So, it’s just been announced that the Colts will make it official on Wednesday (tomorrow) that they are releasing Peyton Manning after 14 years with the team (only 13 of them playing, of course). The NFL hasn’t come up on this blog yet, but I didn’t want to pass this up, and I’ll likely be writing about it again as the Peyton Manning saga continues.
Just a bit of background: I’m an Indianapolis Colts fan, and have been, for no logical reason, since the middle of the 3-13 1997 season (the season that made it possible for the Colts to draft Manning). I won’t get deep into my love for the (Manning-led) Colts other than to say that no NFL offense ever looked better than the Colts when they were clicking. 2004 was a dream to watch (as was 2005), and the surrounding seasons were pretty stellar too. I regret that I never got to see Manning’s Colts vs. Brady’s Patriots in person, but I’m glad that I did get a chance to see Manning win a game against the Vikings (my entire family’s favorite team) at the Metrodome in 2008.
So, now that he’s free, the speculation can begin. Of course, there might be some fluke and the Colts could actually re-sign Manning. I doubt it. Once he’s released, from what I understand, he can sign pretty much immediately with another team. In order to take advantage of what could be a short window for Manning’s free agency, I wanted to offer a few thoughts while he’s still a Colt.
A) Is Manning healthy/Can Peyton Manning play at the same level he has in recent years?
I don’t think anyone really knows this outside of Manning’s inner circle, or indeed Manning himself. If healthy, I think he can be just as good as he was before the missed season. Of course, that’s not considering that he’ll probably have to learn a whole new system. Granted, a new team would definitely give him a good deal of input into how the offense is run (or he wouldn’t sign with them), but you’ve got to expect some drop-off in production based on the “new team” factor alone. I don’t expect him to lead the league next year, and his MVP days are likely behind him, but I wouldn’t count him out of the top 10 at all.
B) Where will Manning end up?
As much as I love the NFL, I don’t pay enough attention to every team in the league to know what their needs are, what type of system they run, or even what transactions they may have recently made. I may not even be able to name every head coach in the league any more, something I had no trouble doing only a few years ago. That said, I’ll offer my inexpert thoughts and welcome any comments or corrections regarding them.
1. San Francisco – the 49ers were the team that introduced me to the NFL. I have followed them since they beat the Chargers in the Super Bowl and my love for them is second only to the Colts, though the Colts have admittedly offered a lot more to love/talk about in the past decade. I think that San Fran may be the best environment for Manning to have immediate and potentially lasting success. They were 13-3 last year, and 2 of their losses were by 3 or fewer points, something the addition of Manning could correct.They had one of the best defenses in the league last year, they have a better run game than the Colts have had since Edge James left, they’ve got pretty good tight ends and a relatively young receiving corps, they’re a strong team in a weak division, and they’ve got a hot new head coach.
That said, I don’t see Jim Harbaugh screwing over Alex Smith like that. Smith has faced a lot of crap (for a guy making millions) over his 7 seasons. He’s had a revolving door of OC’s and coaches and now with Harbaugh, it seems he finally has a guy who believes in him and believes he can, at least partially, live up to his #1 overall status from the 2005 draft. Harbaugh has said that Smith is his guy, and I don’t see him changing his mind if he can help it. Still, the 49ers haven’t signed Smith yet, so the door is open for Manning to come in.
2. Arizona – I really liked the Cards under Kurt Warner and for some reason I imagine Manning having the same success there. I know the team has changed a little bit since then, but I’ve gotta believe that Manning could excel with Fitz and the good running game AZ has. Looking the final 2011 standings, Manning might’ve given the team 4 more wins (they had 4 losses by 4 or less), bringing them to 12-4. (Side Note, ALL of Arizona’s 2011 wins were by 7 or fewer points.) My major concern with Peyton going to AZ would be the fact that he would play the San Fran defense twice a year. Of course, he’d have to face someone else twice a year if he signed with…
3. Miami – I was impressed with the way the Dolphins turned the corner on their season last year, finishing better than the Bills, a team I was very excited about early in the season (until they fell apart). Miami ended up in the top half defensively last year too, not bad for 6-10 team. Manning could really give the Dolphins a big offensive boost, probably even 5 more wins (5 of Miami’s losses in 2011 were by 3 points or less). That said, Miami was ranked near the bottom in rushing offense. Of course, the absence of a run game hasn’t stopped Manning in the past. The Dolphins appear to be the front-runner for the Manning sweepstakes, and they might actually be the best fit. Oh, and that “someone else”? Tom Brady. Not that I wouldn’t love these two QBs being in the same division again, but I feel like the rivalry would be diminished if Manning is playing for another team. It just wouldn’t be the same. Also, Brady is tough. So is Belichick. I’m sure Manning would love the chance to square of with the Pats twice a year again, but it would make me nervous.
4. Seattle – I honestly don’t know much about Seattle other than the fact that they started Tarvaris Jackson at QB last year (and managed to finish 7-9). They were ranked around 18/19 Offensively and 10/11 Defensively in 2011 as well. So, on paper, the Seahawks might be just as good (if not better) than Miami as a place for Manning to land. If you stick with the logic that Manning would help the team win close games, he probably could’ve given them 4-5 more wins as well. There’s the 49ers defense factor as well, even if that’s just an imagined threat of my making. I guess I could learn to like Manning as a Seahawk, but it just seems weird. So does…
5. Washington – No. For some reason I just don’t want Manning to become a Redskin. Maybe it’s because I don’t like Shanahan. I don’t know. Washington was right in the middle on Defense and around 20 on Offense, but they finished with the worst record of any team considered here, 5-11 (the “close game/win with Manning” theory bumps them up to only 7-9. I just don’t see it.
6. New York Jets – As much as I’ve grown to like Rex Ryan’s antics (but hate him for beating the Colts in 2010), I don’t think Manning is a good fit with Ryan as a coach. I think Ryan as also denied that the Jets are giving up on Sanchez (though apparently they have some interest in Manning now). While Manning could probably give the offense a big boost that Sanchez sometimes (rarely) exhibits, I still don’t see it. One thing the Jets do have is a highly ranked defense. They are right up there with San Fran. Their offense was ranked around 21, though “close game” theory only nets them 2 more wins (10-6), which might not be enough to compete with New England. Still, if Manning goes to Miami or NYJ and can mange to split the series with Brady, he’s got a shot.
I don’t know if there are any other legit contenders for Manning out there. The Bills are stuck with Fitzpatrick for a while. The Raiders probably can’t afford Manning after grabbing Palmer. I think everyone else has a QB they’re happy with or at least hoping to build around (with the possible exception of the Chiefs).
I haven’t really seen it addressed anywhere else yet, but I think it is important to consider the physical environment in which Manning might play. He’s been indoors (at home) his entire NFL career and has had problems playing outside in the winter (or maybe his problem is just Ty Law). At this time, the only team above that plays indoors is Arizona, and their stadium has a retractable roof. Certainly Miami and San Fran wouldn’t be terrible places to play, except for rains. Seattle might not be that bad either, but Washington and New York could be troublesome, even more so if you factor in Manning’s age and the possibility that his health could be adversely affected by cold temps. It’s something to consider.
Of course, all of the above is mere SPECULATION, which is the name of the game right now when it comes to Peyton Manning and his future. This still has potential to be the biggest story of the offseason.