So where will Peyton Manning land?
Assuming the Indianapolis Colts release him, that's going to be the question of the 2012 NFL free agency period, which starts on March 13. Manning is due a large roster bonus on March 8, but most expect him to be released by the Colts before that date.
So we're going to see Manning hit free agency, which will likely make him the most high-profile free agent since Reggie White in 1993. There are plenty of questions about Manning's health but if he ultimately checks out, as he and his agent think he will, he's the type of player that can instantly transform a team into a contender.
Because of that, I think at least half the league will consider pursuing him. I went through each team in the league and made a guess on where they stand with Manning. I found eight teams that shouldn't think twice about pursuing him, another seven teams that make some sense but have quarterback options on the roster, and another 16 teams that are set at quarterback and shouldn't go after him.
Should pursue him: Dolphins, Jets, Browns, Broncos, Chiefs, Redskins, Cardinals and Seahawks.
Makes some sense but unlikely to happen: Bills, Ravens, Titans, Jaguars, Cowboys, Vikings, Bucs and 49ers.
Should not pursue him: Patriots, Steelers, Bengals, Texans, Colts, Raiders, Chargers, Giants, Eagles, Packers, Lions, Bears, Saints, Falcons, Panthers and Rams.
And my reasoning on every team in the league and what they should do with Manning....
New England Patriots: Uhh, nope. They have a guy already who's not bad.
Miami Dolphins: Put them near the top of the list. They're one of the handful of teams often connected to Manning. They do not have a quarterback of the future on the roster and it's been widely reported in South Florida that the Dolphins are interested in Manning. And of course the Miami media is also coming out with the loose ties Manning has to the area, such as him owning a condo in the Miami area. They're in the Manning race.
Buffalo Bills: They make sense in the fact that Manning would drastically improve their team (like he would do with a lot of teams). But it takes two to marry which means not only would the Bills have to be interested but Manning would have to be interested in Buffalo. I don't see that happening.
New York Jets: Reports say they'd be interested in Manning but they also have Mark Sanchez on the roster. Bringing Manning in would eliminate Sanchez's role on the team. Publicly, the Jets have said they're behind Sanchez. Privately? That's another story. We're not ready to say for sure they'll be in the Manning sweepstakes but they're certainly a team to keep an eye on.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Nope. They're happy with Ben Roethlisberger.
Baltimore Ravens: This is a little intriguing because they're so close to being a Super Bowl team but they have a young quarterback in Joe Flacco. I don't think they should move away from him unless Manning's health is a sure thing (and it's not). Count Baltimore out, for now.
Cleveland Browns: They should be interested, sure. But, like Buffalo, it's a two-way street. Would Manning want to come to Cleveland and play? I don't think that he would, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't try.
Cincinnati Bengals: Manning would instantly make them a better team but they have a bright future with Andy Dalton at quarterback. They spent a second round pick on him last year and I can't see them moving away from him after he had a solid rookie year.
Tennessee Titans: We know Titans fans want him in Tennessee but management has hinted that he's not likely to be a priority. Of course, if they were interested in Manning, they probably wouldn't say that. They have Matt Hasselbeck and first round pick Jake Locker on the roster so, while Manning would instantly turn them into a contender, I'm not sure he makes a ton of sense here.
Houston Texans: Nope. They have Matt Schaub coming back healthy and, as we found out this year, they have a decent back in T.J. Yates. They should not be interested.
Jacksonville Jaguars: This is a tough one. If they hadn't drafted Blaine Gabbert last season, I would say they'd be in the race for Manning but, with Gabbert entering year two in Jacksonville, you would think they'd stick with him. There's some intrigue with the Jaguars playing in the same division as Manning's Colts, and a new owner wanting to make his mark on the franchise, but it's still difficult to envision a scenario where the Jaguars are able to get Manning.
Indianapolis Colts: Does it sound like he's headed back to Indy?
