Peyton Manning Nearly Became Dan Marino’s Replacement in Miami, but Jimmy Johnson and the Dolphins Decided Against a Wild Predraft Trade Instead

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Indianapolis Colts legend and first overall 1998 NFL Draft pick Peyton Manning with former Dolphins QB Dan Marino.

Peyton Manning is easily the most important person in Indianapolis Colts history. Before drafting him in 1998, the Colts had only made the playoffs three times after moving to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984. The state of Indiana was also a well-known basketball state. However, once Manning went to the Colts, he helped them become an NFL powerhouse, and, in turn, made the fan base one of the most passionate in football.

But what if Manning would have went to an entirely different franchise in 1998? Apparently, he almost did just that, as Manning almost played for the Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Dolphins had an aging Dan Marino

Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino in 1997.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino during a game against the Indianapolis Colts. | Rhona Wise/AFP via Getty Images

Before the 1998 NFL Draft, the Dolphins had a decent season in 1997, going 9-7 overall and reaching the playoffs. The legendary Jimmy Johnson was their head coach, and they had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Dan Marino.

Up to that point, Marino had already racked up the accomplishments, leading the NFL in passing yards five times and in passing touchdowns three times. The Pittsburgh product was also a nine-time Pro Bowler and won the league’s MVP award in 1984.

However, Marino, who was a 36-year-old QB at the time, had pretty much reached the end of his career. He threw for 3,780 yards and only 16 touchdowns in 1997, his fewest TD passes in a season that he played in 12 games or more.

So, since he only had a couple of years left, finding his replacement should have been essential for Miami after the 1997 campaign.

But the Dolphins supposedly passed on the opportunity.

The Dolphins decided not to trade for Peyton Manning before the 1998 draft

Indianapolis Colts legend and first overall 1998 NFL Draft pick Peyton Manning with former Dolphins QB Dan Marino.
Peyton Manning (from left) and Dan Marino during the NFL Pro Bowl Skills Challenge on Feb. 11, 2005. | Kirby Lee/Getty Images

Jimmy Johnson was known for pulling off incredible trades, especially during his days with the Dallas Cowboys; the moves he made led two him winning two Super Bowls in Dallas.

In a recent interview with Dan Le Batard, though, Johnson said he regrets not pulling off one for Peyton Manning before the 1998 NFL Draft.

“It would have taken my entire draft board, but I could’ve made a trade to move up to get Peyton Manning,” Johnson said on the Aug. 10 episode of The Dan Le Batard Show With Stu Gotz. “In fact, I talked to Peyton and Archie [Manning] about it this weekend (at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony).”

Johnson wouldn’t expand any further on why he didn’t take the deal or what the Colts were asking for, but the simple fact of the matter is this: The Dolphins didn’t go for it.

Their decision not to trade for one of the greatest quarterbacks ever then changed the course of history for both Miami and Indianapolis.

Peyton Manning became a legend on the Colts, while the Dolphins have had a hole at QB for years

Indy’s choice to stick with Peyton Manning — who won a record five NFL MVPs and is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — paid off for the Colts. They eventually made the playoffs in nine straight and 11 out of 12 seasons between 1999 and 2010. They also played in two Super Bowls and won one.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, have felt their decision not to trade for him through the past two decades. Miami made the playoffs the next four seasons from 1998 through 2001 but failed to find a franchise quarterback for years after that. In fact, the Dolphins have had 22 starting quarterbacks since Marino retired after the 1999 season, which has led to them only making the postseason twice since 2002.

Had Johnson and the Dolphins worked out a deal with the Colts, it’s hard to tell how the landscape of the NFL would look right now. Would Miami be one of the league’s powerhouses? Would the Colts maybe be in an entirely different city given their move from Baltimore and lack of a fan base pre-1998? 

It’s hard to know for sure. But one thing that’s certain is that NFL history would still look a lot different had Johnson and Miami pulled off that wild trade before the 1998 NFL Draft.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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