Fantasy football owners are already looking ahead to next season and wondering what their championship chances are if they acquire Peyton Manning. And many NFL teams are probably wondering about the same thing.
Now, this is all banking on Manning being healthy. There are still as many questions regarding Manning’s neck as there are regarding Mitt Romney’s electability. But working under the notion that Manning’s neck will be 100 percent and he will come close to returning to his Hall-of-Fame form when he comes back, which NFL teams could Manning end up with, and what would each do for his future fantasy value?
Here are four different destinations for Peyton Manning, the pros and cons if he played with each team and what his fantasy worth could be in each place:
Pros: Have you seen Tarvaris Jackson? Seattle is more desperate for a quarterback than Rex Ryan is for a jumping jack. Manning could walk right in and play for a solid team with a rabid fanbase in the loudest stadium in the league, and he could have the power to take over the weakest division in the NFL.
Manning would be behind an offensive line with loads of upside whose pass-protection stats this season were a little misleading because the group was ravaged by season-ending injuries. The line is littered with high-round talent and could form an above-average unit in 2012.
Manning would also have a top-flight tailback to keep front sevens honest, something he did not always have during his Indy years, especially once Edgerrin James left. Marshawn Lynch is coming off a terrific year where he rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns AND became the poster boy for Skittles.
Cons: Seattle is not the easiest place to throw the ball thanks to the constant rain and windy weather. Manning’s numbers could be adversely affected thanks to Mother Nature’s constant crying in the Pacific Northwest.
The Seahawks receiving corps is taller than an NBA team and can be dangerous when it is healthy, but the problem is, guys like Sidney Rice and Mike Williams are rarely injury-free. Even when everyone is 100 percent, though, there is no Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison-type of receiver on the roster.
And will the city itself ruin Manning and his fantasy worth indirectly? Could Seattle’s countless coffee shops caffeinate Manning to the point of him being ineffective? Is Manning even a fan of grunge rock and seafood?
Overall: Because of the home stadium conditions and the receiving corps, Manning most likely would not put the numbers he did during his Indianapolis days. A fantasy owner could still pencil him in for 4,300 passing yards and 30 touchdown tosses, though, because he is Peyton Manning and because he will have six games against the NFC Worst, I mean, West.
Pros: The Jets do not spare any expense when it comes to acquiring players. They do not care about character issues, chemistry concerns or salary cap ramifications. The Jets have proven, especially during the Rex Ryan years, that they have no qualms about trading draft picks to upgrade their talent.
So, Manning will have weapons if he joins the Jets. We do not know if they will be Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress or another pair of pass-catchers, but he will definitely have decent receivers no matter what. Throw in tight end Dustin Keller, running back Shonn Greene and an offensive line with two Pro Bowl players on it, and Manning should have plenty to work with.
The Jets might not have top-notch defensive talent, but they have arguably the best defensive coaching in the NFL. Ryan and his staff do a lot with a little considering the only All-Star defensive players they have are cornerback Darrelle Revis and middle linebacker David Harris.
This means that there will never be pressure on Manning to have to outscore opponents in 41-38 gunfights. If Manning is just Manning and helps the Jets score 24-27 points per week, the Jets should win the AFC East.
Cons: The Jets hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano to be their offensive coordinator, and judging by how Miami’s offenses were like during his tenure there, Manning would be handing the ball off more than he is used to and could even be subbed out here and there for the dreaded wildcat formation.
The Jets also have to address some personnel issues before Manning comes to town, but may be hamstrung thanks to his massive contract and the subsequent salary cap damage it brings.
The Jets have to replace right tackle Wayne Hunter. Hunter almost single-handedly turned Mark Sanchez into a shell-shocked David Carr wannabee thanks to the numerous times Hunter allowed Sanchez to get sacked. And if Holmes and/or Burress get dumped, the Jets will need to find receiver replacements.
Overall: Fantasy owners should prefer the Jets over the Seahawks if they had to choose between the two organizations. Manning would have more talent and resources in New York; plus, he would have a better book on AFC defenses than the NFC defenses he would face with Seattle. Manning will have windy winter weather and the overzealous New York media to deal with, though. 4,500 yards and 32 touchdowns sounds about right.
Pros: If Manning does not get another chance to play his home games inside a dome, playing his home games in sunny, warm weather is the next best thing.
It is hard envisioning Manning dealing with brutal weather conditions for several weeks if he does not have to. Playing in Miami could add a year or two onto his career and add some extra touchdowns and yardage onto his final career totals.
Sure, Matt Moore did a Tebow-like job in leading the Dolphins to victories while throwing for 200 yards in only half his games. We all know he is not the answer at quarterback, though. If he was, he would still be starting in Carolina and Cam Newton would have been drafted by someone else.
Manning could take Miami’s average-at-best talent and elevate the Dolphins into a playoff team. The Jake Long-led line is solid, Reggie Bush seems to have figured out how to stay healthy and Manning would be motivated to wrest the AFC East away from his bitter rivals, the New England Patriots.
Cons: The Manning/Brandon Marshall dynamic has disaster written all over it. Picture this scenario: Marshall drops a sure touchdown or runs a wrong route and Manning barks at him, and then Marshall becomes unglued and starts punting footballs all over the field.
Besides Marshall and Bush, Miami lacks skilled position players who strike fear into secondaries. Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano would never have started in Indianapolis during Manning’s glory days, that’s for sure.
Overall: It is a new chapter for the Dolphins, and possibly also for Manning if he finds himself playing and tanning there. I think the weather would be a huge selling point, and the new head coach could be one as well depending on who it is. I like Manning in Miami more than New York or Seattle from a fantasy perspective. 4,850 yards and 35 TD would be my guess.
Pros: Well, familiarity helps. Manning knows the offense, players, stadium, fans, front office, hot dog vendors and ball boys. He probably does not want to leave Indianapolis and would be happier than Tim Tebow in a church to finish his career there.
Favorite targets Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark have each lost steps, but if they return and have Manning throwing to them, they could certainly reclaim their Pro Bowl forms. And Pierre Garcon actually had a career year without Manning this season, catching 70 passes for 947 yards and six scores, so he could cross the 1,000-yard plateau in 2012.
And the fast track and perfect conditions inside Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium are obviously ideal for Manning’s aerial assaults. Other than the Superdome in New Orleans, there is no better place to throw pinpoint passes for a rifleman like Manning.
Cons: Indy’s running game and offensive line were below-average during Manning’s last healthy season, and both got even worse while he was injured. The new front office, whomever that ends up being, has a lot of work to do in terms of fixing those gigantic problems.
Then, there is the Andrew Luck situation. As you know by now, Indy has the first pick in the NFL Draft in April, and Luck is arguably the highest-praised prospect of the last decade. The Colts would be foolish to pass over Luck or trade the pick away when Manning is 36 years old and coming off major neck surgery, yet that would mean Luck looking over Manning’s shoulder for a couple years, which would make Manning as uncomfortable as if someone put itching powder in his jockstrap.
Overall: We know what Manning can do in Indianapolis. Just look at the back of his football card or check his Wikipedia page. And even though he has never had a 5,000-yard season in his illustrious career, he is due to have one when we makes his historic comeback considering everyone else in the NFL is throwing for 5,000 yards these days.
I think the best place for Manning to be for fantasy owners is Indianapolis. Sure, if he quarterbacked the New Orleans Saints or New England Patriots, he would be in better stats shape, but that isn’t going to happen. Out of his likely destinations, staying in Indy would be the top choice. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, the chances he will ever play again—and if so, plays with the Colts—are probably 50-50 at best.