The Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers each understand that to land Peyton Manning, it will take a deal with parameters based on his previous contract of five years and $90 million.
The stage is set for Manning to make his choice of where he wants to play next. Various reports say he wants to make a decision by Tuesday at the latest.
Here's my take on each of Manning's possible destinations:
This is the destination that makes the least sense from a football standpoint. The Titans are bereft of offensive talent outside of the suddenly-dissapointing Chris Johnson and the perennially troubled Kenny Britt. Throw in the fact that offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's milquetoast scheme would need a major overhaul, and it's a far from attractive destination in terms of the football part of the equation.
The two major things the Titans can offer are money—and revenge. Owner Bud Adams has made it clear he will do everything short of change the name of the team to the Peytons to lure the future Hall of Famer. If Manning were to pick the Titans, he would receive two contracts—one for his work as a player and then another, post-playing days contract to be involved in the front office and figurehead for the franchise. If money is what Peyton wants, this is where he'll find it.
There's also the issue of revenge, not that Manning seems driven by this whatsoever. But the fact remains that the Titans reside in the same division as his former employer—if getting back at Colts owner Jim Irasy is in any way part of Manning's thinking—and we have no reason to think that it is—then the Titans offer a unique opportunity in that regard. Remember, there were several reports when Manning became a free agent that said he would jump at a chance to play with the Texans, but Houston wasn't interested. With an already potent offense, the Texans would have been the perfect vehicle for Manning to get revenge on Irsay and the Colts. The Titans would seem to offer the next best thing.
From the outset of Manning's free agency tour, I though the Broncos were little more than leverage. But Denver has turned out to be a real possibility, thanks in no small part to John Elway's steadfast pursuit. Denver's Tim Tebow offense would obviously need to be blown up, but offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has certainly shown that he is more than open to adjusting his attack to suit the talent on hand. Throw in a tough, young defense and it could be an attractive destination.
The Broncos, however, present the same problem the Titans do when it comes to offensive playmakers, maybe even more so. You're Peyton Manning—you've spent your entire career throwing to the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark—and now you're going to finish out your career throwing to Eric Decker and Daniel Fells? (Though I think Demaryius Thomas is an emerging talent at wide receiver...) Not to take anything away from those guys, but it's hard to believe that Manning is getting too excited at the prospect of starting over with a bunch of nondescript talent.
San Francisco 49ers
Which leads us to the obvious choice, if we're talking purely about a football decision (which it obviously isn't). The 49ers did an excellent job of concealing their interest in Manning, waiting until the final moments in the process to approach him, fly across the country and to watch him throw and to make their pitch.
The Niners were on the cusp of the Super Bowl last year. It must tear head coach Jim Harbaugh up inside to look at the fact that his offense was able to convert only one third down in the NFC Championship and that his wide receivers accounted for all of one catch...for three yards. Some of that was due to personnel but the major part was due to sub-standard play at the quarterback position. For as great as Alex Smith was against the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round, he was equally as awful in the NFC Championship. Adding Manning along with already signed free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham would pretty much ensure that the team would no longer need to worry about being so putrid converting third downs. Throw in a hard-grinding running game and one of the toughest defenses in the league, and this becomes a no-brainer.
I know some noise has been made about Manning wanting to steer clear of the NFC so as not to end up possibly meeting his brother Eli and the Giants in the playoffs. Utter nonsense. If the idea is to win another championship, Manning will pick the Niners and not give his brother another thought, or at least not until this theoretical matchup happens.
And that is what this all boils down to in my mind—if Peyton Manning is interested in winning, he'll be a 49er by Tuesday. If he's interested in being deified, he'll be a Titan. Sadly, for Broncos fans, I still think Denver is little more than a leverage play.
Does Peyton want to win—or does he want to be paid for the rest of his life? Those are essentially his choices. We'll see what Tuesday brings...