Peyton Manning Should Consider All His Options
Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Four-time MVP, 11-time Pro Bowler, and MVP of the 2007 Super Bowl, he is third all-time in touchdown passes, completions, and passing yards. His importance to the Colts was underscored this past fall by their 2-14 record in his absence, especially considering that he had led essentially the same Colts roster to at least 10 wins in each of the nine previous seasons.
So why is there a debate raging about whether the Colts should bring him back? You would think Indy would be falling all over itself to make sure he returns in 2012. The issue is that the neck injury that caused him to miss all of 2011 has been operated on numerous times, and some consider his neck to be in danger of serious long-term damage. To make matters worse for Manning’s future in Indianapolis, he is 35 years old and the Colts hold the first pick in the 2012 draft thanks to the league-worst record they amassed without him. Andrew Luck, Stanford’s record-setting quarterback, is the presumed choice for that pick, although Baylor’s Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy this year and could be a dark horse in the race to be selected first overall. Although picking a quarterback with the number one selection can prove disastrous (hello, Ryan Leaf), Manning himself was a first overall pick, and teams have had success recently when picking quarterbacks first overall—Cam Newton of Carolina, Sam Bradford of St. Louis, and Matthew Stafford of Detroit were the last three number one picks, and they have all performed well.
Since the Colts hope to pick their future franchise quarterback in April’s draft, Manning and his $90 million contract have suddenly become expendable. While the Colts might not want him anymore, there are a plethora of teams around the league who would bend over backwards to have Manning under center. The NFL is undoubtedly a passing league these days, and quarterbacks of Manning’s caliber—even hurt—are in high demand. Indianapolis knows this, making them averse to cut him; but if they do not cut him by March 8th, they will have to pay him a $28 million bonus. That means teams would have to come up with ample trade bait in order to entice the Colts into dealing them Manning, or successfully impress Manning with their current roster in order for him to sign with them after he is cut. Only about half of the 32 NFL teams are comfortable enough with their current quarterback to resist taking a chance on Manning’s reconstructed neck, but every other team is a possible destination for his talents.
Here are the teams that are not in the market for Manning’s services: Atlanta (with Matt Ryan as the incumbent), Baltimore (Joe Flacco), Carolina (Newton), Chicago (Jay Cutler), Cincinnati (Andy Dalton), Dallas (Tony Romo), Detroit (Stafford), Green Bay (Aaron Rodgers), New England (Tom Brady), New Orleans (Drew Brees), the New York Giants (Eli Manning), Oakland (Carson Palmer), Philadelphia (Michael Vick), Pittsburgh (Ben Roethlisberger), San Diego (Philip Rivers), and St. Louis (Bradford). That leaves Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, the New York Jets, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, and Washington as the teams that would give up important players for Manning.
A number of those teams don’t really have a chance, though, because Manning is smart enough to avoid playing in a lot of those places. Arizona, Buffalo, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and Washington are all in horrible shape, and Manning likely doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding effort. The remaining options are Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, New York, San Fran, Seattle, and Tennessee.
Manning won’t want to get involved in the Denver circus that is Tebowmania or the dysfunctional Jets locker room, and the Colts won’t deal him to division rivals Houston or Tennessee (which aren’t good choices for Manning even if he is cut because of their current situations).
With Kansas City, Miami, San Francisco, and Seattle as the final contenders, Manning will want to go to the team that is closest to contending for a Super Bowl. That makes San Francisco the obvious choice, as the 49ers were a couple of special teams foibles away from facing the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Manning would prove a significant upgrade over the incumbent, Alex Smith, but the 49ers won’t want to give up their core players that almost got them to this year’s Super Bowl. That means Manning only has a chance of joining the 49ers if the Colts cut him.
If they decide not to cut him, the Miami Dolphins have the best chance of the three remaining teams to trade a number of their assets for Manning and still be able to compete with what they have left. Besides, Miami fans have already started stumping for Manning, with the Manning to Miami website and billboards attracting a lot of attention around South Florida, where he owns an offseason home and was reportedly seen training on Thursday.
No matter what happens, both the Colts and either the 49ers or the Dolphins will be better off next year with Manning on his new team and Luck or Griffin on the Colts. No one is sure how the Manning story will play out, but the football world is waiting with bated breath for the eventual move that could shift the balance of power in the NFL.