Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts earlier last week. For the first time in Peyton’s career he is a free agent. He seems to be doing his due diligence as he looks for his next team. Even before his release many teams seemed to be in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, which included the Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks, Broncos, Browns, 49ers, and Titans. Since his release some of these teams have made moves that would seem to take them out of the running for Peyton’s services. The Jets have given their 4th year QB, Mark Sanchez, a contract extension. So it’s safe to say they are out of the mix. The Redskins have made arguably the biggest offseason move thus far trading up in the draft with the Rams for the 2nd pick. All indications are that they will draft Robert Griffin III as he is considered the second best QB after Andrew Luck whom the Colts are planning on drafting. That’s another team out of the running.
The remaining teams have a fighting chance. Or do they? Manning has met with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals this past weekend. Many sources consider those two teams the favorites to land Peyton Manning. Although Manning has said he prefers to stay in the AFC he took a tour of the Cardinals facility in what was reported as being a 7-hour trip. The reports that the Denver Broncos feel they have a 95% chance of landing Manning have appeared to be false. There will be a lot of false rumors coming out as this is a media coverage delight and the speculation won’t end until Manning himself comes out and says what jersey he will don in the 2012 season.
The only teams really left besides the aforementioned favorites are the Dolphins and the Titans. Manning reportedly has declined visits to with the Seahawks and the Chiefs. That leaves four teams: Dolphins, Titans, Cardinals, and Broncos left in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Let’s take a look at where Peyton could wind up waying the pros and cons of each team.
The Broncos have a good defense and can run the ball very well, something Manning did not have much during his tenure with the Colts. Their defense came on late in the season last year even though that didn’t appear to be the case when they met the pass happy Patriots in the playoffs. They have an average Offensive line giving up 42 sacks last year, but that must be a credit to running the option with Tim Tebow. Any option run he had for a loss would count for a sack. Willis McGahee also benefited from the option running the football, but the Broncos should get back a healthy Knowshon Moreno. The receiving core for the Broncos features Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Keep in mind that Reggie Wayne could join Peyton wherever he lands and it is rumored that Dallas Clark could also follow. That would make a good receiving group and Peyton has been known to make receivers better than the are a la Austin Collie. The AFC West was not particularly good last year with the Broncos winning the division with an 8-8 record. Manning could easily make them the division favorite and a chance to go to the playoffs. The cons of joining the Denver Broncos is that Peyton Manning has just come off of 3 neck surgeries and the cold weather will not help. The cold weather will give him aches and pains in his surgically repaired neck. The turf will get harder as the season progresses and one thing Manning has to think about his continuing to stay healthy. He is accustomed to playing 8 games during the regular season in a dome where weather is not a factor. Look for that to play a huge role in where Peyton Manning lands.
The Arizona Cardinals have one of the top receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and a very good tight end in Todd Heap. Add Reggie Wayne to the mix and they have one of the best one-two punches at receiver. They can run the ball pretty well considering that their offensive line has been nothing to brag about giving up 54 sacks last year. Maybe they can address that issue in the draft and in free agency. A trade is possible but not likely to help fix that offensive line. Of all the teams left they are the only team to play their home games in a Dome where weather will not play a factor. Their defense was in line with the league average. The Cardinals started the season off at 1-6, but had an amazing second half going 7-2 in their final 9 games to finish the season at 8-8. The downside of Peyton Manning is that he has said he prefers the AFC over the NFC and that is the only con I see about him signing with the Cardinals.
The Dolphins have long said they want Peyton Manning to help the very talented but young team. They proved last year that they can run the ball with the likes of Reggie Bush. With Manning under center Bush could even return to his old form when he played for the Saints. Brandon Marshall is a talented receiver but after that the receivers are average at best. Again Manning could make them all look like Pro-Bowlers and the addition of Reggie Wayne would also be helpful. Sorry, I’m just going to assume Reggie Wayne will follow Manning to wherever he goes since the two have played together for many years. The Dolphins defense is one that late last year seemed to get better with every game. Defense should be a key factor in where Manning ends up as well as the team’s offensive line. The Dolphins gave up 52 sacks last year and like the Cardinals they could use some help in that category. Peyton Manning also has a house in Florida where he resides in the off-season, but I’m not so sure that will be much a factor in his decision. Manning may have to decide if the offensive line and whether or not Joe Philbin will give him full reins of the offense. Philbin was previously the QB coach to Aaron Rodgers, so I’m sure Joe will already have an appreciation for an elite player at that position.
The Tennessee Titans will get to meet with Peyton Manning and the owner Bud Adams has already shown his desire to bring in Manning. The biggest pro about signing with the Titans is they only gave up 24 sacks this past season which was tied for second in the league along with the Saints. Only the Bills had given up less sacks with 23. Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, whose seasoned ended early due to injury, are good receivers. They still have Chris Johnson, who will only benefit from have Peyton playing in front of him, who ran for over 1,000 yards with a little more than 400 receiving. Those receiving numbers could rise with Peyton Manning. The Titans have one of the better defenses only giving up 19.8 points per game. The weather is warm for a majority of the season and Mike Munchak will undoubtedly have to give Peyton control of the offense. The extra factor in deciding on this team would be that he gets to play the Colts twice a year. Any player that is cut by a team wants to go back and prove to them that they made a mistake and this is no different. I think that this might be the best decision for Manning to make. Good offensive line, good defense, warm weather, and a chance to beat your old team twice. The only negative I would give the Titans is that they don’t have a lot of firepower on offense, but like I mentioned before Peyton can raise the game of your offense.
That all being said I believe that Manning’s two best options are the Titans and the Cardinals. Manning can’t afford to play in the cold weather with the Broncos or get sacked that many times with the Dolphins. The warm weather and the dome will have to be in Manning’s best interest. Before he was released I thought that the Cardinals would be the best fit for Peyton, but since then I’m going to give a slight edge to the Titans because they have one of the better offensive lines in the league, it’s warm, and he gets to get back at the Colts….twice. Neither team signing him would surprise me, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Titans. Until then everybody is going to keep speculating on where his decision to go will be. Where do you think he will end up and why?