2012 NFL Free Agent Predictions: 12 Teams in Play for Peyton Manning

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIMarch 13, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agent Predictions: 12 Teams in Play for Peyton Manning

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    From the long-shots to the teams so damn close they can taste the vanilla, we're going through 12 teams in the running for quarterbacking legend and advertising guru Peyton Manning.

    Why 12?

    Well, for one, that's the reported number of teams that contacted Manning upon his release from the Colts.

    It's also an even dozen, which arouses the donut-lover within.

    Mmmm....donuts.

    For an added dimension, we're putting on Peyton-shaded lenses and predicting what he sees in each prospective employer. What might Peyton's pro/con list look like?

    The answers, as always, lie ahead.

12. Minnesota Vikings

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    Christian Ponder is the future, but Minnesota has shown an abundant willingness to mortgage the future for some sweet, lightning-in-a-bottle veteran action.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Eight games a year inside a dome, an environment that's been kind to him these past 14 seasons.
    • Handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson. When healthy, there's no one better.
    • Head coach Leslie Frazier was a defensive backs coach with the Colts in 2005 and 2006.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Minnesota is so very cold.
    • Twice yearly match ups with the Packers, Lions and Bears. Just making the playoffs would be a tall order.
    • The team went 3-13 last year. How close to contention could they be?

     

    The Verdict:

    Minnesota is too farm from contention and the equator to interest Manning.

11. Cleveland Browns

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    The Cleveland Browns haven't had a quarterback pass for over 3,800 yards since Bernie Kosar in 1986. Peyton Manning has eclipsed 3,800 yards in 11 of his 13 healthy seasons. So yeah, they could use him. And their failed pursuit of Robert Griffin III proves that they want a franchise QB.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Browns President Mike Holmgren is one of the most-respected team-builders in football.
    • The long leash he'd have in title-starved Cleveland and the unofficial honor of being named the anti-LeBron.
    • Joe Thomas, one of the best left tackles in football, protecting his blind side.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • The Browns are thin at receiver and have been for quite some time. They haven't had a 1,000-yard wideout since 2007.
    • Cleveland's records the last four years: 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 4-12. If there's evidence that this team is on the way back, we haven't seen it in the standings. This might be too big a fixer-upper for a 35-year-old quarterback.
    • Instability at running back caused by Peyton Hillis' free agency.
    • Cleveland in the winter is mighty chilly.

    The Verdict:

    Brown's brass told the media that they aren't interested in Manning. Though that was before they lost out on Robert Griffin III, there has been nothing to suggest that they've changed their mind. This team is building for the future, and Peyton Manning knows that.

10. New York Jets

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    The Jets floundered last year under high expectations, and there isn't a better quick fix in football than Peyton Manning.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • A team with roots in winning now and enough recent playoff success to suggest that they aren't far from Super Bowl contention.
    • They were the last team to play and beat him, so he knows they can defend a little bit.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    Oh where to start...

    • A loud, brash coach who is the near antithesis of Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell and the coaches he flourished under in Indianapolis.
    • Playing in the same town as brother Eli in front of voracious media horde that will draw unflattering comparisons between the two possible.
    • An already in-place franchise quarterback that they just signed to a (kind of) major extension.
    • A locker room that disintegrated at the end of last season.

    The Verdict:

    New York's interest was supposed to be the constant in this equation, but now even that it is in question after Mark Sanchez's recent extension. And for Manning's part, the Jets are way more trouble than their worth.

9. Washington Redskins

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    The franchise hasn't qualified for consecutive post-seasons since '91-92', due largely to the absence of a Pro-Bowl-caliber quarterback.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Coach Mike Shanahan did wonders with John Elway and Jake Plummer on the back ends of their respective careers.
    • Victories over the Giants and the league's 13th-best defense say that this team was better than their record suggests.
    • Fred Davis, one of the game's most promising tight ends.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Shanahan prefers mobile quarterbacks that like to throw from outside the pocket. That isn't Manning's game.
    • A wide receiver core that is weak and aging, a running back tandem that is young and unproven.
    • A franchise that has been a model of dysfunction and instability for almost two decades.
    • Washington is where good, veteran quarterbacks go to rot. Just ask Brad Johnson, Mark Brunnell and Donovan McNabb. Manning is better than all three, but it's a troubling trend.
    • How will the team fill roster holes over the remainder of Manning's career? They just traded their next three first-round picks for the chance to take another quarterback.

