The Peyton Manning watch appears to have finally drawn to a close. With the exception of the ubiquitous dotting of i's and crossing of t's (but never dotting j's and crossing f's for some reason), the biggest catch of the offseason appears to finally have been landed.
And while fans in Mile High celebrate, for the other teams involved, and even those not directly linked to the future Hall of Famer, the fallout is only just beginning.
Many teams have tried—though not always successfully—to insulate themselves against the possibility of losing out on Manning. Others appear to have committed so much to winning Manning that it's impossible to imagine them not suffering as a result.
Join me as we take a look at hope Manning's decision has affected those teams that lost out on his services.
Peyton Manning may be the most talked-about signing of a generation and the biggest name in this year's free-agency crop. It is a win of the largest variety for the Broncos. To try and spin this as anything other than a huge net gain for the team would be the height of foolishness.
The Broncos went all in and it appears to have paid off big time for them.
However, no matter how big a coup landing Peyton Manning may have been, it is not without its risks and potential for fallout.
By far the biggest immediate effect on the team is the future of the Denver Broncos' current quarterback, Tim Tebow.
Conventional wisdom and reports from sources close the Broncos organization indicate that the plan is to trade Tebow and run with Manning. Denver will look to pick up an affordable backup through either free agency, the Tebow trade or the upcoming draft.
This scenario is not without its drawbacks, however. Tebow, something of a folk hero to Denver fans, has not got a wowed many discussion-makers in the NFL and is not expected to realize much value in a trade.
The Broncos know this and are not planning on driving a hard bargain for Tebow.
Tebow must be dealt, or even cut, in order to completely quash the Tebowmania that has been rampant in this city. So long as he remains on the team, not even Peyton Manning would be safe.
A Denver billboard recently asked Bronco's to vote between Manning and Tebow. The winner, it would seem was Tebow with 60 percent of the vote.
Any misstep, any unexpected loss and Tebow's incredibly loyal and incredibly vocal fans would be calling for Manning's job. These fans have invested a lot of emotion and money in Tebow and his related merchandise.
While few would argue with the fact that Peyton Manning is unquestionably an upgrade over Tebow, he will not have a very long time to prove it before fans get restless.
Removing Tebow from the mix is a must, but this is not without its risks. Manning did not play at all in 2011. Though reports indicate that his neck injury is fully healed and his throwing strength has returned, he has yet to be tested on the football field in a full contact game.
Even if his neck injury does not cause him any further issues—we all certainly hope that it will not—no player is immune from further, unrelated injuries. Not to mention, Manning turns 36 in a few weeks and will be playing behind a questionable offensive line.
If, for whatever reason, Manning is unable to play, the Broncos could use a quarterback with a winning track record. If Manning is unable to make an immediate impact for the team, it is questionable how many fans will forgive the organization for replacing their hero.
Signing Manning, therefore, is an all in play, with pocket aces. Likely to succeed, definitely the right call, but not fool proof, not without it's risks and not without at least the possibility of catastrophic failure.
Early on, the Seattle Seahawks expressed an interest in signing Peyton Manning but were quickly rebuffed.
The Seahawks clearly considered the quarterback spot a potential area for improvement and wisely made their inquiries about Manning.
Since Seattle was almost immediately ruled out as a destination, their ongoing free-agency period was largely unaffected.
The Seahawks quickly found who they believe to be their QB of the future in perhaps the second-most talked about free-agent QB of the period, Matt Flynn.
Though Flynn is largely untested he is widely considered a very able quarterback. He has learned in Green Bay, backing up one of the most successful quarterbacks in recent years, Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay were reportedly very hot on Flynn, never feeling the need to seek out a more experienced QB to back up Rodgers.
The addition of defensive lineman Jason Jones is also considered a win for the team. They still have cap space to add depth as free agency continues and the Manning factor appears to have, in the main, left the Seahawks unscathed.
Perhaps the biggest effect on the team is how quickly Manning ruled them out. Though weather undoubtedly played its part, the dismissal of any team out of hand by such an experienced QB has to be considered a snub and may cause other players to think twice about visiting with them.
Much like the Seahawks, the Kansas City Chiefs are looking to rebound from a largely disappointing season. Conventional wisdom says that a new head coach equals a new quarterback.
For Romeo Crennel, the addition of Peyton Manning would have been a great way to stamp his mark upon the team and atone for much of the negative press which has surrounded his Chiefs recently.
Unfortunately, though they had more cap space than perhaps any other suitor, Manning also quickly ruled out the Chiefs as a possible destination perhaps in part due to his positive meetings with divisional rivals, the Denver Broncos.
