Though he hasn't played a game all season, Peyton Manning was arguably the Colts MVP in 2011. However, with a new head coach and first-overall pick in Indianapolis, coupled with Manning's very large contract, it seems his time as a Colt could be over. As a result, he is likely to be the most hotly-debated free agent QB this offseason.
Manning has been casually linked to the Cardinals for a while through multiple, off-the-cuff comments by NFL analysts. Charlie Casserly started the rumor when he called the Cardinals one to watch if the Colts cut Manning. However, in recent days, ESPN Insider Adam Schefter added fuel to the fire, naming the Cardinals as one of four teams "expected to be interested in...Peyton Manning".
Manning has been linked to, and more importantly, will continue to be linked to, just about every NFL team in the league, bar your New England Patriots or Green Bay Packers.
Any team with anything less than a top five-ranked QB will at least express some level of interest in Manning should he be released. However, Schefter is a respected figure not known for off-the-cuff remarks. The other teams named—the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Washington Redskins—already had credible links to Manning, and the Cardinals are known to have a big QB decision of their own to make this offseason, whether the Cardinals pursue Manning or not.
There is more than a healthy level of skepticism about this, with people such as Cardinals star WR Larry Fitzgerald telling Fox 10 Sports
"I highly doubt Peyton Manning is going to leave Indianapolis. He's, if not the best quarterback to ever play, one of the guys. I just don't think Indianapolis would put him out for everything he's done for that city and organization. He's done a marvelous job to represent the NFL and has grown the league tremendously. I don't think he's going to leave Indy."
Manning's future in Indy, however, continues to look bleak. Their new, defensively-minded head coach, Chuck Pagano, will focus on rebuilding the Colts tattered defense, and Manning has a huge contract which will prevent Pagano from doing that.
The Colts are also in possession of the first-overall pick and are all but guaranteed to take Andrew Luck, billed by many as the most complete QB to enter the draft since Peyton Manning himself, and as the old saying goes, new head coach, new QB.
Since it looks increasingly likely that Manning will be either trade bait or a free agent in 2012, anything linking him to the Cardinals has to be taken seriously.
For more in depth analysis and contrasting viewpoints, please read "Peyton Manning: Future Hall of Fame QB Would Be a Terrible Fit with Cardinals" and "Peyton Manning: Future Hall of Fame QB Would Be a Fantastic Fit with Cardinals".
Manning will not be in Indy in 2012. He wants to play, and that simply won't happen when you have a new head coach and Andrew Luck. I think Manning would be a perfect fit in Arizona.
He is the same build, with similar arm strength to John Skelton, which means that the Cardinals could make one play book work for both players. He would also be a great mentor for the youngster, who has shown flashes this season, and would likely give Skelton the tools he needs to take over in a season or two.
The injury concern is real, but the simple fact of the matter is, if anyone can find a way to make it work, Peyton Manning can. The Cardinals would need to be confident in his ability to play, because signing Manning means dropping Kolb. However, since Kolb has proven to be somewhat injury prone himself, it is a risk, I think, that the Cardinals would be willing to take.
Others really disagree, and there is a real split amongst Cardinals fans about the player. But the Cardinals have not been successful since the retirement of Kurt Warner, and, though the tickets continue to sell, the stadium has clearly been somewhat more muted since his departure. If Manning can bring back even half of the shine that the team had in 2008 and 2009, then, my opinion is, it's worth it.
Whether he joins or not depends on how serious the other teams named are about signing him. If a bidding war erupts, the Cardinals cannot afford to find themselves in the center of it.
The Miami Dolphins are early front-runners for his services, as they believe that they have the least holes elsewhere to fill. The Cardinals are nearly a complete team, but do have issues elsewhere and substantial contract commitments, so the Dolphins could, conceivably out-manoeuvre all others. However, if and when Manning is released, expect the Cardinals to make a real, serious offer to him, 100 percent healthy or not.