Ever since the Colts landed the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, there has been speculation about if and where Peyton Manning would play again. Yesterday, something I could’ve never imagined a year ago happened when the Colts decided to go into rebuilding mode and forgo paying Manning the bonus that was due to him today thus making him a free agent for the first time in his career. And this is not just any free agent. Peyton Manning has become the most coveted free agent in NFL history as the franchise he has been the face of for 14 years moves forward without him. We are now aware that no Colts player will ever again wear #18 but the question is of course: which team will have a new #18 on their roster next season?
Multiple sources have mentioned that around 12 teams have been in contact with Manning’s representation and we know who some of those teams are, who some aren’t, and which teams remain a mystery. We know that the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs have contacted Manning’s representation. We know that the Dallas Cowboys are not interested and neither are, clearly, the Indianapolis Colts. It is also safe to assume that the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m also fairly confident that the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, and Chicago Bears will not go after Manning. I also like to believe, that though there has been speculation, that the Texans will work to extend Schaub and develop Yates as opposed to cutting Schaub to bring in Manning. So I do not believe the Texans are part of the twelve (but if they create the cap space and release Schaub they become a frontrunner). However we can’t rule anyone out. In my opinion, outside of a few, select teams that have elite NFL QBs, any team that does not at least ask itself the Peyton Manning question is doing themselves a great disservice.
So using what we know and what we don’t know I’ve broken down who I believe to be Manning’s dozen and their respective odds of landing the future Hall of Famer in descending order.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
ODDS – 1:100
The Jacksonville Jaguars would love to sign their former rival for the next three years and develop the young Blaine Gabbert behind him. I have no doubts about that. It’s clear however that Peyton wants to win now because he only has somewhere between three and five years to win another ring. The Jaguars definitely have the cap room and it could be attractive for Manning to play in Florida but the Jaguars have no personnel to put around Manning where he believes he could win right away. A few years ago when the Vikings signed Brett Favre a lot of people referred to that team as a “ferrari without a driver” and I believe that’s exactly what Peyton is looking for. The Jaguars can offer the contract but not much else.
11. Cleveland Browns
ODDS – 1:50
I give the Browns slightly higher odds than the Jaguars of landing Manning. Once again this is a team in disarray but once that can afford Manning. The reason I give them any kind of odds is because the Browns could potentially land one of Peyton’s former receivers in free agency (Garcon or Wayne), they have a stout and young offensive line and they have the draft picks to add playmakers to their roster now. This is an AFC team in a smaller market which many say that Manning would prefer but I just do not see this happening.
10. Buffalo Bills
ODDS – 3:100
The Buffalo Bills are an interesting prospect. This would put Peyton in the AFC in a small market with a passionate fan base and he would get the chance to play Tom Brady twice a year. However, the Bills have made a huge commitment to Ryan Fitzpatrick. This is a team that could make the playoffs with consistent quarterback play but I do not see the Bills making this happen nor do I see Manning wanting to play 7 home games a year in Buffalo and 1 every season in Toronto after 14 years of playing his home games in a dome. They have the cap room, they have some playmakers, but I am pretty confident we will not see Manning in Buffalo.
9. Tennessee Titans
ODDS – 1:20
If the Titans have already called, I’m certain that Peyton Manning has listened. He considers Tennessee a second home having played his college ball there. He can look at Tennessee and see playmakers like Chris Johnson, Jared Cook, and Kenny Britt. They have a very athletic offensive line that Peyton would love. This is a team that has some definite potential but once again I just do not see it. Matt Hasselbeck had a really good year last year and I believe that the Titans are happy to play him another year and then move forward with Jake Locker who showed a lot of promise as a rookie. I also do not know what Peyton’s feelings would be on playing the Colts twice a year after his ceremonious exit from the Colts but either way, I give the Titans a 5% chance but not much more than that.