Denver Broncos: Hmm...another situation where there's a quarterback in place but Manning is clearly superior to that quarterback. If anyone knows the value of a good quarterback, it's John Elway. For that reason, I don't think you can cross the Broncos off the list. But I wouldn't put them near the top because they would be transitioning away from the guy that led them to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders: They just dealt for Carson Palmer last season so they're not moving away from him. As good as Manning would make Oakland, this is not a move they'll make.
Kansas City Chiefs: This makes some sense. The Chiefs sure sound like they're content with Matt Cassel and ready to keep him but he's been inconsistent in his career. The Chiefs have a lot of weapons offensively, including Jamaal Charles, so Manning would make this team a contender right away. You can't cross KC off the list but publicly they've given no indication they're serious about Manning.
San Diego Chargers: Not happening. Philip Rivers, despite 20 interceptions in 2011, is still a franchise quarterback.
New York Giants: I think they're happy with the guy they have. You know, that Super Bowl MVP?
Dallas Cowboys: Tony Romo is in place, we know that. But making a big time splash in free agency? That sounds like a move the Cowboys would make. For that reason, I won't count them out, but I still recognize that it's probably not the best match.
Philadelphia Eagles: Remember when the Eagles were the surprise team to sign the last big named quarterback on the market? Yeah, that was Michael Vick. He's still there so Manning isn't coming to Philly.
Washington Redskins: Along with the Dolphins, the Redskins are the team people talk about the most in connection with Manning. They don't have a quarterback of the future and Mike Shanahan won a couple of Super Bowls in the 1990s with an older quarterback. One thing I do wonder about is whether Manning would want to be in the same division as his brother, Eli. But, still, put them at the top of the list of teams in the running for Manning.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is one of the few players in the league would could stack up to Manning in his prime. They're not interested.
Detroit Lions: Nope. They spent a No. 1 pick on Matthew Stafford and he's developing into a very good quarterback. They're not interested.
Chicago Bears: They could use a backup quarterback after the Caleb Hanie disaster but not a starter. Jay Cutler remains there. Chicago doesn't make sense.
Minnesota Vikings: Teams like the Vikings and Jags are in a tough spot. They spent a first round pick on a quarterback last season but they're not totally sure what they have. So do you give up on that after one year and pursue Manning? Or do you stick with your original plan and develop your draft pick? Manning really does make a lot of sense in Minnesota with them playing in a dome (like Manning did in Indy) and the weapons on offense. But are they ready to give up on Christian Ponder? I don't think so. Don't totally count them out but I say Minnesota is unlikely.
New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees is scheduled to be a free agent but he's not going anywhere.
Atlanta Falcons: Manning in his prime is better than Matt Ryan but you can't mortgage the next decade of solid quarterback play for potentially a couple of seasons with Manning. Count them out.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Freeman is in place and he's not a bust so I would say Tampa Bay is unlikely to pursue Manning. But, this is the most decorated free agent, possibly in history. It's unlikely but don't count them completely out. They have the cap space if they wished to pursue it.
Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton lit it up in year one so they're not moving on from him.
San Francisco 49ers: They make a ton of sense on paper. Young receiver in Michael Crabtree, solid tight end in Vernon Davis, productive running game and a very good defense. But, publicly, the 49ers have stated their desire to bring Alex Smith back. It sounds like they won't pursue Manning.
Arizona Cardinals: Another team often connected to Manning. They recently hired his former QB coach, Frank Reich. It was also reported that Manning had dinner with receiver Larry Fitzgerald during Super Bowl week. Those two things are fanning the flames for Manning-to-Arizona. They can get out of their contract with Kevin Kolb, if they wanted to, and the Cardinals once had a lot of success with an older quarterback in Kurt Warner. The Cards and Manning make a good match. They should pursue him.
Seattle Seahawks: This makes a lot of sense, too. They don't have a quarterback of the future so they should absolutely be exploring Manning. I'd put them in my top 10 of teams likely to pursue Manning.
St. Louis Rams: Even with a new coach, this doesn't make sense. Jeff Fisher chose St. Louis partially based on Sam Bradford being in-house. They're not looking at Manning.