Peyton Manning, one of the greatest players in NFL history, is now on the open market. Step right up, folks. Let the bidding begin.
Even though most people saw it coming, it still seems surreal. After 14 seasons as the face of the Indianapolis Colts franchise, Manning and the team officially parted ways Wednesday (see story). It is hard to imagine one without the other, but that is the cold reality.
The Colts had until Thursday to pay Manning a 28 million bonus to retain his rights, but it was clear for a long time that would not happen. The Colts have the first pick in the 2012 draft and they are prepared to select either Stanfords Andrew Luck (more likely) or Baylors Robert Griffin III (less likely) and rebuild around the young quarterback.
So the Colts are moving on and now so will Manning.
Here is my short list of likely landing spots:
The Redskins have finished last in the NFC East four years in a row, which does not sit well with owner Daniel Snyder. Coach Mike Shanahan has suffered through two miserable seasons with Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck. The last time Shanahan had any real success, it was with an all-time great quarterback, John Elway. If Shanahan is going to get back on top and he knows the clock is ticking he may decide he needs another great veteran quarterback to get him there. If it is just a matter of money (and it is) expect the Redskins to be among the most active bidders.
New York Jets
The Jets are coming off an 8-8 season that was almost as disappointing as the Eagles 8-8 season. Coach Rex Ryan promised a Super Bowl and delivered a Broadway flop. Yes, the Jets have a lot invested in Mark Sanchez, but the young quarterback took a major step back last season and now some in the organization are questioning whether he has what it takes to win it all. The Jets also have to contend with the Giants strutting around town as Super Bowl champs so they may want to make a big splash if only to become relevant again. Bringing in Peyton Manning to share the big stage with little brother Eli would do it.
Owner Stephen Ross likes stars. His minority partners include Marc Anthony, Gloria Estefan and Serena Williams. Trouble is those stars are sitting next to him in the owners box. He needs stars on the field, stars that will sell tickets and restore interest in the team. Manning would do that. Since Dan Marino retired in 1999, the Dolphins have started 16 different quarterbacks try to name more than five, I dare you and the team has gone nowhere. That would change if they signed Manning.
A few years ago, the Cardinals brought in a veteran quarterback named Kurt Warner and, suddenly, they became a contender. They went to a Super Bowl and came within one Ben Roethlisberger drive of winning it all. The team still has some good pieces notably wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and it plays its games in a comfy dome (which Peyton likes) and coach Ken Whisenhunt probably looks at Manning and sees the Kurt Warner scenario all over again. But the team made a big commitment to Kevin Kolb last year and still have a lot of money tied up with him. Would that keep the Cardinals from making a move?
Often mentioned as a destination, I just dont know how likely it is. The 49ers have a championship-caliber defense and some good weapons on the offense (Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, maybe Michael Crabtree). They also have a dynamic coach in Jim Harbaugh (who just happens to be the quarterback Peyton Manning replaced in Indianapolis). Plug a healthy Manning in at quarterback and the 49ers become a real Super Bowl threat.
A sleeper. The Chiefs did something similar years ago when they traded for Joe Montana and the future Hall of Famer took them to the AFC title game and might have won it if he didnt suffer a concussion late in the first half against Buffalo. The Chiefs have a good defense, weapons on offense (Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Jon Baldwin) and the laid-back American Heartland feel of Kansas City is very much like Indianapolis where Manning was quite happy. He really isnt a big city kind of guy.
OK, I knew you were waiting for this one. No, I dont think the Eagles are in the running here. I believe they are committed to Michael Vick for at least one more year and thats that.
If Jeff Lurie really is the risk-taking, outside-the-box owner that he professes to be, he should sit down with his cabinet today and say, Lets talk about this. You dont get the chance to bid on an all-time great quarterback very often and when you havent won a championship in more than half a century and your team has made a habit of coming up just short year after year then you have to seriously discuss this.
Peyton Manning would take ownership of this offense in a way no quarterback in the Andy Reid era could. That could very well make it better in the critical fourth quarter, clock-ticking-down moments when the Eagles so often break down. All those wasted timeouts, all those valuable seconds lost with the quarterback waiting for the play to come in from the sideline, it all would be a thing of the past with Manning running the show.
The fact that Howard Mudd is here as offensive line coach, a man who spent a decade drawing up protections for Manning in Indianapolis, is another strong argument on the side of pursuing him.
If I were the Eagles, I would do it and not because it would get the fans excited and not because it would sell a lot of No. 18 jerseys, but because it makes a lot of football sense. At least it does to me.
E-mail Ray Didinger at firstname.lastname@example.org