The Colts front office wanted to start anew after a pathetic, passionless 2-14 season in 2011. They already replaced the coaches and the GM, and are about to replace several players starting today. With Andrew Luck likely coming in via the NFL draft, it only makes sense that Manning look elsewhere for a job.
But, given the chance, where should No. 18 choose to go?
There are teams like the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks that have been looking for a savior at quarterback for quite some time, while teams like the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers could be just a star quarterback away from a Super Bowl title.
Is Manning looking for a team where he can rely on the defense after spending the last decade-plus with an underwhelming defense in Indianapolis? Or is he more worried about the offensive line and the skilled position players to ensure not only his safety, but his statistical legacy?
Here are five destinations Manning should consider at the top of his wish list.
I've been hearing a lot of Manning to the Kansas City Chiefs chatter in the last 24 hours. They have a very solid core of young players, including running back Jamaal Charles (coming back from ACL surgery), wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, cornerback Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry (also coming back from ACL surgery).
Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel is one of my favorites, and he is also one of the few (former) defensive coordinators who was able to game plan and shut down the Colts superstar quarterback. After what Crennel did to Aaron Rodgers this season in handing the Green Bay Packers their only regular season loss, I would say he's still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Having said that, Crennel is a defensive-minded head coach.
KC's offensive coordinator Brian Daboll isn't known as the most player-friendly coach. Assuming Manning wants the offense to be similar to the one he ran in Indy—you know, the one where he is the coach and the quarterback—Daboll is going to have to give in. That's not something I expect he will be happy to do.
On offense, the Chiefs hold promise, but aren't very consistent.
Bowe is a pretty exceptional talent, but he has been known to give up on plays and drop catchable balls. Charles was one of the NFL's brightest young stars before his ACL injury, but it is impossible to know how well he will respond to the surgery.
While Kansas City wouldn't be the worst place to land by any means, I think Manning can do better.
Manning is probably salivating at the idea too.
Fitzgerald is one of the greatest wide receivers in the NFL and would give Manning possibly the best target he has ever had—a stunning realization considering Manning has played with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
Athletic as can be and with hands of gold, Fitzgerald would undoubtedly finish the season with stats hovering around his 2009 numbers he put up with another gunslinger: Kurt Warner.
That season, Fitzy hauled in 97 passes for 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The superb wide receiver isn't all the Cards have to offer, though. Running back Beanie Wells had a breakthrough year in 2011, rushing for 1,000-plus yards and 10 touchdowns, and tight end Todd Heap could have his career could be rejuvenated by a marksman like Manning.
Oh yeah, and the weather in Glendale isn't too shabby, especially inside their beautiful new stadium.
Arizona's offensive line poses the biggest problem.
Their left tackle, Levi Brown, is terrible. I mean he's "close your eyes and pray" bad. Not quite sure that's what Manning wants protecting his blind side after having a handful neck procedures in the last 19 months.
Ever since Dan Marino retired, the Miami Dolphins have been a franchise toiling in obscurity, just waiting for that elusive star quarterback to appear.
Well, Miami, here is your chance.
Manning is the closest thing you're going to get to a franchise quarterback. He's compiled enough stats to make your head spin, and after years of being unable to finish in the playoffs, finally got his Super Bowl ring back in 2006. He has nothing to prove; he just wants to play football and win.
With the Dolphins' current roster, it isn't crazy to say that adding Manning would make them pretty strong contenders in the AFC.
Heck, with Matt Moore taking snaps, the Dolphins won six of their last nine games.
They have an uber-gifted wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, a crazy-athletic running back in Reggie Bush and a sure-handed possession receiver in Davone Bess. Even Miami's offensive line is pretty solid.
The Dolphins defense is one of the most underrated units in the NFL. They have one of the league's top pass rushers in Cameron Wake and allowed only 19.6 PPG last season (sixth in the NFL). Also, they have the eighth pick in April's NFL draft.
So what is keeping Miami from being No. 1 on this list?
Quite simply, the AFC East would be one of the toughest divisions in football if Manning joined the Fins. Getting to 10 wins will be far from easy with the Patriots and Jets on schedule twice apiece.
It's the same old story for New York Jets fans: They could be legitimate Super Bowl contenders every single year, but as long as Mark Sanchez is under center, nobody is going to fear them.
Imagine if they had Manning in 2009.
You're telling me that team doesn't get to the Super Bowl? How about last year in an AFC so wide open that a New England Patriots team with the second-worst defense in NFL history made it all the way to the ship?
Obviously, there would be some major personality clashes, like say, Manning and Rex Ryan. The Jets coach is notorious for his big mouth (and belly), while Manning has always been considered a class act. But I can't imagine that Ryan wouldn't put away his ridiculous theatrics for a chance to coach a real NFL quarterback.
And Santonio Holmes?
Yeah, I bet he shuts up too. The former Super Bowl MVP wouldn't dare quit in the middle of a Manning huddle. No way, no how. Too much respect.
Manning is one of the finest players the NFL has ever seen. Even the clowns on the Jets would appreciate that and treat him accordingly.
With a first-rate defense (even though it slipped in 2011) and a slew of talented skill players on offense, the Big Apple should be clamoring for No. 18 to join the Gang Green.
And who knows?
Maybe adding Manning will be the piece the Jets need to win their first Super Bowl since Joe Namath in 1969.
The transformation that head coach Jim Harbaugh manufactured with quarterback and former first-overall pick Alex Smith was incredible. I mean, Harbaugh may have rewritten the rules for the phrase "making something out of nothing."
To everyone in San Francisco and everyone outside of San Francisco, Smith was done. Finished. A bust.
Of course, Smith came out of nowhere in 2011 and proved everyone wrong (for one year at least), leading the Niners to a 13-3 regular season and bringing them within one game of Super Bowl XLVI.
Sure, the defense did most of the damage, but Smith was masterful in a divisional round performance against the New Orleans Saints and played his role well all season—limiting turnovers and hitting spectacular tight end Vernon Davis when the opportunity arose.
With Manning at the helm, this offense would undergo yet another transformation.
They could become one of the NFL's best. And considering their already-dominant defense, San Francisco could have itself one hell of a team come 2012.
And that, above all, is why Manning should join the Niners.
Assuming they add a wideout in free agency, that gives them Davis, talented running back Frank Gore and arguably the NFL's top defense.
Adding Manning would shift the balance of power in the NFC away from the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers and would make the NFC West relevant again.
Joe Montana, Steve Young and now Peyton Manning?
Lucky 49ers fans.