The writing on the wall is in large print in Indianapolis. Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, to whom Manning spoke exclusively earlier this week on a variety of topics, spoke with Manning again yesterday after owner Jim Irsay called Manning a politician. Kravitz opens his column like this:
It is so sad and so hard to write it again, but it's true: Peyton Manning is done in Indianapolis.
After listening to Manning Monday night, after listening to owner Jim Irsay characterize Manning Thursday as "a politician" who should keep his concerns "in house," there's no other conclusion to be reached by a sane, sober human being: Manning's days in Indianapolis are over, and they have been over for quite some time.
Again, I write this as a UT fan first and, in this case, a Titans fan second, and am the expert on neither (for more on the Colts, check out Stampede Blue). Nor am I the expert on contract negotiations or anything to do with the NFL...but because even fifteen years later, Peyton Manning remains on the pedestal in Knoxville with thousands of fans waiting to hear who their new favorite NFL team will be, we offer a few thoughts on the matter today.
If in fact his time is done in Indianapolis, where will Peyton Manning finish his career? This is all hoping and assuming that he's healthy and capable of doing so, but he continues to rehab in such a way that suggests he believes he's coming back, and right now that's good enough for me.
Though I'm sure all of us would love Manning to land on our favorite team and take them to the Super Bowl, the reality is that even though Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, he's not going to land just anywhere. So which teams make the most sense? And where would you most like to see him land?
After the jump, we examine the candidates...feel free to agree or disagree, as always...
If we assume Indianapolis is off the board, let's take a look at the other places we know for sure he's not going:
Almost certainly not: Atlanta, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, New England, New Orleans, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego
Should be self-explanatory: all of these teams either have a franchise quarterback proven capable of getting them to the playoffs and/or they have a young guy they're completely invested in. This isn't to say that all 14 of these guys are better than a healthy Manning, because most of them aren't...but they're also successful guys in mostly stable environments who are almost all younger and healthier. This eliminates almost half the league. The two least likely destinations for Manning are playing each other in the Super Bowl.
We'd love to, but we can't: Buffalo, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Tennessee
None of these teams may be feeling great about their quarterback, but they're financially committed to them.
Kevin Kolb (the Cards have a $7 mil option on Kolb, so we moved them up the list), Ryan Fitzpatrick (who got paid when Buffalo was 4-2; the Bills finished 6-10), Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, and Jake Locker are a long, long way from guarantees, but each team appears to be committed, financially and otherwise, to seeing where they can go with them. It's interesting to note that if Kerry Collins had played for the Titans and not the Colts in 2011, they might have been in great position to sign Manning and have Locker study under him. But with Matt Hasselbeck serving well in that role, alas, Tennessee's favorite son doesn't appear to be on the table in Nashville.
Non-Playoff Angst: Dallas, NY Jets
Or, "We're one quarterback away!", Part I. Did you know Tony Romo turns 32 in April? Did you know he's won one playoff game? With Jerry Jones in the mix and Dallas an annual underachiever, never say never...I'd be curious to know what percentage of Cowboys fans would pull the trigger on this move. Mark Sanchez is just 25, has played in a pair of AFC Championship Games, but don't count out the Jets making a play for Manning, especially with former Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore serving as a consultant with the Jets. How would Peyton weigh playing in Eli's city?
AFC/NFC Championship Game Angst: Baltimore, San Francisco
Or, "We're one quarterback away!", Part II. Earlier in the year, I would've said San Francisco was the most likely destination for Manning. Then Alex Smith resurrected his career under Jim Harbaugh, throwing for 299 and three touchdowns against the Saints in the playoffs. The guy threw five interceptions all season. He wasn't great in the NFC title game, but would the Niners really go away from him after the season they just had? Meanwhile, Joe Flacco is routinely criticized in Baltimore, even by his own teammates. But the guy has won five playoff games and been to a pair of AFC title games. I can't see Manning going to either of these two teams, even though some of their frustrated fans might want that outcome at the moment.
It's not me, it's you: Cleveland
Oh, the Browns would love to have him and would be able to pay for his services. But can you picture Peyton Manning in a Browns jersey? I didn't think so.
Never say never: Oakland
The Raiders sacrificed their future for Carson Palmer last season, giving away their first round pick in this year's draft and a second round pick in next year's draft. But it's the Raiders. Al Davis may be dead, but his spirit lives on. Did you know Denarius Moore was their second leading receiver this year?
Would you rather have 36 year old Peyton Manning or 25 year old Tim Tebow?: Denver
I'll hang up and listen.
THE TOP FIVE (in alphabetical order)
Arizona: The Cardinals have until March 17 to decide whether or not they want to pay $7 million to keep Kevin Kolb. The Colts have to figure out what to do with Manning by March 8, when he's currently due a $28 million dollar bonus. The Cardinals were 8-8 this season, certainly in the mix. Beanie Wells supplies a decent run game, weather wouldn't be a factor, the NFC West is still probably the easiest division in football...and oh yeah, Larry Fitzgerald is there. Earlier this week Fitzgerald said he couldn't see Manning leaving Indy, but if the writing on the wall is true, Manning could do far worse than Arizona.
Kansas City: We've made our point on this already: Vol fans should want Manning to head to the Chiefs so he can play with Eric Berry. Manning would have to deal with the elements in KC, but he would be surrounded by young offensive talent with Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe (who could be lost to free agency, but certainly could be encouraged to stay if Manning is on board), Dexter McCluster, Steve Breaston, and more. Matt Cassel got the Chiefs to the playoffs in 2010 and was hurt last year, but is he really the long term answer in KC? Manning could be a perfect fit for the Chiefs.
Miami: Would be an interesting marriage with ex-Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who could bring Matt Flynn with him if they don't look Peyton's way, though the Miami Herald believes Manning is the priority. This team has Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush and a good defense. Carl Peterson, an adviser to Dolphins' owner Stephen Ross, was involved in the deal that brought 36 year old Joe Montana to Kansas City.
Seattle: Because Manning and Pete Carroll makes a bunch of sense, right? Manning would be a clear upgrade from the Tarvaris Jackson/Charlie Whitehurst combo of death, and though the Seahawks have no great wide receivers, they do have Marshawn Lynch and do play in the NFC West. Perhaps not an ideal choice, but one that can't be ignored either.
Washington: Last year I dated a girl from the DC area who said she still had a hard time with the Vols because she still held a grudge against Heath Shuler. Beware the Redskins. Mel Kiper says he keeps hearing Manning to Washington, whatever that's worth. There's Daniel Snyder's money and Mike Shanahan's experience. The Skins did beat the Giants twice this season and do have a serviceable defense. It would include the extra added benefit that Manning not only beat Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl, he then took his job six years later. However, here are the top three wide receivers for the Skins in 2011: Jabar Gaffney, Santana Moss, Donte Stallworth. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2001 All-America Team!
My hope continues to be that Manning will land in Kansas City, though I think he could also win big in Arizona. Other than that first group of teams, I wouldn't take anything off the table though.
And above all, I hope Manning is healthy first, and far away from the Titans second. We all want to see Peyton get healthy and finish his career well, and land somewhere that gives him the chance to do that.
If not, I'd like to again point out that the Vols still have an opening for an assistant coach.