After nearly a year of curiosities, comments, opinions, and concerns over whether or not Peyton Manning would remain an Indianapolis Colt in 2012 and beyond, several important questions were answered on March 7th. During a press conference heard around the world, the greatest Colt of all-time said goodbye to Indianapolis. At this point, Manning’s future is still up in the air. He has been practicing in various places around the country, and has already expressed his interest to continue playing. Now that the other shoe has dropped in Indy, the focus of the NFL switches from what Peyton Manning might do, to where he may go.
As it stands right now, Peyton Manning is a free agent. Manning is not familiar with that title tied to his name, but he may not have to hold that title for very long. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that over half of the teams in the NFL could consider taking a long look into the biggest free agent in history. Even teams that have serviceable starters in the quarterback position (i.e. San Fransisco, Houston) would be right to at least consider what Manning might be able to add to their roster. Still, there are several cities who keep coming up in the conversation. Washington, Seattle, and Arizona were already been reported to have contacted Manning’s camp after Wednesday’s press conference. Fans in Miami made their interest clear by paying for a billboard with a picture of Manning in a Dolphins jersey. There are positive and negative aspects to all of these teams in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Some concerns are clear, but others are a bit cloudy.
The Miami Dolphins may already have a billboard asking for Manning’s assistance. Miami also has to travel all the way across the country to play their division opponents, New England, Buffalo, and the New York Jets. Not that Manning would mind (or be overwhelmed by) playing against Tom Brady and Rex Ryan twice a year, but those winter road trips from South Beach to New Jersey, New York, and New England are long and sometimes snowy ones. Manning is 0-3 in outdoor games in January. The Dolphins do have a decent young defense, and Pro Bowl wide out, Brandon Marshall. Manning could also be swayed to make the move to Miami by free agent Reggie Wayne. Wayne, who has played his entire 11-year career catching passes as a Colt, attended the University of Miami. Wayne’s status in Indianapolis is up in the air, but if he is not re-signed with the Colts, it has been rumored that Reggie may be interested in proposing a package deal with himself and Manning going to the same team.
The New York Jets also have a stout defense, and former Pro Bowl receivers, in Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burris. The Jets also have the New York media to contend with, as well as Rex Ryan’s yearly Super Bowl boasting. Not to mention that Manning would be sharing that big stage on the opposite side of his brother, Eli. Would the reigning Super Bowl MVP and the four-time NFL MVP enjoy playing in the same confines, or is even New York big enough for the Mannings to share the same locker room without stepping on each other’s toes?
Two words can easily sum up the most interesting factor about the Arizona Cardinals; Larry Fitzgerald. One thing that can take some of the heat off of a quarterback in a new system is a top-notch place to throw the ball. Fitzgerald, a four-time Pro Bowler, already has nearly 700 catches for nearly 10,000 yards and 73 touchdowns in his 8-year career. It’s not outlandish to say that Fitzgerald’s best days are still ahead of him, and Peyton Manning could be a perfect catalyst to assist Arizona back to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals did trade a pick and a player for the rights to quarterback Kevin Kolb last season, but his contract is up for review later this month. Kolb was often injured, and didn’t seem to grasp the offense as well as was hoped. Although the San Fransisco 49ers did host the NFC Championship game last year, the NFC West has not been the toughest of divisions over the last few seasons. The Cardinals do have an up-and-down defense and questions at the running back and tight end positions. Arizona also has a dome stadium that is very similar to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Washington Redskins have a history of chasing big free agents, from Donovan McNabb to Albert Haynewsorth, among many others. Just because a team is not afraid to throw big money around, does not mean that those players will gel. The Redskins have a rabid fan base, who are hungry for their team to get back to championship prominance. Their head coach, Mike Shanahan, helped John Elway get two Super Bowl rings in the final years of his career, but the so-called “quarterback guru” has done very little for that position in Washington. Entering his third year as coach of the Redskins, Shanahan may have to at least try and make a move for Manning to help save his team and his job. The Redskins have finished at the bottom of the NFC East for the last two years, and also must face the Super Bowl champion New York Giants twice every season. Does Peyton really want to play his brother twice a year for a division title or a playoff spot, or would Manning rather spend the last few years of his career trying to meet his brother in the Super Bowl?
No teams are more familiar with Manning than the other three teams in the AFC South. Now that the Colts have cut Manning, even Indianapolis could bring in the free agent at a reduced rate on an incentive-based contract. The Colts could have side-stepped the roster bonus Manning was due on March 8th, and still brought him back with a re-structured deal. Aside from that unlikely happening, the Titans, Jaguars, and even the Houston Texans could all stand to see Peyton Manning playing for their team, instead of against them. There would be no sweeter revenge for a quarterback scorned, then to stomp on your former team twice or more every season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars traded up six spots, and spent their first round pick (the tenth pick overall) last year on quarterback, Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert struggled mightily, throwing 11 interceptions and fumbling the ball 14 times. In Gabbert’s defense, he had very little help by anyone on the team except for Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing last year, but could definitely use a solid quarterback to take some pressure off. The presence of Peyton Manning could help boost ticket sales in Jacksonville. The Jaguars have faced numerous local television blackouts over the past few seasons due to low ticket sales, and have even been mentioned as a possible team to be moved to Los Angeles or London.
The Houston Texans could quite possibly be a quarterback away from making the Super Bowl. Houston won their first AFC South title and made their first-ever playoff appearance last season. They, like Arizona, play in a dome stadium which is very familiar to what Manning is used to. With a re-vamped defense coached by Wade Phillips, Houston also won their first playoff game in franchise history. The Texans look to be the most complete team in the division. Houston recently re-signed running back Arian Foster to a long-term deal, and still have a formidable deep threat in Andre Johnson. Quarterback Matt Schaub was put on injured reserve after breaking his foot in week 10 of last season, opening the door for rookie T.J. Yates to lead Houston’s first-ever playoff run.
Peyton Manning was a legend in Tennessee before he was a legend in Indiana. During his college career as a Tennessee Volunteer, Manning won 39 out of 45 games. Manning left the University of Tennessee as their all-time leading passer and helped the Vols win the SEC Championship in 1997. The Tennessee Titans brought in veteran quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck last season, with mixed results. The Titans had a record of 9-7, but still came close to making the playoffs in a weakened division. Hasselbeck still has two years left on his deal, and the Titans also spent the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft on quarterback Jake Locker. After a training camp holdout last season, running back Chris Johnson was offered a four-year contract that made him the highest-paid running back in the league. Johnson finished last season with almost 1,500 total yards and four touchdowns, but there have been rumors that Johnson may be cut this March. If cut, Chris Johnson would become a free agent, and the Titans would save $17 million by not guaranteeing the remainder of his contract.
As of right now, not even Manning knows where he will go to finish his Hall of Fame career. For every opinion, there is a rebuttal. For every point made, there is a counter-point waiting to be expressed. With every statement, interview, or tweet concerning this much-discussed subject, more questions and options seem to present themselves. Only time will tell what Peyton Manning will do, but that time may very well be close to coming.