    The Verdict:

    Trading for the second overall pick doesn't nullify Washington's interest, but it certainly lessens it. Without that extra ounce of motivation, I can't see the Redskins convincing Manning to take a chance on them. Their recent history is a major obstacle.

8. San Francisco 49ers

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    The San Francisco 49ers went 13-3 last year with a quarterback that finished 19th in passing yards. Mix in Peyton Manning and the possibilities are downright scary.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • A defense better than any unit he had as a Colt (perhaps with the exception of 2007).
    • A running back in Frank Gore better than any he's had since Edgerrin James.
    • Vernon Davis running a seam route.
    • A proud franchise with a winning tradition and a penchant for nurturing great quarterbacks.
    • A division with few prospective rivals. With Manning, San Francisco's Vegas Odds to win their division would look like a misprint.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    The Verdict:

    That last bit is the key. San Francisco is the one team that fits the Manning mold but hasn't made any advances. This is the rare case where Manning's feelings on the matter are largely irrelevant.

7. Houston Texans

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    Because it's Peyton freakin' Manning.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • One of the best offensive lines in football.
    • One of the best running games in football.
    • One of the best defenses in football.
    • Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers in football.
    • Really, one of the best rosters in football. The team went 10-6 and won a playoff game with T.J. Yates starting the final eight contests. That's solid.
    • He knows the AFC South well.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • The potential controversy that comes with replacing Pro Bowl incumbent Matt Schaub.
    • I suppose playing Indy twice a year would be awkward. Great for TV, though.

    The Verdict:

    Houston's reported interest comes as a bit of a surprise, but you can file it under the "It's Peyton Manning so we had to Kick the Tires" line of logic. The question for Houston becomes: How far do you go to get him? At a certain pay threshold you have to consider the overall strength of the team and wonder if its worth the gamble. They don't need Manning the same way other suitors do.

6. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    Matt Cassel hasn't fulfilled his promise, but there's enough talent around him in KC to think the Chiefs have Super Bowl potential. Besides, the organization has experience rescuing damaged goods from the legends bin.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Lofting the ball to Dwayne Bowe in double coverage.
    • The roster's makeup from top to bottom. Injuries ravaged their core last year, but between Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki, Tamba Hali and Eric Berry, the Chiefs have some stellar pieces in place.
    • An AFC West that, as usual, appears ripe for the taking.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • An offense that finished 31st in points last year.
    • Those cold Kansas City winters.
    • A recent coaching change and whatever instability lingers.

    The Verdict:

    In his comments at the NFL combine, Chiefs Coach Romeo Crennel made it clear that the team wants Manning. Whether the feeling is mutual remains unclear. Recent rumors said the Chiefs were out of the hunt after Manning denied a meeting request while subsequent reports said they still had a shot. It appears Kansas City has an outside chance at the big prize, but their pursuit is on life support.

5. Seattle Seahawks

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    You have to go back to 2007 to find the last time Seattle had a healthy, productive starting quarterback.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Money. Seattle and billionaire owner Paul Allen have gobs and gobs of green. Dollar for dollar, it's hard to see anyone matching what the Seahawks could offer.
    • A stout defense that ranked top 10 in both yards and points allowed.
    • Feature back Marshawn Lynch, now slated to stay in Seattle for the foreseeable future.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Location, location, location. All indications are that Manning doesn't want to spend his golden years in the rainy Northwest.
    • Sidney Rice struggled last year and Doug Baldwin's potential may still be a few years away from reaching its full fruition. Overall, the WR corps is suspect.

    The Verdict:

    Seattle took a hard run at Manning over the last week and couldn't get him to take a visit. That's a bad sign for Seattle's prospects, and an indication that No. 18 isn't feeling a move to the continental United States' nether regions.

