Where will Peyton Manning End Up?

At this point, it seems almost certain that Peyton Manning will be cut.  “According to sources who were involved in the Colts’ GM search, the organization was planning to move on from Manning weeks ago, well before this public squabble between the quarterback and his owner,” NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora said Friday on “NFL Total Access.” This is unsurprising, as Manning is due a a $28 million roster bonus on March 8th; trading Manning would result in a $38 million cap charge for the Colts.

As Indianapolis has the first pick in the draft and the ability to choose between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, it makes complete sense for them to re-build. What doesn’t make sense in hindsight is having signed Manning to a contract which ensured they could get nothing in return. What’s done is done, though, and the culprit of that mistake, Bill Polian, has already been let go by the Colts.

No longer obligated to speak politically, Polian’s words last week about Manning’s injury detail just how ambiguous the timetable of his recovery will be. “No one can know when and if Peyton’s nerve that controls the triceps muscle will regenerate completely and enough for him to play,” said Polian.  “The expectation is that it will.  When it will, no one can predict.”

Therefore, Peyton Manning speculation will be the Brett Favre speculation of the 2012 offseason and it will be three-tiered: Will he be healthy, When will he be healthy, and Where will he play? The longer his health is uncertain, the longer the story draws out.

To try to evaluate the third question, let’s assume that he is cut before his roster bonus is due and that his neck heals by, say, early July. Where will he end up? Here are my power rankings, from least likely to most likely:

UHH, NO.

32. Colts – Don’t think he’d sign back there after getting cut to lead a franchise that went 2-14 without him and is grooming his replacement.

ELITE QB

31. (tie) Patriots, Packers, Giants, Saints – Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees. Four most untouchable QBs in the NFL right now.

STILL NO

27. (tie) Steelers, Chargers, Lions, Panthers – Don’t think Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are going anywhere. Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton have shown enough that we can reasonably assume that they will be franchise quarterbacks.

ALMOST DEFINITELY NOT

23. (tie) Bears, Broncos, Eagles, Bengals – For various reasons/dessert, Jay Cutler, Tim Tebow, Michael Vick, and Andy Dalton are entrenched. It’d be really, really fun if Elway tried to make a move but I don’t see Manning signing with a team whose fans would crucify the decision.

Now we’ve eliminated 13 teams from contention; in varying degrees of legitimacy, 19 teams that will be vying for Manning’s services if he’s healthy. Remaining teams ranked by my subjective criteria based on current QB situation, how ready they are to win right now, whether ownership would break the bank, and–perhaps most importantly–spite.

EHH, PROBABLY NOT

19. Raiders – Dysfunctional organization. No picks for the first four rounds in this year’s draft. Committed to Carson Palmer unless he “retires” again.

18. Falcons – Don’t think they’d give up on Matt Ryan, who has a 43-19 record in the regular season as a starter. He needs to win at least one playoff game in 2012, though, for the Falcons not to be higher on this theoretical list after next season.

17. Bills – Would be higher on the list had they not just given Ryan Fitzpatrick a six year extension with $24 million guaranteed. No bueno.

16. Vikings – The NFC North will be the toughest division in football next season as the Bears get a healthy Cutler and Forte back, Matthew Stafford and the Lions continue to ascend, and the Packers return almost everybody from a 15-1 team. Probably not Manning’s best chance to win.

GETTING WARMER

15. Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald would be a shiny toy but would the notoriously cheap Bill Bidwell pay the Man-ning?

14. Chiefs – Matt Cassel still has three years left on his six-year deal but the contract was frontloaded so that $40.5 million of the $63 million was paid over the first three years. We’re getting into very intriguing territory now.

13. Rams – They can not be happy with Sam Bradford’s regression last season but they also probably can’t afford to cut him loose. Bad luck to have get the first pick in the draft the year before the rookie wage scale went into effect.

12. (tie) Browns and Buccaneers – Bad receivers. Cleveland is a cursed city and Tampa quit in the second half last season. Still probably not his best chance to win.

VIABLE CANDIDATES

10. Seahawks – Team vastly improved in the second half last season and did so with Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. The NFC West is a moderate division. Pete Carroll would give Manning the autonomy that he demands.

9. Dolphins – They’ve already said that they’d be interested. Brandon Marshall is a very good–if prone to drops and mercurial mentality–wide receiver. Owner with deep pockets. Chance to start fresh with brand new head coach.

SHINY OBJECTS

8. (tie) Redskins and Cowboys – Cowboys probably more likely to win right away and have more toys on offense but on the flip side have a better QB option to start with. Daniel Snyder more likely to give Manning a contract worth infinity trillion dollars. Con is that it would mean playing in Eli’s division.

6. Jets – A healthy Manning makes the Jets instant Super Bowl contenders, though. If Manning won a Super Bowl for the Jets, he would be a legend in New York City. Jets have the widest range between upside and downside for Peyton. Con is that it’s Eli’s city.

STICK IT TO JIM IRSAY

5. (tie) – Titans and Jaguars – In Colts’ division. From what we saw of Blaine Gabbert, no one would blame the Jags for giving up on him. Possibility of LA in two seasons for Jaguars. Titans have a solid organization and Manning has ties with Tennessee fans from his college days. Clay Travis makes a compelling case for the Titans.

3. Texans – Ready to win NOW. Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, and a solid D. I might have ranked them #1 if grouping them in this tier didn’t make so much logistical sense.

WIN, WIN, WIN NO MATTER WHAT (subtext: THE HARBAUGH BROTHERS)

2. Ravens – Decent offensive weapons, great defense. The only reason I’m ranking them behind the 49ers is the time horizon on their respective windows of opportunity.

1. 49ers – Could Manning and noted egomaniac Jim Harbaugh co-exist? MAYBE. Great defense, pretty good offensive weapons. Can’t even fathom what Vernon Davis’s fantasy numbers would be like. Alex Smith had a very good season, completing 61.3% of his passes. However, he was 12-26 for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game and you have to wonder if you can ever get 3-4 straight great games out of him in the playoffs.

I would actually like the record to show that I am predicting the Texans, even though I ranked the 49ers #1. Easy division. Expendable quarterback. Chance to stick it to Jim Irsay. Team built to win immediately on both sides of the ball. Book it.

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One Response to Where will Peyton Manning End Up?

  1. Pingback: Some Thoughts On Peyton Manning « Get Juiced

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