Like the Seahawks, the fact that the Chiefs knew that they were never in the race allowed them to focus their efforts elsewhere right out of the gate.
Kansas City have been relatively productive already.
Cassell has not been the complete write-off many would like to paint him as, achieving a reasonable level of success when healthy. Though neither Cassel or Quinn are considered elite, both stand a reasonable chance of achieving success in Kansas City.
Additions elsewhere on the field, including another Peyton—Hillis, the running back, that is—tight end, Kevin Boss and tackle Eric Winston should result in improvements in 2012, especially considering the cap space still available to them.
The reason that Manning's choice hurts the Chiefs more than the Seahawks, however, is because it puts Manning in the Chiefs' division.
The AFC West has recently been considered wide open; however the Broncos' addition of Manning now makes them clear favorites. Things will be much more difficult for Kansas City, which must attempt to find a way to beat him twice a year.
At one point the Arizona Cardinals were considered one of the favorites to land Manning. As a result, they waited around until the last possible moment before bowing out of the race.
Unlike most other teams, the Cardinals' lack of available cap space and clear-cut time frame put additional pressure for the team. Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb had a $7 million roster bonus due last Friday and once paid, there was no going back.
If Manning's decision was not made by the time the bonus was due, time was up for Arizona.
When Manning visited the Arizona, two things were clear. First, if a bidding war erupted, the Cardinals would struggle to compete. Second, if the process dragged on, the Cardinals would be forced to rule themselves out of the race.
Unfortunately for Arizona, both of these things happened, but not before more than one full week of waiting.
During the waiting period, the Cardinals were forced to sit by and watch as one of the Cardinals' top performers in 2011, Richard Marshall, left for Miami. Several potential free-agent targets were also wrapped up by other teams.
The Cardinals were well aware that landing Manning would have eaten up practically all available cap space. Committing to signing any other high-profile player would have ended their chase of Manning just as surely the expiry of their deadline.
However, for a team trying to rebound and rebuild, a week of missed free agency can be devastating.
Without a doubt, the effect on the Cardinals was real.
The reason they are not higher up on this list is obvious. With or without Manning, their free-agency options would have been limited.
Their cap concerns are very real and have forced the team to tread carefully in free agency. The sad reality for Cardinals fans is that their bid for Manning was an exceptional one. The money they would have spent on Manning is simply not available to spend elsewhere.
While the Cardinals were convinced that they could have created the cap space necessary to land Manning, they were not doing this for anyone else.
They would simply not have been signing any other top-tier free agents, even if they were never involved in the chase for Peyton Manning.
The Tennessee Titans were one of the final three teams in the running for Manning. According to many in the media, they were the favorites to land him.
Owner Bud Adams made it clear that Manning was the man he wanted and refused to let anyone forget it.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the Titans elbowed their way into the fray. Through a mixture of Adams' brash and bold nature, huge and perhaps outlandish promises—including reports of a "job for life" and by appealing to Manning's history in the state—the Titans hoped to win out.
Like the other top three teams, their first week-and-a-half of free agency was tepid, due to the sizable contract set aside for Manning. While many teams were making a huge splash in free agency, the Titans were forced to sit back and wait.
Adams' up front and vocal commentary on the situation upped the ante for the team and raised expectations in Nashville. Losing out on Manning, therefore, is a much bigger blow if only because of their perceived status as front-runners.
And their very public pursuit of Manning has likely soured their relationship with current starting quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck.
While Hasselbeck is enough of a professional to knuckle down and get the job done, the Titans will still need to go a long way to rebuild the bridges that were burned during Manning's courtship.
However, things could be worse for the Titans...much worse.
The Titans still have a proven, veteran QB and an up-and-coming youngster, Jake Locker, both of whom they were happy with before Manning became available.
Even if the situation has become untenable between Hasselbeck and the Titans, the former Seahawks quarterback will generate a significant level of interest and would be relatively valuable as trade bait.
They still have cap space available to plug more than a few of their remaining holes. At 9-7 in 2011, the Titans only narrowly missed out on a berth in the playoffs. With a few tweaks, they look prepared to build on that this season, even without Manning.
While Manning may have been a shortcut to the title, the team is still a team on the up and should be relatively confident in their chances in 2012.
The San Francisco 49ers were a surprise entrant to the Manning sweepstakes. Their late but serious pursuit took many by surprise, not least of which were San Francisco fans.
The 49ers' M.O. seemed to be secrecy, perhaps to try and keep their interest hidden from free-agent quarterback Alex Smith.
According to reports, the 49ers were the first team to watch Manning work out and the first to give him a medical exam. They did all of this right under the noses of the onlooking media, while somehow managing to keep the secret.