8. New York Jets
ODDS – 1:19
The New York Jets have been linked to Peyton Manning for months and this is a team that is definitely talented and made it to back to back AFC Championships in spite of subpar quarterback play. Manning is familiar with the Rex Ryan defense and would surely love to have that on his side. He would play the Patriots twice a year and he would get to share a stadium with his brother. He would have playmakers all around him but at the same time, there are a lot of issues with the New York Jets locker room. New York is a large market and it’s his brother’s territory. I personally think the Jets would be a great fit but I don’t see Peyton going to such an unstable situation or imposing on his brother’s turf. Another big factor here is that the Jets would have to make some major moves to be able to even afford Manning. They can’t afford him, it’s unstable, and I just don’t see it.
7. Washington Redskins
ODDS – 1:13
Alright, now we’re into the teams that I actually think have a shot. A lot of people have the Redskins as an odds-on favorite to land Peyton Manning. They like to cite that great offensive line the Redskins have and the presence of Roy Helu, Santana Moss, Fred Davis, Chris Cooley, and Jabar Gaffney. It’s clear though that Washington will have to add a true #2 wide receiver to attract Peyton. Washington does have the necessary cap room and they have an owner in Dan Snyder who loves to spend money. However, Peyton’s preference is the AFC and I really don’t think he wants to play Eli twice a year. Washington loves to bring in five star free agents and has the cap room to reunite Manning and Wayne as well as a high enough draft pick to bring in some young playmakers immediately. While I believe the Redskins will be one of the most aggressive suitors for Manning but I don’t believe Peyton will bite. This is a team that definitely has everything necessary to attract Manning with the largest drawbacks being the fact that they are a large market NFC team that would play the Giants twice a year. Many don’t believe that Manning is interested in playing for Washington but on paper they have a pretty solid chance.
6. Arizona Cardinals
ODDS – 1:8
Everyone that follows Can of Corn on Twitter knows that for months I have been lobbying for Peyton Manning to team up with Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. This is a team that went .500 last season in spite of Kolb’s terrible play under center. Manning has mentioned he would love to play on natural grass again but he does appreciate the advantages of a dome. Good news – Arizona is the only place that can offer both. Manning has never played with a wide receiver as talented as Larry Fitzgerald and if the Cardinals can re-sign Early Doucet or bring in another wideout (especially Wayne) then this could be a real possibility. Combine that with tight end Todd Heap and Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams in the backfield and this becomes a very attractive offense. Manning and Whisenhunt have long had a mutual respect and admiration for one another and so this relationship could definitely work.
The problem is that right now the Cardinals are projected to have, at most, $10.2 M in cap room. Even if they release Levi Brown and free up $16M , move forward without Kolb and free up the necessary cap room, the Cardinals are left with an even more questionable offensive line. I love this fit for Manning and like the idea of him throwing to Fitzgerald. I think the Cardinals will be major players and they are a team that can compete right away with Manning but at the end of the day – I really don’t see Arizona being able to do what’s necessary to attract Manning. If the Cardinals had the cap room to afford Manning, they would be in the top 3 without a doubt. There’s a strong mutual interest here between Manning and the Cardinals. Now it comes down to money.
5. San Francisco 49ers
ODDS – 2:9
What NFL fan does not want to see Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne keep playing together? The 49ers offer the opportunity to do that. This is a team that has the cap room necessary to sign Peyton Manning and then also tighten up their WR corps and with a deep WR draft could use their first round draft pick on a rookie wideout or exchange that pick for Mike Wallace. This is a team that was a few muffed punts from going to the Super Bowl last season and if they were to bring in receivers they could easily attract Peyton there and on the flip side, the presence of Peyton Manning would attract free agent receivers. This is a dynamic team and Peyton would only be required to put up 20 – 24 points a game with that stout defense. Jim Harbaugh says he believes in Alex Smith and is trying to extend him but you have to believe the 49ers have at least reached out to Manning and that he would be interested in heading to the West Coast. Both the 49ers and Peyton are well aware of what each could accomplish together and I think this will be a very attractive option. I just do not know how hard Harbaugh will pursue this one. Thus far the 49ers have denied interest in Manning but it’s hard to believe that giving Alex Smith a three year $27M contract is that much better of an option than giving Manning a 3 year $42M deal.
