Analysis

What now for teams that missed out on Peyton Manning?

It's very rare that we find out what happens to the losers. As history has shown us, when there's a big competition, victors = spoils. And losers = disappearance.

We still watch "30 Rock" years after "Studio 60" has been dead and buried. Carrie Underwood is one of the biggest music stars in the world, while Bo Bice is appearing on "Don't Forget The Lyrics!"Peyton Manning is once again Peyton Manning while Ryan Leaf was on radio row during the Super Bowl trying to peddle a book and doing interviews with 100-watt radio stations in West Texas. ("Thanks for joining us, Ryan, we have dozens of listeners excited you're here. ...")

But because it's football, and any team can go from 5-11 to the Super Bowl in a matter of one season, the 32 squads themselves are always relevant (even Jacksonville, thanks to Shad Khan's mustache and being Tim Tebow's hometown). So we can take time targeting the losers -- specifically, the Peyton Manning Losers. The teams who went all-in on his services and now, thanks to that Louisville Slugger, will have to pick up the pieces of both headlights. How are they going to fare?

The Tennessee Titans had nothing to lose. It wasn't even a question about waving goodbye to Matt Hasselbeck and having Jake Locker (who has a ton of potential and looked good when he played as a rookie) learn at the feet of Manning. Now, it's still no big deal. Hasselbeck and Locker will battle it out for the starting job, and Locker's learning curve has just been advanced. He'll play sooner than expected. And honestly, if Chris Johnson returns to pre-2011 form, it doesn't matter who's giving him the football. But what's going to hurt was the wait for Manning. Knowing full well it would have taken the majority of its salary cap to bring him in, Tennessee couldn't be splashy in free agency. They'd need every dollar imaginable, and I'm sure Bud Adams took donations or ran a daily 50-50 raffle in the office to help things along.

Tennessee saw free agent Cortland Finnegan go to St. Louis. Jason Jones signed with Seattle. They couldn't get in the bidding for any other big-time defensive help like Mario Williams or get more help on the offensive line besides Steve Hutchinson, who already has seen his best days. Kenny Britt is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is always one night out away from a league suspension, so they couldn't get in the mix for a stud WR. The Titans will get active in the second wave of free agency (witness Kamerion Wimbley's near deal), but with money to spend they could have brought in more impact players had they not been seduced by Peyton. In the end, it made much more work for the front office to do in a shorter amount of time, and they may not get it done to satisfaction this time around. But did it set the franchise back? No. They can still fill some holes and draft well. Even if they're not any better this season than they were in 2011, moving forward the organization's plan is still in place. I think they'll be the 8-8/9-7-ish team they were in 2011. The Peyton dalliance was worth the gamble.

For the San Francisco 49ers, well, now things are a mess. This isn't about talent, like it was with Tennessee. It's about ... love. They loved Alex Smith. Then they loved Peyton. Smith sat on a $24 million contract instead of signing. Then he thought about dumping his agent. And then he visited the team who has been told 'no' more times in the past year than JaMarcus Russell's agent -- the Miami Dolphins. (Seriously, missing on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Kyle Orton, David Garrard the first time around, Peyton Manning, and Matt Flynn in 12 months is pretty dubious.) NOW the 49ers are going to call Smith and say "Alex, buddy, pal, you were our guy all along. How about we get that contract signed?" While from a football sense no one would want Alex Smith over Peyton Manning, unfortunately for San Francisco it's deeper than that. A team that came together because the players believed in each other, believed the coaches' message and finally believed in a QB who succeeded after six years of failure now is asking questions again. You talk about not being able to handle success. Suddenly a squad that was a fumble away from the Super Bowl is trying to repair a relationship with its most important player.

Chemistry can be overrated at times. Teams win Super Bowls that are full of cliques or have guys that out and out hate each other. It happens. But chemistry is also underrated, and that's what the 49ers sold us last season. Freddie P. Soft. The full-throated joy when Alex Smith won the playoff duel with Drew Brees. That warm fuzziness is all gone. And even if Smith does come back, he knows the team actively pursued someone else. Some QBs are mentally strong enough to get the business part of it and have it not faze them, but I don't think Smith is that kind of guy. You've already seen how hurt he is by his subsequent actions.

Now San Francisco is going to be forced to draft or obtain a new quarterback of the future/present because of this. (Unless Colin Kaepernick is better than anyone thinks he is.) It's not going to end well in San Francisco. Certain teams can withstand drama and controversy, but this 49ers team had everything go right last year and dealt with no issues or surprises. I think they're too fragile to survive this and will wind up closer to the pack as a result, and a division title is no longer guaranteed for 2012. I think they're closer to .500 than a bye in the playoffs.

I commend the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Arizona Cardinals. They inquired to different extents, were told no, and as a result didn't dally or try to convince Manning they were the team for him. So as a result, those squads moved on and started in on free agency to get better right away instead of pursuing fool's gold. The Jets assuaged Mark Sanchez' ego with $40 million. The Dolphins went into rebuild mode. And even though Arizona's done nothing since dropping from Manning contention, at least they got out early. Got to know when to fold 'em.

Follow Jason Smith on Twitter @howaboutafresca

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