When the news finally broke, the 49ers quickly shot to the top of the polls. Many considered the possibility of playing for a team that was just one muffed punt away from a Super Bowl shot too good an opportunity for Manning to pass up.
As latecomers, the 49ers' free agency was not overly affected early on. Their inability to make a real impact in the first few days seemed unrelated to their pursuit of Manning.
However, once their interest became public, things went downhill quickly.
Seemingly sensing the writing on the wall, Smith, who had a contract offer for around $8 million per season, decided that it was time to explore his options.
With a level of mystery fitting the circumstances, Smith arranged his own set of secret workouts with the Miami Dolphins and reportedly left with a similar offer from the Florida team.
In losing out on Manning, the 49ers find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to sweet talk Smith back into their fold, knowing that he holds all the cards.
Smith lead the 49ers to within touching distance of the NFC Championship Game in 2011 and the 'Niners unsurprisingly need him back.
Though his start was far from perfect in San Francisco, he flourished under Harbaugh and developed into a more-than-capable quarterback.
Coming off last year's performance, his value will never be higher. By burning a bridge in pursuit of Manning and allowing Smith to test the waters of free agency, the 49ers potentially lost out on not one, but two starting quarterbacks.
With only the untested 2011 draft pick Colin Kaepernick under contract, the 49ers could have ruined their chances at another NFC West title.
However, there are two redeeming factors for the team. They have come out of the gate strongly since losing out on Manning, making a big splash to bring in wide receiver Mario Manningham, which will undoubtedly sweeten the deal for Smith. They also have the cap space to up Smith's offer and win him back around.
As unlikely as it is that Smith will now sign the contract originally offered to him by the 49ers—who will have to sweeten the pot significantly if they wish to retain their 2011 signal-caller—it is still much less likely that he will sign with the Dolphins.
Why, you ask? Well, that brings us to...
The Miami Dolphins were the favorites to sign Manning even before he was released by the Indianapolis Colts. Their fans had believed that he would be a Dolphin in 2012 seemingly since the first whisper of a possibility that he would be available.
They were putting up billboards before we even knew if he would ever throw the ball again. They were making plans and scheming around him from before they even knew who their head coach would be.
The Dolphins were it. Everyone else was a lame duck. Only Miami really stood a real chance. It just made too much sense.
Manning calls Miami home for several months of the year. The Dolphins are a team with the benefit of great weather. They have a great football heritage and a history of nurturing future Hall of Fame QBs.
They are in his beloved AFC. OK, so they play the Patriots twice a year. But what better way to prove that you've still got it.
So confident were the Dolphins, in fact, that they seemed to let it get to their heads. Every move made was reportedly with Manning in mind.
For example, they traded away their only star receiver, Brandon Marshall, apparently due to the fact that Manning expressed an unwillingness to play with him.
Then things started to crumble.
Other teams got meetings with Manning while the Dolphins were left waiting. Players seemed uninterested in signing the speculative offers they made until there was at least a modicum of evidence that Manning was considering them.
When Manning finally did agree to meet with them it seemed more out of pity than anything else, finally giving in to Dan Marino's requests and inviting their head coach to meet him in Indianapolis.
By the first Thursday of the pursuit, the Dolphins were officially the first team with whom Manning had met to be told, "Thanks...but no thanks."
Suddenly they were left scrambling. Plan B, which they never conceived of having to use, was suddenly necessary. Matt Flynn, the former Packers backup, was called and visited the facility.
It was thought that his links to new head coach Joe Philbin would win out, but it was too late. The team had waited too long, allowed Flynn to visit with Seattle; he signed with the Seahawks shortly thereafter.
In need of another option, they interviewed Alex Smith in the hope that he would become surplus to requirement. They apparently got as far as discussing brass tacks, but will apparently also lose out on Smith too.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they now appear to be a bargaining chip in his negotiations with the much more successful 49ers.
They had hoped beyond hope that if all else failed, Manning would sign with the Titans, getting a shot at Matt Hasselbeck. But that too is off the table.
So desperate are things in Miami that the Dolphins are being named as potential trading partners with the Broncos in their attempt to rid themselves of Tebowmania.
Tebow grew up in Jacksonville and made his name in Gainesville, playing for the University of Florida Gators. Like in Denver, he has a loyal fanbase in Miami.
The Dolphins' lack of a real receiving corps also helps Tebow, who is known for his rushing abilities over his passing prowess. His option offense could be installed by Philbin.
But when you set your sights on Manning and end up losing out on more than one of the castoffs, you know you're in trouble.