4. Denver Broncos
ODDS – 2:7
If John Elway really wants to move on from “Tebowmania” this is the only possible escape. If Elway really wants a quarterback that reminds him of himself, then there’s nobody better. After all, a number one overall draft pick by the Colts going on to lead the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl is not unheard of. The Broncos have some great young receivers on offense with Demaryius Thomas, Eddie Royals, and Eric Decker and the necessary cap room to sign Manning. They are a playoff team with the necessary cap room to sign Manning and this is something that could really happen. The Broncos have reached out to Manning’s people and with the Broncos being the reigning champion of a wide-open division I think they are an attractive option to Manning.
3. Seattle Seahawks
ODDS – 1:3
I really do not know why more people aren’t talking about the possibility of Manning landing in Seattle. This is a team that could be very good with a great quarterback. Manning would have a dynamic receiving corps with Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Mike Williams, and Golden Tate as well as Jon Carlson and Zach Miller at tight end. The Seahawks just recently extended running back Marshawn Lynch after a career year. This is a team with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and with Manning could challenge the 49ers right away. The Seahawks are considered a frontrunner to land Mario Williams but they could instead direct their focus to Manning especially considering their draft position would allow them a chance to land Melvin Ingram or another top tier rookie outside linebacker or defensive end. There are some question marks on the offensive line but given the division they play in and the amount of playmakers, Seattle has to be considered a serious contender to land Peyton Manning.
2. Miami Dolphins
ODDS – 2:5
We’ve heard it all, the Dolphins have the cap room to sign Manning and bring in another wide receiver. Reggie Wayne wants to play in Miami and this could give Manning a 1-2 punch of Wayne and Brandon Marshall with Davone Bess in the slot. Reggie Bush just had the best year of his career and is one of the best pass-catching backs in the game. Peyton Manning has a home in Miami and the team has an owner that wants a star to latch his team onto. This is a warm weather AFC team that would give Peyton the chance to play in the stadium where he twice appeared in a Super Bowl. The Dolphins seem to be a really attractive option for Manning but the biggest question has to be the offensive line. Outside of Jake Long, this offensive line is suspect. Of course the 9th overall draft pick could allow the Dolphins to draft Iowa’s Riley Reiff or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin who could bolster this line immediately. I think that Miami has a lot of attractive options. I think Manning’s admiration of and friendship with Dan Marino plays a role. While Miami has a great combination of playmakers, salary cap, and overall fit, there’s one team that has an even better combination of these things.
1. Kansas City Chiefs
ODDS – 3:7
There are a lot of commentators who have begun to mention the Kansas City Chiefs as an underdog or a dark horse candidate to land Manning. The Seahawks are a dark horse, the Titans and Jets are underdogs, the Chiefs should be considered the favorite. Anyone who has the Chiefs ranked lower than two is only kidding themselves. There are a number of factors that make the Chiefs the odds-on favorite to land Manning in spite of the fact that they are “committed to Matt Cassel”.
The Chiefs have been projected to have as much as $50M in cap room next season which would be the 2nd highest in the NFL so they definitely have the financial flexibility to sign Peyton Manning and then to bring in anotherfree agent such as Carl Nicks or Jeff Saturday to solidify their offensive line. The Chiefs have the necessary weapons on the offensive side of the ball with running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki, and receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jonathan Baldwin. Then there’s always the threat of the very dynamic Dexter McCluster who can play in the backfield or line up in the slot. They have a good young defense as well with playmakers like Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey, Derrick Johnson, and Eric Berry. Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are both extremely familiar with Peyton Manning and with the restructuring of the coaching staff, this is a team that would be very open to letting Peyton Manning bring in his own offense. This is a talented AFC team in a small market with a very passionate fan base and distinct home field advantage. They play in the most wide-open division in the NFL. This is a team that came within a game of the playoffs despite multiple injuries and inconsistent QB play. Joe Montana finished his career in KC and got his team to the AFC Championship maybe Peyton can do one better. If Manning really wants to be on an AFC team and become the first QB to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl win, this is a team that definitely fits that mold and can actually afford him.
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