4. Tennessee Titans

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    It isn't immediately obvious given the presence of veteran Matt Hasselbeck and youngster Jake Locker, but owner Bud Adams says he wants Peyton Manning in Nashville. Adams is the boss man, so his rationale is the only one one that matters.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • When healthy, Kenny Britt has all the trappings of a feature wideout.
    • When healthy and motivated, Chris Johnson has all the trappings of a feature back.
    • The team went a surprising 9-7 last year and new coach Mike Munchak looks like a good one.
    • Making a full-circle return to the state where he played his college football and finally delivering that elusive championship.
    • He's familiar with the AFC South.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Unseating a veteran quarterback like Hasselbeck and the potential controversy therein.
    • Was last year the start of something good or just a blip in the up-and-down NFL landscape?
    • Kenny Britt isn't a proven commodity and Chris Johnson looks less and less like a top-five rusher with every dollar in his pay check.
    • The last time Adams sold out for a quarterback against prevailing wisdom, the Titans ended up with Vince Young. Sometimes owner doesn't know best. Just because he wants you doesn't make it a good fit.

    The Verdict:

    Adams appears ready to empty his pocket book and Manning has returned the interest, agreeing to talk with Titans brass. It isn't a guarantee, but it's a big step forward and indicates the seriousness of Tennessee's intentions.

3. Miami Dolphins

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    The Dolphins have been jonesing for a franchise QB since Dan Marino retired. 'Nuff said.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • South Florida's inviting environs. Manning has a condo in Miami and has made the city his temporary offseason home.
    • Outside Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall is the best in-house receiving option among the team's vying for Manning's services. He's easily one of the top-10 players at the position and will be just 28 next season.
    • Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas pack a nice one-two punch in the backfield.
    • The return of left tackle Jake Long should shore up the offensive line.
    • Longtime teammate and fellow free agent Reggie Wayne went to the University of Miami and told wideout-turned-radio-host Michael Irvin he would love to link up with his old pal in the Sunshine State.
    • Related to that last point, the Dolphins have enough room under the cap to sign Manning and another free agent.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Playing in the same division with Tom Brady would make for some great TV ratings, but it's also a tough assignment. There are paths of lesser resistance.
    • The constant comparisons to Dan Marino are sure to grow old.
    • A rookie head coach. Joe Philbin has a promising future, but Manning might not want to endure the growing pains.

    The Verdict:

    Miami has all the trappings of a top choice, but it has to be both disconcerting and discouraging that Manning chose to take visits with the Cardinals and Broncos instead of the Dolphins. He is, however, willing to chat with the Fish. Miami, no doubt, remains in the running.

2. Denver Broncos

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    Denver won their division last year despite ranking 31st in passing yards. Manning would fill that hole, and then some.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • A wide-open division.
    • A chance to play under fellow legend John Elway, one of the few men that can understand the pressure he faces as an aging franchise quarterback.
    • A defense on the rise and a wideout corps with some promise.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • Winters in Denver.
    • Answering 700 questions about Tim Tebow every time he fails to complete a fourth-quarter comeback.
    • God's wrath as it relates to the above.

    The Verdict:

    Of all the favorites to land Manning, Denver seems the oddest fit. Clearly Peyton Manning's pro/con list looks different than mine, because the Broncos are reportedly one of his two preferred destinations. Either Tebow isn't as strong a deterrent as one might assume, or Manning sees something in the organization's trajectory that doesn't meet the eye.

1. Arizona Cardinals

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    Why They'd Be Interested:

    They have one of the game's best receivers and no one capable of getting him the ball. Their gamble on Kevin Kolb last year went bust.

    What Peyton Likes:

    • Larry Fitzgerald.
    • LARRY FITZGERALD.
    • The Arizona sunshine.
    • The franchise won big with an aging Kurt Warner and coach Ken Whisenhunt earned high marks for his work with the veteran. As Warner told ESPN's Pedro Gomez, "They've got a track record. They've shown that they're willing to make those adjustments around the personnel that they have."
    • The team went 8-8 last year despite sub-par play from Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
    • It isn't a dome like he had in Indy, but University of Phoenix's retractable roof ought to make Manning comfortable.
    • Ken Whisenhunt fell from the same Marty Schottenheimer coaching tree that produced Tony Dungy.

    What Peyton Doesn't Like:

    • A suspect running game and uncertainty at the left tackle spot.
    • Arizona doesn't have a long winning tradition or a notable football following. Although on that last point, neither did Indianapolis before Manning came along.
    • The Cardinals have some cap concerns, and one wonders if that might limit their spending.

    The Verdict: 

    Manning likes Arizona—enough to visit with the Cardinals this weekend—and the team has been aggressive their pursuit of the erstwhile MVP. Fitzgerald, good weather and a relative absence of quarterback-related drama make the Cardinals a clear front-runner.