Having been released by the Colts, Manning's now a free agent. Peyton stated at his "good-bye Indy" press conference that he will be playing elsewhere in the fall. There can be little doubt that Manning and his agent are looking at different teams, how he might "fit", their competitiveness, and, of course, the money. Yet, it goes way beyond where he might land. More about that later.
Obviously, with his recent neck surgeries still somewhat of an unknown factor, it's a safe bet to say any team interested in him would want their own doctors to have a very close look at how he has mended. Also, just because a player is medically cleared to play doesn't necessarily mean they still aren't fragile and more susceptible to another injury. Witness Sidney Crosby in the NHL, a super star in his own right, and what has happened to him.
Even assuming Manning is fully healed, his mere presence as a free agent, especially at this time, poses some very interesting possibilities. Consider: All the rest of the free agents on other NFL teams aren't truly free and able to negotiate with other teams until about a week from now. Though doubtful, if Manning and his agent come to terms with another team in the next few days, this could definitely impact where some of these players might want to go -- or CAN go, given the salary cap structure, and what chunk of it Peyton is likely to command. Yet that would only involve one team.
Conversely, Manning can hold out as long as he wants before making a decision. If I'm amongst the brain trust of any of the other NFL clubs right now, I'm praying Peyton decides something before the NFL draft, due to take place April 26-28. If he's still "out there" come draft time, it would pose a major problem for some teams, particularly those that are still interested in obtaining his services.
Let's say a team needed to fill a hole at offensive tackle or maybe linebacker with their first draft pick. Without Peyton, that's what they would do. But if they landed Peyton as a free agent, a hot-shot wide receiver to compliment him would probably start looking pretty good. So what do they do? Even if Peyton had already signed elsewhere, THAT team would likely change their draft board as well. If they were previously looking for perhaps a corner back, and assuming they already had a decent receiver corps, their priority would likely become taking the best offensive tackle available, to protect Peyton. Over his career, Manning has been a lot of things, but a mobile and/or running QB is not one of them. He's likely always been the slowest person on the field, and that includes coaches and cheerleaders. Throw in his age, and possible lingering fragility from his neck ordeal, and if Peyton doesn't have a stout "pocket" to stand in, make his reads, and then throw, that could get ugly in a hurry. For that matter, even during his career with the Colts, he always seemed to have "all day" back in the pocket. Look left, look center, look right, look left again, all the while having a case of the "happy feet" that can't run, then throw. While he was busy racking up the stats and stardom, probably the most under appreciated guys in the history of the NFL were his offensive linemen, giving him that much time. If he'd have been on some other teams, where after the snap, it was a-thousand-one, a-thousand two, a-thous -- BAM -- things might have turned out quite differently.
So where will he go? Lots of teams will be interested, but for different reasons. Clubs like Miami, Washington, Arizona, and KC, where the QB position is unsettled, to say the least, would love to have him. Even the Jets, but I can't see Manning and Rex Ryan working out so hot. Thing is, Manning certainly knows he's probably only got a couple good years left in him, and would want to go someplace where the team is oh-so-close to being Super Bowl caliber, and he could put them over the top. In my opinion, those clubs don't qualify.
Recently, a commenter suggested Denver. Put Tebow on the shelf for a couple years where he could learn from Manning and even John Elway. I respectfully disagree on two fronts. One, despite Denver's late surge last year, and even knocking off the Steelers in the playoffs, I don't think they're all that close to being Super Bowl caliber where Manning would make the difference. Second, Tebow is what Tebow is, and a couple years of watching and learning isn't likely to change that. While his fortitude, perseverance, toughness, and all-around being a genuinely good man are things to be highly admired -- a top-flight NFL quarterback he will never be. In my opinion.
The Houston Texans are young, coming on, have a great defense, and will likely be a power to be reckoned with in the next few years. But would they bench Matt Schaub for Peyton? Maybe. Yet where would that put their "cap" situation with the draft coming up? That could get complicated.
How about the 49ers? In head coach Jim Harbaugh's amazing rookie season -- he had them knocking on the door of the Super Bowl. Many have considered their QB, Alex Smith, to be an underachiever. Would Peyton fit out there? Could he get along with Jim Harbaugh, the guy he displaced as the Indianapolis Colts starting QB way back in 1998? Who knows, but if that worked out, San Fran could be very dangerous for a couple years.
No pun intended, but Peyton getting released from the Colts at this time puts a whole lot of balls in the air, for a whole lot of different people.
Where they will eventually come down is anybody's guess, but I'm pretty sure of a couple things.
Speculation will run rampant, and eventually most will be proven wrong.
And the other?
We'll all know in September, when they lace them up and get it on for real.