As a football fan, the way the Peyton Manning situation has played out has been depressing. At first it seemed as if the Colts were at least considering keeping Manning on board while drafting Andrew Luck to be his back-up until he decided to hang them up. At this point, it seems like an absolute certainty that Manning will be wearing a new uniform next season and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay has all but decided on moving forward with Luck as the franchise’s new (and only) face.
As much as I’d like to see Manning finish his career with the Colts, this incredible series of events does allow for us to live out some of biggest NFL fantasies. I’m sure we’ve all imagined how one team or the other would look like with an all-world quarterback at the helm of the offense but in pretty much every scenario except this one (I put Drew Brees going to New Orleans after shoulder surgery in this category), those changes of scenery never come to fruition.
With Peyton likely to become a free agent, every team in the league has a shot at Manning, which again is extremely rare within itself. Of course, there are several teams with established stars (Rodgers, Manning, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Vick, Cutler, Schaub) and worthwhile prospects (Stafford, Newton, Ryan, Freeman, Dalton, Bradford, Flacco, Tebow, Luck), but that leaves 14 teams that with a quarterback spot that could use an upgrade.
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Let’s eliminate a few more of those teams for a variety of reasons:
Oakland – They traded far too much for Carson Palmer to go out and pay for Peyton Manning.
Tennessee – This wouldn’t be such a bad situation. In addition to being from Tennesee, Manning would have Kenny Britt, Chris Johnson and a pretty good defense around him and it’s not as if Jake Locker is a budding star at this point. That said, I’m not sure if Manning wants to stay in the AFC South.
Cleveland – Colt McCoy is not the answer but there isn’t enough talent there to attract Manning.
Washington – They’ll certainly make the biggest financial offer but that’s not a supremely talented team and the franchise would probably be better off starting with a young quarterback like Robert Griffin III or Matt Barkley next year.
New York (Jets) – I’m not sure how interested Manning is in playing in the same city as his little brother, especially after he won the Super Bowl. As bad as I think Mark Sanchez is as a franchise quarterback, I don’t think this is a good fit for Manning because of the attitude Rex Ryan has instilled with this team.
Kansas City – The Chiefs have a few pretty good players but I don’t think Manning wants to go there.
Buffalo – They signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a long-term deal after just a few good weeks of play and it looks like they may get burned. They don’t have the money to sign another quarterback.
Jacksonville – Blaine Gabbert isn’t good enough to stop the Jaguars from making a push for Manning but the AFC South issues still exist.
Miami – The Dolphins seem like a big-time option for Manning but going up against Brady twice a year with a mediocre cast isn’t the most tantalizing proposal.
Dallas – I’ve never believed Romo was the answer in Dallas and pairing Manning with Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson and Jason Witten would make for an extremely potent offense. That said, I don’t know if Jerry Jones is ready to give up on Romo.
San Francisco – I think the combo of a healthy Manning and that defense would make for one of the greatest teams ever but it appears as if they want to sign Alex Smith to an extension.
Minnesota – The Vikings have had a couple of rentals over the past few years (Favre and McNabb) but they may finally be settling in on a QB prospect in Christian Ponder.
That leaves us with two other teams: The Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks.
Arizona came oh so close to a Super Bowl victory three years ago with this plan. Their offense went straight to the top of the league when Kurt Warner started running the show and if Santonio Holmes had bigger feet they may even have a Super Bowl. Adding Manning wouldn’t be too big of a problem for the Cardinals, who recently hired Manning’s former quarterbacks coach from his time in Indy. They would have to let Kevin Kolb but he didn’t make a very good impression last season even if he was injured. John Skelton was serviceable last season after Kolb went down and could serve as Manning’s back-up in the event he can’t get back to 100%.
But if Manning is healthy, the Cardinals would be a lock for a wild card, they’d be the most dangerous team in the post-season and they’d have a three-headed monster on offense with Peyton, Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells. Wells had an excellent season last year, rushing for 1,047 and 10 touchdowns in 14 games. He’s one of the rising stars at the running back position and would give Manning his first effective running back since Edgerin James in his hay day.
The duo of Manning and Fitzgerald could easily go down as one of the greatest in the league history. As good as Kurt Warner was, a healthy Manning is even better and Fitzgerald would be the best receiver he’s ever played with. Last season Fitzgerald hauled in 80 passes for 1,411 yards with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as his quarterbacks. Can you imagine the kind of season he could have with Manning as his quarterback?
The Cardinals also have a couple nice young receivers that would probably go on to have big years with Manning. That is Peyton’s best attribute after all. His ability to turn mediocre athletes and decent pass catchers into some of the best in the league is big time. The difference between the Warner era Cardinals and the Cardinals now is that Anquan Boldin has moved on and Fitzgerald is the only big time target left. But that wouldn’t be too big of a problem for Manning as players like Early Doucet, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Andre Roberts all have the skills that make them likely candidates to become release valves for Manning.
Arizona made some strides at the tail end of the season defensively and with a potent offense, an average to good defense is all it would take. That said, the Cardinals do need to sure up their offensive line, especially considering Peyton is going to need to avoid hits more than ever now. Luckily for Arizona, they may be able to get a star left guard in David DeCastro of Stanford in the first round of the draft and if they can find a way to get another impact tackle, they should be able to improve their line significantly. Manning’s presence already stops teams from blitzing often because of how well he reads it and an improved line would make Arizona a top destination for Manning.
Seattle offers similar benefits for Manning. They play in a relatively weak division, they have a good running game, a good defense and a good core of receivers. They don’t have a star out wide like Larry Fitzgerald but Pete Carroll has proven to be a good evaluator of talent at the receiver position. The names may not sound familiar but Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate, Mike Williams and Zach Miller all had pretty good seasons last year considering Tarvaris Jackson was their quarterback. Add in a healthy Sidney Rice and that’s a pretty stacked group and one that Manning could certainly make a lot better as well.
The re-emergence as Marshawn Lynch as a feature back last season makes this situation even better. Beast Mode finished with 1,240 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Again, a strong running game is something that Manning hasn’t had in a long time and so long as Lynch keeps eating Skittles, the 25-year old back should return next season as one of the best running backs in the league. And even though he hasn’t been much more than a returner since joining Seattle, Leon Washington’s speed could be utilized far more often in an offense led by Peyton Manning.
Seattle finished with the seventh best scoring defense in the NFL last season, which is more than enough to win with Manning at quarterback.
There may be more lucrative offers or bigger spotlights out there for Manning but with the exception of San Fransisco (who, again, seems to be committed to Alex Smith for at least a few more seasons), I think the two best situations for Peyton Manning lie in deserts of Arizona and the rain capital of the world.
Photo Credit: Jeff Lewis/Icon SMI, Gary Rothstein/Icon SMI