2012 NFL Free Agents: Mario Manningham Expected to Bolt Giants for Buccaneers

Doug Rush@Doug_RushSenior Analyst IFebruary 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Mario Manningham #82 of the New York Giants attempts to make a catch against the New England Patriots during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Since Super Bowl XLVI, we've all speculated as to whether Mario Manningham would return to the Giants in 2012 or cash in on free agency.

According to Clark Judge of CBS Sports, Manningham is going where the money is.

Judge said that while talking to sources at the NFL Combine, not only did they say there is "virtually no chance" Manningham comes back to the Giants, but he will likely go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It would make sense, as former Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan is the new offensive coordinator in Tampa, so Manningham wouldn't have to learn a new offensive system.

Manningham caught 39 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns in the 2011 season. His biggest catch of the year was the 38-yard catch on the sideline in the fourth quarter at Super Bowl XLVI.

When that catch happened, it elevated Manningham's value as a pending free agent. Before it, Manningham likely could have taken less money to stay with the Giants,

But for a team like Tampa that could use receivers for Josh Freeman to throw to, Manningham's value sky-rocketed in February with that catch.

Manningham said a few weeks ago that he was around 75 percent certain he wouldn't return because he wants the ball more often.

With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz established as the two best Giants wide receivers, Manningham wasn't going to get that wish, so 75 percent is more like a 100 percent.

With Manningham's likely departure, it'll be interesting to see what Giants GM Jerry Reese does to fill his spot.

We've talked in the past about seeing if former Giants wide receiver Steve Smith is interested in a comeback, pending the health of his knee.

Or, the Giants can simply see what's available in April's NFL Draft. With needs at tight end, linebacker and offensive line, drafting a wide receiver wouldn't likely come for the Giants until the later rounds.

Losing Manningham might seem bad now, but the Giants will be just fine if he walks away. Tampa likely will overpay for him and, just like Derrick Ward did after 2008, not live up to the expectations,

Ward had a breakout season for the Giants in 2008 and then took a free agent contract with Tampa as well and has never lived up to the expectations.

Now I'm, not saying Manningham will fall off the Earth like Ward did, but I don't think he'll ever be that No. 1 receiver that he think he wants to be paid like.

Losing Manningham adds to the to-do list for Reese of things to improve and the retooling for the 2012 campaign.