Insider: Manning Saga – We’re Just Getting Started

In a very expected turn of events, the Indianapolis Colts and owner Jim Irsay have divorced himself and themselves from star quarterback Peyton Manning. Here’s a brief rundown of how we got to this point and which direction the Colts and Manning will head.

Why It Happened

It took a perfect storm of sorts for the Colts to move on from the face of their franchise and that perfect storm took place over the past 12 months. During the lockout, Manning was working out as he normally would with Colts teammates. Unexpected stiffness and pain caused him to see a doctor who eventually performed a few surgical procedures which a source said was “Cortisone shots.”

Manning suffered setbacks and then “Personnel Czar” Bill Polian had not accounted for the possibility of Peyton missing significant time. Polian scrambled and signed Kerry Collins who was a colossal failure.

With Manning on the shelf, the Colts started Collins, Curtis Painter and finally Dan Orlovsky and the trio directed the team to an 0-13 start. In the team’s season-ending 19-13 loss at Jacksonville, the team clinched the first-overall draft pick.

In any other year without a lockout, the Colts would have been able to better monitor Manning’s health and thus create a better backup plan to win more games. Even if they hadn’t, in any other year there wouldn’t have been a quarterback prospect as supremely talented and NFL ready as Andrew Luck and Indy would have either traded the selection or drafted a quarterback for the future while bringing Peyton back for at least two more years.

What Do the Colts Do Now?

If you’d like to compare this to a divorce (which everyone saw coming), you’d say that Jim Irsay is moving on with a younger, prettier (more mobile) version of the spouse he just broke up with. Andrew Luck could become an all-time great and he will have the nearly impossible task of replacing… all-time great.

The Colts must also make a decision on free agent wide receiver Pierre Garcon who will garner plenty of interest as a free agent. As the offensive roster currently sits, Luck’s best weapon will be a soon to be 33-year old Dallas Clark who has missed 16 of the team’s last 33 games. If they can’t re-sign Garcon, the team is left with an older, oft-injured Clark alongside Austin Collie. That’s not a formula for immediate success for a rookie quarterback who will be under perhaps the biggest microscope in league history.

What’s Manning’s Next Audible?

Peyton Manning will have no shortage of suitors as he likely becomes the most sought after free agent in the history of sports. Manning’s value may have been best displayed in 2011, as a perennial title contender turned into a 2-14 laughing stock without him.

Let’s look at the potential suitors:

Arizona Cardinals

Why should Peyton choose Arizona? The Cardinals might have the game’s best wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. They play in a climate controlled environment and the NFC West contains far from a murderer’s row of opponents.

Why wouldn’t it work? Arizona just spent a second-round pick and a former first-round pick (Dominique Rogers-Cromartie) along with eight figures of cash to bring in Kevin Kolb. We know Kolb is far from good, but the front office might not want to stain their decision (job status) by admitting to a major mistake.

Miami Dolphins

Why should Peyton choose Miami? The Dolphins play in warm weather and have a great wideout in Brandon Marshall. The defense is solid and Manning could work wonders with a pass-catching running back like Reggie Bush.

Why wouldn’t it work? Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin might not want to change his offensive philosophy before he’s had a chance to see if it could work. Manning would also be in the same division as Tom Brady. As much as Peyton isn’t afraid of Brady in any way, New England has owned the AFC East for roughly a decade, and last year’s 14-2 record implies that the status isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Seattle Seahawks

Why should Peyton choose Seattle? Head coach Pete Carroll and owner Paul Allen will likely give Manning an open checkbook and the freedom to run his own offense. Seattle lays in the winnable NFC West, they have some weaponry with Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, John Carlson and Mike Williams and a great environment.

Why wouldn’t it work? The weather isn’t great in Seattle, the Northwest is pretty detached from much of the NFL’s America and there is better surrounding talent elsewhere.

Houston Texans

Why should Peyton choose Houston? The Texans are probably the closest team to a Super Bowl on the list. They have a great defense and running game and Peyton has never had a receiver as good as Andre Johnson to throw to. Add in one of the most winnable divisions in football and a controlled climate and there are plenty of reasons for Manning to don the bullhorns this fall.

Why wouldn’t it work? Houston already has a quarterback they like and are somewhat committed to in Matt Schaub. There’s no reason to believe that Schaub isn’t the guy to get the job done when healthy.

Washington Redskins

Why should Peyton choose Washington? Owner Dan Snyder has very deep pockets and the ‘Skins could fill a free agency want list for Manning. The defense is very solid and there will be less pressure on Peyton to score upwards of 30 points per game.

Why wouldn’t it work? Currently, the Redskins have very few weapons to throw to and a mediocre rushing attack. Washington will play games in the cold weather and Peyton would have to play his brother (who has a much better team) twice a year.

New York Jets

Why should Peyton choose New York? The high cost of living in New York could be offset by shared housing with his brother Eli. If Manning were in New York they could attract free agent weapons.

Why wouldn’t it work? The Jets locker room is a circus without the peanuts and fun. The outside weaponry is mediocre and the media scrutiny would be like nothing Manning’s ever seen. He would have to share a city with his brother who is currently the toast of the town.

San Francisco 49ers

Why should Peyton choose San Francisco? Another Super Bowl title cements Manning’s legacy as one of the all-time elite (even more so that he is already) and the 49ers were a couple plays away from making it to the big game. They have a great defense and running game, and Vernon Davis is one of the best tight ends in football.

Why wouldn’t it work? It doesn’t appear as if Jim Harbaugh and Peyton Manning’s personalities would complement each other, as well as their philosophies on football. The 49ers don’t have a great (or even good) set of receivers and Harbaugh has already said that they are committed to Alex Smith.

Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie