After his release from the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning immediately became the hottest free agent prospect in years. Despite his multiple “procedures” and the fact that nobody had really seen if he was back to old form, teams with a hole (or at least uncertainty) at the quarterback position flocked to acquire the Hall of Famer’s services.
Quickly enough, the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans emerged as the favorites pick up the four-time league MVP when it's all said and done.
It was initially presumed that of those four teams, the Cardinals and Dolphins would have a leg up on the competition – for obvious reasons. At the time of Manning’s release, both teams had quality wide receivers that they could sell the quarterback on, and both played in weather that would be conducive to his current physical situation. The Cardinals also had a head coach in Ken Whisenhunt who had a history of working well with, and adjusting to veteran passers. The Dolphins had the luxury of playing in a place where Manning has a residence. Both squads seemed like logical, probable destinations for their own reasons.
Problem is, at the moment, neither are actually the favorites to acquire Manning’s services. According to a recent report by Mike Klis of the Denver Post, it’s Denver and Tennessee who are apparently in the lead to bring in the talented veteran. Via the report:
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“One source said the Broncos are in his final two, along with Tennessee.”
The Dolphins’ recent decision to move Brandon Marshall, regardless of whether it was for off-the-field concerns or whatever other reasons, leaves them with one less asset to dangle in front of Manning. And with Reggie Wayne opting to stay in Indianapolis, the prospect of moving that dynamic duo to Miami is now impossible.
As far as why Denver is purportedly in the lead – it seems to be more about how much control over the offense Manning will get and the quality of life for his family will have there than anything the Broncos actually have in place roster-wise. Per the same article:
Manning likes that coach John Fox will give him carte blanche over the offense, and he believes Denver is the kind of market that would provide a quality of life for his wife, Ashley, and twins Marshall and Mosley, who will turn 1 on March 31.
All of which makes sense. The Broncos do not offer Manning the best chance of winning a championship. The team’s pieces are solid in some regards (rushing the ball and defense), but not good enough to justify the weather concerns and lack of wide receiving depth. But if you're looking for unlimited control and a place to raise your family, Denver fits the bill. And, of course, battling it out in the AFC West for a playoff berth is far more alluring a prospect than having to square off against Tom Brady and Co. in the AFC East.
Still, you can’t help but feel as though the Cardinals would make the most sense for Manning. A very winnable division, stud wide receiver and excellent weather perfectly conducive to an old, injured quarterback should be what he's looking for. Yet, for whatever reason, the Cardinals can’t even pass the Titans on Manning’s list.
Tennessee is said to be a frontrunner for Manning’s services largely because of his collegiate ties to the state and the fact that Bud Adams is giving him a very hard sell. But really, them being among his top two is even more puzzling than the Broncos being among his top two. The benefits of playing in the AFC South notwithstanding, the Titans don’t appear to have anything to offer that’s substantially better than what other teams are bringing to the table.
All of which brings up the inevitable question: how much of this is misinformation leaked by Manning’s camp to drive up the price for his services? When there is this little of basis for the Titans to be frontrunners in these sweepstakes and yet they’re billed as a top two landing spot, something has to be amiss.
According to various sources, Manning is expected to make his decision within the next few days. It'll be interesting to see how this will play out and, in the same spirit, how many of these rumors were leaked with the sole intention of creating headlines.