Peyton Manning has won an NFL-record four Most Valuable Player awards. He has been named to 11 Pro Bowls and has been named first-team All-Pro five times. His career passer rating alone, 94.9, is mind-blowing.
But all that being said, Manning—who may be the best QB most of us will ever see in our lifetime—is no longer an elite level talent in the NFL.
I decided to use a fairly simple analysis: (1) Who could use Manning's services before he decided to sign with Denver, and (2) why wouldn't another team pursue the great, record-holding Manning given the chance?
I think the answer to the first question is fairly obvious: Everyone could use Manning's services. His pre-snap routine is about as unique as you will find in the NFL.
As Reggie Wayne put it last year when Kerry Collins signed with the Colts to replace the injured Manning, the Colts offense is not "vanilla." But how many teams could use Manning as a QB, as opposed to an offensive coordinator? A substantially smaller number.
Why did the Colts decide to move on from Manning? They did not see a future in a 36-year-old QB with a recent neck surgery. They saw more value in moving away from the man that basically established their franchise and re-establishing said franchise.
The way I see it, the Colts traded Manning to the Broncos for the No. 1 pick because if Manning was playing, the Colts would not have had the No. 1 pick in the draft. I'm moving forward based upon that notion that Manning signing with the Broncos was basically the Colts trading him away to draft Andrew Luck.
[Edit: I'm putting it this way knowing full well that the Colts decided to draft Andrew Luck and cut Manning but that the choice the Colts were faced with was keep the No. 1 pick and draft the QB of the future or trade the No. 1 pick (because of its value in this draft) and keep Manning. It was obvious that the Colts could not retain Manning and draft Luck when Irsay and Manning could not come to an agreement concerning the situation.]
The next step is to determine who else would have traded the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft (RGIII or Andrew Luck) for Manning? Let's work down the list:
Nope. They have two-time Super Bowl winning QB Eli Manning. And they're brothers. That would cause some turmoil at Christmas. Recently traded Eli: "What'd you get me Peyton?" Peyton: "My jersey from your old team that traded you away for me." No one is that mean.
Despite what Jim "Hard Handshake" Harbaugh says, San Francisco probably pursued Manning, but there is a zero percent chance Harbaugh would have traded away the opportunity to draft his Stanford product No. 1 overall.
Aaron Rodgers is a freak of nature right now. He had arguably the best season a quarterback has ever had without winning the Super Bowl. No chance.
It was easy to see Manning landing in Houston, but apparently the Texans didn't go after him hard enough or he just didn't feel like Houston was a good fit. Either way, this is the first team that may have given up the No. 1 overall for Manning because it feels it's so close to a title.
Drew Brees owns that position in New Orleans. Some could say that there is no one who has done more for the city in which the franchise resides than Brees. Despite their current situation, New Orleans wouldn't send Brees away for anything.
Call me crazy, but I don't think there is a chance that John Elway would have traded the No. 1 overall pick for Manning. Elway would have had a chance to get the next great Stanford QB. I think he'd have been drooling. Tebow would have moved to a different position and been a backup QB while Luck would've been starting day one in Denver. Manning wouldn't be near Mile High.
Ben Roethlisberger. Do I need to say more? A lot of teams would've cut ties with the guy after his many off-the-field incidents. If they didn't do it then, it's because they believe he's a winner (and they've got two Super Bowl trophies under him to prove it).
10. Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford had his first healthy season last year and it was pretty incredible. They don't need Stafford in nine years, but they'll keep the young one they have right now.
Two years ago there is almost no doubt in my mind Carson Palmer would have been traded for the No. 1 overall pick, but by the end of last season Cincinnati realized it had found its QB of the future in Andy Dalton. They wouldn't trade the No. 1 overall pick to replace him; they'd use it to get him more weapons, hopefully more red-haired weapons.
12. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has struggled in the postseason, but it's his franchise at this point as Atlanta has gone all in with him (see: Julio Jones trade). They need weapons for their QB, not another QB.
13. Tennessee Titans
This I could see. Bud Adams already got his QB of the future in Jake Locker last year, and while I know Tennessee loves Hasselbeck, Adams would probably give away 15 No. 1 overalls to bring the prodigal son back to Tennessee. It would have been a great fit. Let Locker sit for two more years under Manning, then hand the ceremonial reins over. That being said, it may be a fit based more on heart than getting better.
The Cardinals probably would have used the No. 1 overall pick to draft either Luck or RGIII. They need to find their QB of the future, not just keep adding free agents to the perpetual question mark that seems to be their QB slot.
15. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler had the Bears sitting pretty before an injury. The Bears went the way of the Colts when he went down. The difference? Cutler is pretty young and didn't have a neck injury. Chicago is his for now.
16. Dallas Cowboys
17. New York Jets
They wouldn't use the No. 1 pick for Manning. They'd either trade away Mark Sanchez and draft Luck or RGIII, or use the No. 1 pick to get weapons for the Sanchize (I'm assuming the latter, but until I understand why they picked up Tim Tebow, I'm not going to be confident about anything I say about the Jets. Maybe he has nice feet...that was uncalled for).
18. Oakland Raiders
Before the Carson Palmer trade maybe. After the Palmer trade, nope. The Raiders are all in on Palmer for a while due to the massive amount they gave up for him. Plus, could anyone see Manning telling the Raider fans to quiet down during a two-minute drive? Dude would need security to get to his car in his home stadium.
Michael Vick is the starting QB for now. His durability has to be a question, which is why a lot of teams wouldn't take him on with the size of his new contract. They'd use the pick to bolster the weapons around Vick, not for another QB or a trade for Manning.
Philip Rivers and Norv Turner are probably best friends. They've got each other's backs. Turner would just get Rivers some more weapons. Turner is trusting his career to Rivers and no one else at this point because I don't think anyone else believes he has a career.
22. Seattle Seahawks
23. Buffalo Bills
Possible. They just signed Ryan Fitzpatrick to a big deal. They could've seen value in having Fitz spend one year under Manning's wing to perfect his game, but in the same vein, they would probably want that kind of money on the field and probably would have used the No. 1 pick for trade bait to get him weapons.
25. Miami Dolphins
With how hard Miami was pushing to move up in the draft to pick up a QB, there is no doubt that if they had the No. 1 overall pick and could have their pick of the proverbial litter, they would've held that card very close to their chest (like surgically inserted inside their chest) until draft day.
I guess it would depend on whether they think the Blaine Gabbert project is a bust already. I think it's too early to tell, but they have a new owner and maybe he just wants to win now rather than worry about the future. So, maybe.
28. Cleveland Browns
I know that they tried to move up to the 'Skins position but were beat out. Then, they drafted an older QB in the first round. I'm thinking that this means yes. That being said, they don't have enough weapons to compete even with Manning, so maybe they would've just drafted RGIII or Luck. Now that I've thought about it more, they'd have drafted RGIII or Luck.
31. St. Louis Rams
They have to see how their former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford develops by getting him some weapons. Manning isn't a good fit here plus Fisher has to be a bit bitter about how Manning treated his Titans for all those years.
By my tally, that means there are about four teams that may have traded away the No. 1 overall pick for Manning post-neck surgery: Tennessee, Kansas City, Buffalo and Jacksonville.
The way that I see it, if Manning has to be weighed against two young men who haven't even played a game in the NFL yet, and sometimes loses that battle, he is no longer elite.
Most teams would trade the No. 1 pick away for Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and maybe even Eli Manning. It is because those are elite-level QBs. Their value is known and appreciated as such.
Right now, no one really knows Manning's value because no one knows how he is going to handle that first blind-side hit. Just like no one knows the value of RGIII or Luck until they have their first season under their belts.
When given the opportunity to pick up a QB with 14 years left in his career but no guarantee that he will be decent, versus the opportunity to pick up a Hall of Fame QB near the end of his career with no guarantee that he will be decent, the choice is simple: Pick the young guy.
The only team that I think should've pushed hard for Manning was San Francisco. If Manning stays healthy, the 49ers are close enough to a Super Bowl for him to take them there at 70 percent strength.
But Jim Harbaugh would rather have Andrew Luck than Peyton Manning 15 days a week plus five days a week plus 100 days a week (I'm saying every single day).
The reality is that Manning could be the Manning of old and prove that he is an elite-level talent again, but today, based on the value he has on the open market, Manning is not an elite-level talent. He replaced Tim Tebow (not a QB any would consider difficult to replace) and went to a team who would rather have Andrew Luck than Manning.
As a fan of Manning's it is difficult to understand, but the reality is, until he proves that he belongs back among the elite QBs in the NFL, a 36-year-old with a neck surgery just isn't in high demand in the NFL, regardless of his inevitable Hall of Fame status.