before the 2012 season.
Hindsight underscores the wisdom behind both moves.
Seventy-four players, including five quarterbacks, were picked before Wilson in the 2012 draft.
And the Broncos’ starting quarterback to open the 2011 season, the year before they signed Manning?
Kyle Orton, who eventually gave way to Tim Tebow.
Two teams, two quarterbacks, two paths to the Super Bowl. Neither path, alas, is an option for the 8-8 Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys have already committed to their own Jerry Jones-chosen path. Owner Jones has his quarterback. More than that, though, Jones has already spent his salary cap money.
The Cowboys are stuck, as are all the teams trying to build a Super Bowl-caliber team with a high-dollar — in most cases, $100 million — quarterback.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, Tony Romo and the Cowboys, Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions, Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers and Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams.
All will cost their teams at least $15,280,000 against the salary cap in 2014. In Romo’s case, his $21,773,000 cap hit will consume 17.2 percent of the Cowboys’ $126.3 million salary pool.
If you’re Manning ($17.5 million next season), Drew Brees ($18.4 million) or Aaron Rodgers ($17.9 million) and your team is a proven playoff contender, the quarterback cap hit won’t cripple their teams’ roster maneuvering, although the Saints have some salaries to shed.
The Cowboys, however, already stand about $25 million over the announced 2014 salary cap. Instead of adding defensive help or finding another blocker for Romo, Owner Jones is faced with difficult questions about DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer.
In Seattle’s case, the Seahawks benefited greatly by only having to pay Wilson $526,217 this season. General manager John Schneider used the cap room mostly to bolster his defense, adding Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and extending Chris Clemons.
Meanwhile, when Denver operations vice president John Elway signed Manning in 2012, it was a signal that the Broncos were all in.
Only three teams in the league spent more on their offensive line in 2013 than the Broncos.
Denver is seasoned, with 17 players who are 30 and older, but they’re built to win now, within Manning’s championship window. Elway’s faith in Peyton’s track record and recovery from surgery made the rest of his personnel moves possible.
A team with enough roster talent to be a valid Super Bowl contender can justify having a $100 million quarterback. But to a team trying to make that next big step, having one player take up 17 percent of your payroll is folly — especially when that player has started in the NFL for eight seasons and won only one playoff game.
Instead of wandering down his own path, Owner Jones should have followed the ways of this season’s two Super Bowl teams.
Draft blessedly, or go for broke with a proven winner.
Too late for that now.