The Colts did as expected today , releasing Peyton Manning , the cornerstone of the franchise for the past decade and more. The only surprise is that anyone at all is surprised at this move by the Colts . Given Peyton’s recent injuries which forced him to miss the entire 2011 season , the doubts about the strength of his arm , his advancing years ( he’s 36) , the $28 million bonus he would be have to be paid shortly, and the fact that the Colts have the #1 pick in the upcoming draft and will be able to draft Andrew Luck , there really was no other choice. I love watching Peyton play and he has been a class act as he showed again today at the press conference announcing his release. However , he is reaching the end of his string and the Colts made a smart decision . I don’t feel that they ” disrespected ” Peyton Manning . Many football fans seem to think that the Colts should have kept him because of what he has done for the team in the past 14 years , singlehandedly turning basketball -crazy Indianans into football fans as he guided the Colts to a Super Bowl win and a string of playoff appearances. However , he was well paid for his heroics and collected $ 24 million last year when he did not play a single down , being sidelined by his injuries. For those who feel he should have been paid his $ 28 million bonus , I can only say ” It’s easy to spend someone else’s money.”I’m glad that today’s press conference went off well with none of the acrimony that has marked the exchanges between Peyton Manning and Colts owner , Jim Irsay , these past couple of months. Now that it is over and done with , the interest shifts to which team will have Peyton at QB come September.
According to football analysts , the top favorites to win the Peyton Manning Free Agency Sweepstakes are
1. Houston Texans
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Denver Broncos
4. Washington Redskins
5. Miami Dolphins.
Other suitors that I don’t think stand much of a chance are the Seattle Seahawks , New York Jets , Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars , Kansas City Chiefs , and the Cleveland Browns . At this stage of his career , Peyton’s prime consideration will be to win at least one more Super Bowl (and, incidentally ,to keep up with kid brother , Eli). He is not going to go to any team that is not a legitimate contender , no matter how much money they offer.
Of the first five teams that I think have a legitimate shot at landing him , I think the San Francisco 49ers are the best fit . They have a rock-ribbed defense , a serviceable running attack in Frank Gore , an outstanding if bone headed TE in Vernon Davis and an aggressive coach. In spite of operating with only an average QB in Alex Smith and without a true breakaway receiver, they came close to winning the NFC last year . They would have won, were it not for two costly turnovers on special teams. The addition of Peyton Manning alone would make them instant favorites to win it all this year. On paper , the only other teams that would compare would be the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys . I discount the New Orléans Saints because of the Greg Williams bounty -hunting fiasco which is certain to result in heavy penalties , including the loss of some high draft choices. The ham-handed treatment of QB Drew Brees is also going to have some fallout.
Of the other possible destinations where Peyton Manning might wind up, I discount the chances of the Washington Redskins because the team just doesn’t have enough other pieces in place and will not be a contender even if Peyton joins it .Besides , I don’t feel Mike Shanahan is the coach he once was. The Miami Dolphins are better than the Redskins but not overwhelmingly so.The Denver Broncos did make it to the AFC semi-finals last year on the strength of their defense but they had a large slice of luck in making it that far. The Houston Texans , whom most observers pick as the favorites to land Elway , are an intriguing team . They have a great defense , a terrific RB in Ariane Foster, a outstanding WR in Andre Johnson and an innovative coach in Gary Kubiak. They would have to cut the incumbent QB Matt Staub , who has been good but injury prone .But , will they pull the trigger ? Between , the Texans and the 49ers , my money is on San Francisco.
Whatever happens , we will be treated to some fraternal face-offs in the coming years if Peyton is anywhere near his old form. With the Giants and Eli Manning likely to be in the mix, it is not unlikely that Eli and Peyton might square off against each other , either in the NFC championship or in the Super Bowl. If that happens , Archie will not be the only one in a quandary as to which team to root for.