Peyton Manning will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. It follows that the Indianapolis Colts’ decision to release him sets up one of sports’ all-time greatest games of risk.
– Colts owner Jim Irsay did not want to pay Manning a $28 million bonus that was about to come due because he does not believe the player can fully come back from his third neck procedure in 19 months. Coincidentally, Indianapolis is in position to take potential franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, with the No. 1 pick in the draft. The risk? If Manning has a successful comeback, he immediately makes his new team a Super Bowl contender and Irsay will look bad for releasing an icon and a hero.
– Several teams will “kick the tires” on Manning but only a few figure to be legitimate contenders. Whichever team ultimately signs him will be taking a risk. Manning will command a significant contract, loaded with guarantees. But there’s a good possibility that Manning won’t be able to perform at the level that he has in his career. (Remember, neck injury aside, he’s also 36 years old.) Given the amount of salary cap space he will take up, it’s basically an all-or-nothing gamble.
Personally, it wouldn’t shock me if Manning has played his final game. Nerve regeneration is a tricky thing. Manning is confident but even he admits he’s not there yet. Quoting from the news conference: “I’ve got some progress to make but I’ve come a long way.”
If Manning can play, here are five likely destinations – three of which are on the Falcons’ 2012 schedule.
1.) Miami: Manning spends a lot of time in south Florida (he owns a condo in South Beach). He also could convince himself that the Dolphins, who have a strong defense and a solid running game, can contend for a title with him there. The slight risk is playing for a first-year head coach (Joe Philbin). Dolphins’ current QBs: Matt Moore, J.P. Losman.
2.) Arizona (Falcons’ 2012 home opponent): The Cardinals found magic in a bottle and reached a Super Bowl with one old-timer, Kurt Warner, so why not again? They also have one of the game’s best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and play in a building with a retractable roof. Cardinals’ current QBs: Kevin Kolb, John Skleton, Richard Bartel.
3.) Washington (Falcons’ 2012 road opponent): Is there anything or anyone that owner Dan Snyder hasn’t tried once? Snyder would give the loudest sales pitch and offer the most money if he really wants Manning. I’m not sure Manning, who calls and changes plays at the line, would mesh with coach Mike Shanahan, a bit of a control freak. Shanahan also likes his quarterbacks to be more mobile. However, if the two can co-exist, it would be interesting to see Manning compete in the NFC East, particularly against his two-time Super Bowl-winning brother in New York. Redskins’ current QBs: Rex Grossman, John Beck.
4.) N.Y. Jets: Fair or unfair, many are not sold on Mark Sanchez. At the very least, I’m sure there’s little concern about hurting Sanchez’s feelings if the team brings Manning in for a year or two. Defense isn’t the issue in New York, but the Jets may not have the offensive pieces around Manning to make this a good fit. Also, Rex Ryan is kind of a buffoon. Manning could get beat up in New York. Jets’ current quarterbacks: Mark Sanchez, Mark Brunnell, Kevin O’Connell.
5.) Kansas City (Falcons’ 2012 road opponent): Some feel an NFC West team, Seattle, will bid for Manning’s services, but he would be better served looking at an AFC West team, the Chiefs. The division is wide open with Denver, Oakland and San Diego. A lot of the Chiefs’ problems have centered on the quarterback position, which Manning would solve. Romeo Crennel did a nice job with the Chiefs’ defense. But can he do a sufficient job as the head coach, after taking over for the fired Todd Haley? Chiefs’ current QBs: Matt Casell, Kyle Orton, Ricky Stanzi.
So, do you expect to see Peyton Manning to play again — and if so, where?
By Jeff Schultz