Most of the NFL world descended upon Mobile, Alabama this week and there was much more going on than scouting prospects for an all-star game. Jobs are acquired, free agents are talked about (illegally) and deals are made all over the place. Find out some of the chatter we picked up and some of the moves made.
No More Head Coaching Vacancies
With the Indianapolis Colts hiring John Pagano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coming to terms with Greg Schiano, the new coaching class for 2012 is finally set. Both hires were surprises, as the Colts and Bucs are prepared to go in completely different directions with their franchises.
The Indianapolis Colts didn’t have the luxury of taking much time in their head coaching search as they were “late to the party” when they decided to give former coach Jim Caldwell the ax weeks after the regular season ended. John Pagano is an interesting hire but he only has one year of experience as a defensive coordinator. If he can surround himself with experienced assistants his lack of seasoning shouldn’t be an issue.
One of the biggest questions in Indianapolis is whether Pagano will take his 3-4 defensive background and try to implement it with the Colts. Indianapolis will likely make several changes on both sides of the football and they can likely implement a new scheme with some of their remaining pieces.
With the Colts looking to rebuild instead of re-tool, the possibility of trading defensive end Dwight Freeney exists. Although Freeney is still playing at a very high level, he will turn 32 years of age next month and Indianapolis might be able to turn him into some much needed draft compensation. By the time they are a contender again, Freeney will likely be past his prime.
As for the Buccaneers, they surprised many a few days ago when they were flirting with Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and shocked a few more when they inked Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano.
The Schiano hire has many people shaking their heads and it’s difficult to evaluate it until we know which coordinators he will hire. Many will point to the overwhelming lack of success that college head coaches have had making the jump, but it hasn’t worked out poorly for the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh.
Greg Schiano earned the trust of the Bucs management and now he has to do the same with his players. His development of quarterback Josh Freeman will determine his success and if he can’t transform Freeman back into the player he was in 2010, he must cut bait before he’s held responsible.
Colts, Manning Preparing for Divorce
As suggested here for the last two months, it appears as if Peyton Manning has played his last game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. A combination of numbers are going to seal Peyton’s fate as the Number 36 (Manning’s age), Number 3 (neck surgeries) and Number 28,000,000 (Roster bonus in dollars due on the first day of the league calendar year) all equate to an option that no reasonable team can exercise.
To make matters worse for Manning, his Colts teammates failed to win enough football games to secure anything other than the first-overall pick, which will be used to select Stanford’s Andrew Luck, assuming that he doesn’t have any life-threatening illnesses or any accidents that would cause dismemberment.
Peyton Manning sees the tea leaves and he knows what the future holds for him in Indianapolis. After taking the high road throughout the entire situation, Manning fired a small shot.
“At this point, Mr. Irsay and I owe it to each other and to the fans of the organization to handle this appropriately and professionally, and I think we will,” Manning told the Indy Star. “I’ve already reached out to Mr. Irsay. I wasn’t trying to paint the Colts in a bad light, but it’s tough when so many people you’ve known for so long are suddenly leaving. I feel very close to a lot of these guys and we’ve done great things together. It’s hard to watch an old friend clean out his office. That’s all I was trying to say.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay took some exception to his quarterback’s comments.
“I don’t think it’s in a good interest to paint the horseshoe in a negative light, I really don’t. He’s such a big part of that and everything else, but the horseshoe always comes first.
“I think one thing that he’s always known, because he’s been around it so long, is you keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem, you talk to each other. It’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”
Feelings will be hurt in any divorce and professional sports is no exception. Peyton Manning feels somewhat betrayed by the organization that he helped bring to new heights. Jim Irsay and the Colts have to do what’s in their best business interests and that means moving on. As much as Irsay denies it, there is likely some hard feelings gravitating from paying Manning $26 million to not play in a single game or practice. Perhaps Irsay feels as if Manning and his agent didn’t deal in completely good faith when negotiating the 5-year, $90 million deal prior to the season?
Regardless of what is spoken from here on out, both sides will have to move on and the less said the better- for the kids, err fans sake.
Which Teams Would Be Interested in a Healthy Manning
Assuming Peyton Manning gets a clean bill of health, there will be teams interested in his services. Here are the top matches and why:
1. Arizona Cardinals– The Cards can get out of Kevin Kolb’s deal relatively unscathed and Ken Whisenhunt has had experience going the veteran future Hall-of-Fame quarterback route. Peyton Manning can throw to Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona defense is good enough to win with.
2. San Francisco 49ers– The 49ers window is wide open with that tremendous young defense, good offensive line and solid rushing attack. A difference maker at quarterback would put them over the top and Manning would have an excellent chance to win another title.
3. Miami Dolphins– Which free agent wouldn’t want to live in Miami? The Dolphins have a number one wide receiver in Brandon Marshall, a solid defense, a respected new coach who has tutored a Pro Bowl quarterback and an owner that will grossly overpay.
Don’t count out list: Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com 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