Indianapolis Colts free-agent wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garçon have both signed new contracts. Wayne, tipped to be part of a package deal with Peyton Manning, surprised everyone by choosing to extend his contract with the Indianapolis Colts, while Garçon signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Washington Redskins.
This news is undoubtedly a blow to several teams interested in the services of former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Three of the four teams most frequently linked to Manning—the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans—find themselves without the services of a marquee receiver, and were expected to attempt to land either Wayne, Garçon or both as part of their attempt to woo Manning. Only the Cardinals have an elite pass catcher under contract in Larry Fitzgerald, who was a major part of Arizona's pitch to Manning.
The blow is perhaps most significant for the Dolphins, who traded Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears in the midst of a great deal of personal controversy surrounding the receiver. There was some talk that Manning may not be interested in playing with the receiver, who is considered to be problematic for quarterbacks. The Dolphins were considered to be interested in signing Wayne as part of their plans to win over Manning to their cause.
With the vast majority of the top tier free-agent wideouts now wrapped up to long-term deals, the Dolphins find themselves significantly lacking at the receiver position, and while they will undoubtedly choose to add multiple receivers with their early-round picks, it makes Miami an even tougher sell for Manning.
The situation is not much better for the Titans, who have plenty of depth at the position, but still lack an experienced, proven receiver.
Nate Washington appeared on the verge of breaking out last season. However, in his seven-year NFL career, this was the first time he was able to top 1,000 yards and lacked consistency throughout the course of the season. He topped 100 yards twice, but was also held to under 40 yards on six occasions.
Washington will return to the No. 2 role in 2012 with Kenny Britt returning from injury. Britt is similarly inexperienced and has also failed to achieve more than 1,000 yards in a season. Although he has bags of potential and has shown flashes of brilliance, Britt's off-field issues will certainly be a concern for Manning. If Manning had issues with Marshall, it's hard to imagine that his feelings about Britt will be any better.
Manning is meeting the Titans today. It is possible that he made his feelings known about Marshall to the Dolphins organization, and it is not unreasonable to expect that he is intending to do the same about Britt during his visit to the Titans. However, now that Wayne, Garçon and the majority of the other free-agent receivers have been signed to other teams, it is unclear as to what, if anything, the Titans could do about this.
Aside from the Cardinals, perhaps the team least negatively affected by this is the Broncos, considered by most to be the overall favorites to land Manning. Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are all passable receivers who have posted borderline No. 1 numbers, albeit in small flurries throughout the season. However, considering that they played in Tim Tebow's option offense for much of the 2011 season, all of their numbers would be expected to receive a significant upturn in 2012 under Manning.
Seeking out the services of Wayne or Garçon was considered by many to be part of their pitch to Manning, but he was reportedly so impressed with the other facets of the organization—not least of which being John Elway and John Fox—that he may be able to overlook the absence of a true top-tier receiver. The Broncos' depth in the passing game may even be preferable for Manning, who is known for his preference to spread the ball around.
However, this almost certainly improves things for the Cardinals.
Fox Sports' Adam Schein said that Manning contacted the Cardinals ahead of time to inquire about their seriousness in landing him. So strong was his desire to play with Larry Fitzgerald. However, salary cap constraints saw the Cardinals tumble down the list of possible landing spots.
While cutting Kevin Kolb and Stewart Bradley and restructuring the contracts of a few others would give them more than enough space to make a seriously competitive offer to Manning, the Cardinals would have struggled to also make a serious play for either Garçon or Wayne.
If other teams in the mix had landed either of these players or offered Manning a deal on the understanding that these players would follow suit, the Cardinals could have ended up in the middle of a bidding war they could not have possibly won.
The Cardinals are certainly in need of a No. 2 receiver for Manning and are considered one of the front-runners to land Laurent Robinson. Even if they do not land Robinson (or Chaz Schilens, who has also been linked to Arizona), they are still in a position to obtain a receiver through a trade of the draft. This may be a more realistic approach than trying to outbid three other teams to get Wayne or Garçon.
Now that the playing field has been leveled, many consider Arizona to be the best overall landing spot for Manning. And while all else is far from equal, this news will certainly come as a boost to Cardinals fans hoping to see No. 18 in Cardinal red.
Once again, it would seem, the field is wide open, and Manning's decision is far from made. Expect to read plenty more on this subject in the coming days.