BY AUSTIN O’MALLEY
By the middle of this week, the unthinkable will have happened: Peyton Manning will belong to a professional football team not named the Indianapolis Colts. With the Skins and Jets essentially bowing out of the Manning race, the pool of suitors has shrunken. While the Jets were never really a serious contender, many expected Dan Snyder to open the checkbook in an attempt to lure Peyton to D.C. We can expect the chase for #18 to crank up in the next few days. Now that ESPN has thoroughly provided us with every possible reason why Peyton would and wouldn’t want to go to every single team in the NFL, lets take a look at some of the more realistic possibilities.
The Lead Dawgs
- Arizona Cardinals – The desert boys are the frontrunner, in my opinion. They simply have the most to offer. Larry Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, probably the best in the league. Arizona also offers a young team with an underrated defense. They play in a dome, a key similarity to Manning’s days in Indy. Rumors they won’t spring for Manning because of Kevin Kolb are off. Kolb wasn’t impressive and his contract does not guarantee a significant enough amount of money that they would avoid signing Peyton. The biggest obstacle for the Cardinals will likely be convincing Manning to have faith in the team’s questionable offensive line, which it will likely look to bolster with its No. 13 overall pick in next month’s draft.
- Miami Dolphins– The popular frontrunner in the media, Miami also has plenty to offer. Brandon Marshall, although not Fitzgerald, is a great receiver. Jake Long provides rock-solid blind-side protection at left tackle. Reggie Bush provides a solid pass-catching option out of the backfield. Their defense also was pretty solid last year, lead by linebacker Cameron Wake. But there are a few aspects of South Beach that Manning might not be crazy about. One is the manner that the franchise has been run under the current front office’s regime. Another is the team’s division, including two head-to-head match-ups with Tom Brady and the Patriots every season. There are other potential issues worth considering. Will new coach (and former Green Bay offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin be willing to put his offensive system aside and give Manning the reigns? We suspect this Manning pursuit is driven more by owner Stephen Ross than Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland. In the end, former Green Bay backup Matt Flynn makes the most sense for the Fins.
Middle of the Pack
- Denver Broncos– Make no mistake about it, Broncos management will be pushing hard for Manning to sign with them. Denver finds themselves in a bind. They don’t think Tebow is their franchise QB, but his unwavering popularity won’t allow them to trade, release or even demote him unless a more worthy suitor is present. Enter #18. This would provide a better QB to soften the PR hit that Denver would take for ditching Tebow. Denver has a solid defense and run game already, so Manning could make this team extremely dangerous. Manning is also friends with Elway and John Fox, probably the reason he visited the Broncos first. However, unlike the Cards and Fins, there is a lack of explosive weapons in the Denver offense. Additionally, Manning might be less than thrilled about playing home games in the Mile High cold after a career playing inside a dome.
- Kansas City Chiefs – Shadily one of the best fits for Peyton. The Chiefs almost took the AFC West crown last year despite the Todd Haley debacle and the early loss of stud RB Jamal Charles. The players really responded to interim head coach Romeo Crennel once he took over, resulting in him being named head coach this off-season. The Chiefs can offer an elite talent in Charles (assuming he is fully healed), a solid receiver in Dwayne Bowe and a young defense that is only getting better. They have a ton of cap room, are apparently not sold on Matt Cassel and have yet to re-sign Kyle Orton. So why wouldn’t they make a play for Peyton? He would undoubtedly turn them into a Super Bowl contender. To land Manning, the Chiefs would have to sell him on the team’s suspect offensive line and also hope Manning is willing to stand the Kansas City weather in exchange for one of the league’s best home-field advantages.
- Seattle Seahawks– Seattle is another intriguing team with solid home-field advantage, but I just don’t see them signing Manning. They lack offensive weapons. The run game is solid, but Marshawn “Beastmode” Lynch likely played the best season of his career last year. Sidney Rice has yet to show even a slight glimpse of being worth his contract. They also play in an outdoor stadium. Bright spots include a solid defense and an enthusiastic crowd that would undoubtedly embrace Peyton. The NFC West is fairly weak, although San Francisco looks to be changing that. Head coach Pete Carroll would have to pull off his best work yet to land the biggest recruit of his career.
- San Fransisco 49ers – Committed to Alex Smith for some reason, but would be Super Bowl favorites with Manning.
- Houston Texans – Not happening, but also would be Super Bowl favorites with Peyton.
- New York Jets – Just re-upped with Sanchez.
- Tennessee Titans – Don’t see it with Locker locked in as the QB of the future and Hasselbeck there in case Locker needs another year to learn.
- Washington Redskins – Just mortgaged the franchise on RGIII.