2012 NFL Free Agents: Projecting Likely Destinations for Mario Manningham

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystFebruary 28, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Wide receiver Mario Manningham #82 of the New York Giants has a pass broken up by Patrick Chung #25 of the New England Patriots  during the first half of Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After winning Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants must now begin the daunting task of defending the Lombardi Trophy and one of the first decisions facing Giants brass is what to do about the crop of players they have hitting free agency, including four-year veteran wide receiver Mario Manningham.

Manningham, who had 39 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdown catches last year and was one of the G-men's heroes in the Super Bowl with his acrobatic catch on New York's game-winning fourth-quarter drive, was recently linked to a report that stated he was "75 percent" certain to leave the Big Apple and likely headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but Manningham refuted that report in a Tuesday appearance on WFAN Radio, according to a tweet by Mike Garafalo of the Newark Star-Ledger.

Mario Manningham just on WFAN. Claims he never said he's "75 percent" likely to leave Giants. Also poo-pooed TB rumors. All right then. #nyg

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 28, 2012

Manningham went on to tell WFAN that his odds of staying with the Giants were actually a fair bit better than that and that he was simply weighing his options at the present time, saying:

It’s a 50-50 percent chance, we’re not sure what’s going on right now. We’re just gonna take it slow and see what’s going on, let the smoke clear a little bit. Just never know where I’m gonna end up at.

However, with the emergence of second-year pro Victor Cruz, who racked up over 80 catches and 1,500 receiving yards, it's doubtful that in a relatively weak free agent market the Giants will be able to afford bringing back a player who would effectively be their third wideout—especially given New York's rather precarious salary cap situation.

That makes it a probability that Manningham will indeed hit the open market, and one of the leading candidates to pursue the Michigan standout is the aforementioned Buccaneers, who have a glaring need at the position and a boatload of salary cap space.

However, while new Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was previously on the Giants staff, which means that he's somewhat familiar with Manningham and vice versa, bringing Manningham on board may not be the best move for the Bucs, as pointed out by ESPN's Pat Yasinkas.

He might be a good No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, but it’s not a good idea to project a guy like that into the No. 1 spot. The Bucs did that years ago with Alvin Harper and Bert Emanuel and neither worked out all that well.

That could open the door for a team like the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a need at wide receiver opposite youngster A.J. Green with Jerome Simpson's future in the Queen City very uncertain. The Bengals also have ample cap space to make Manningham an offer, and as the Chillicothe Gazette reports Manningham could make a more attractive target for general manager Mike Brown than a higher-priced option such as the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace.

You can get a veteran receiver, such as a Robert Meachem, Pierre Garcon, Mario Manningham, Braylon Edwards or Reggie Wayne, for less than what you would have to make an offer for Wallace.

The Buccaneers and Bengals are far from the only teams that will all but certainly show interest in Manningham, and other teams with a need at the position such as the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers may well throw their hats into the proverbial ring, but it's becoming more and more evident each day that, his protestations aside, Mario Manningham's Super Bowl heroics for the Giants are likely the last time he suits up for Big Blue.