It's finally official. The Colts are parting ways with Peyton Manning. We've had months of practice, but now that it's real, so make this one count: Once and for all, where will No. 18 suit up in 2012?
Will Manning be strike three for Dolphins?Manning will get to call these shots, by and large, and it will be about others convincing him they have the best chance to win.
I don't see him in the media cauldrons that can swirl in New York and Washington, especially with the Eli factor (same city in NYC, same division in D.C.). Many things will factor into Peyton's decision: geography, roster talent, ability to blend in and opportunity to lead a normal life.
The Miami Dolphins have some natural advantages, and I'd call them the early favorites. The biggest thing working against the Fins is a rookie head coach (Joe Philbin) and the fact that they swung and missed on two big prizes -- Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher -- in the past couple years. Seattle and Arizona can put together impressive sales pitches, as well, and I bet the Seahawks end up in this thing 'til the end, if they don't actually land him.
Titans, Broncos, Cardinals could be dark horsesThis might take a while. I don't think Manning believed this was going to happen. Instead, he was totally focused on getting healthy, and I am told he looked good in his Duke workouts.
Manning will have many suitors. He can learn any system in the NFL, but one thing that will be important to him is having competent offensive coaches who can help him. I think he will stay away from the NFC East and New York City. Miami will be a strong possibility, with Tennessee, Arizona and Denver being dark horses.
One final factor to consider: Manning's decision could be influened by a team's willingness to sign Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.
Jets are best fit for ManningThe best possible fit for Peyton Manning will be the New York Jets. Although the presence of Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan's desire to ground and pound makes the notion seem far-fetched, the scenario gives Manning his best opportunity to win another ring. The Jets already have legitimate receiving threats in Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller, and Manning's remarkable passing ability makes up for an inconsistent running game. In addition, the Jets' aggressive defense thrives on creating turnovers, granting Manning with more opportunities to put points on the board.
The move to acquire Manning would be daring on the Jets' part, but it would put them right back in title contention in 2012.
Niners have all the elements Manning wantsFirst things first: Doctors need to give Peyton Manning a clean bill of health.
If that happens, my formula has him playing in a place where he can win now, compete for a Super Bowl, and mesh with a head coach in a manner he's grown accustomed to. San Francisco, anyone?
New York might be long shot, but it's best win-now opportunityI have been saying it for a while -- the Jets. It might be the longest shot of them all and Peyton might not feel comfortable being in the same market as Eli. If he wants to win a Super Bowl, though, the Jets are his best shot.
Obviously, signing Manning would require New York to move on without Mark Sanchez. But this might give the Jets an easy out to make a clean break in a tricky situation.
Miami needs a marketable star -- Peyton certainly fits the billPeyton's going to Miami. The melodramatic Jets make no sense on several levels. Even with Manning, the Redskins aren't ready to contend for the 2012 NFC East title, let alone the Super Bowl. With Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, Moeaki, Charles and McCluster already in the fold and Manning under center, the Chiefs would have the most prolific (yeah, I said the most prolific, not one of) offense in the NFL. ... But Manning with Pioli and Crennel? It just doesn't sound right. (Then again, I never could've imagined Favre in purple.)
The Seahawks and Cards both make a fair amount of sense -- and just imagine how good the NFC West would be with Manning on either team -- but ultimately Fins GM Jeff Ireland will break the bank to deliver the imminently marketable Manning to a town that requires star power to get fans in the seats. And Manning will get a first-class pass catcher in Brandon Marshall, a very capable defense and a (relatively) solid o-line.
Now the only question is: Can we get Manning, Marshall, LeBron, Wade, Ozzie Guillen and Hanley Ramirez to live in the same house and film a reality show?
Chiefs emerging as perfect fit for PeytonThe two front-runners are Miami and Arizona. The Jets will get some run, as well. But, like my colleague Elliot Harrison recently wrote, I have a feeling that Kansas City is the team that can give him everything he desires. He's a Midwest guy. He doesn't want to be overcome by media. He wants to play against teams he knows, and he wants a path to winning.
No one is poised to run away with the AFC West. San Diego has won by default for the most part lately. Add Manning to a K.C. team with Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, Dexter McCluster, a healthy Tony Moeaki and a healthy Jamaal Charles? That would look a lot like the makeup of the Colts' offense in their heyday. K.C.'s defense is better than people think. Romeo Crennel has already said the Chiefs are interested.
I think Manning wants his life to most closely resemble what it was in Indianapolis. I'm sure Joe Montana is on the phone with him right now telling him what it was like to play in K.C. after getting pushed out of San Francisco. Sound familiar?
Ravens or Texans would be fun, but Dolphins will get himPeyton Manning will end up with the Dolphins. I know, it would be much more fun to consider some dark horse coming out of the shadows, like the Ravens. Or if you're a professional wrestling fan, it would be fun to imagine Manning pulling the ultimate heel turn and signing with the Texans to specifically target the Colts in 2012. Or if you're a delusional Jets fan who likes to pretend that your team matters, New York might make sense. (It doesn't.)
But none of that is happening. Manning will sign with the Dolphins because owner Stephen M. Ross needs to bring some excitement to the franchise, something that having all the celebrity owners in the world can't accomplish. With Ross' willingness to spend the money and a pretty good Dolphins team, the choice here seems rather obvious. Even if there isn't the intrigue and drama in the decision.