Manning weighs options for new destination
It has been one week since Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts team he guided so masterfully shared tearful goodbyes.
Seven days later, four teams are said to be in the running for the services of possibly the most-sought-after free agent in NFL history: Denver, Tennessee, Arizona and Miami.
Bill Polian, Manning’s longtime general manager with the Colts, said in a TV interview Wednesday that the analytical quarterback would probably write down the pros and cons for each team on a legal pad.
Without being inside Manning’s brain, we’ll do our best to try to pick those pros and cons for Manning, as if we were him, in five categories: coach, offensive personnel, defense, weather and intangibles.
Pro: Mike Munchak is entering his second season with the Titans after going 9-7 in his debut. He is a classic professional, and as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman some have said he and Manning would have an instant meeting of the minds. His offensive coordinator is Chris Palmer, who was the quarterbacks coach for Manning’s brother, Eli, with the New York Giants when they won the Super Bowl in 2007-08. Having worked with Eli, Palmer could give Peyton a relative sense of comfort. In the team’s lengthy meeting with Manning on Wednesday, Palmer reportedly showed Manning a booklet as to what the Titans’ offense would look like were he the quarterback. If all of the above is true, the Titans could provide a comfortable fit.
Con: In terms of a track record, Munchak is inexperienced as a head coach and has never made the playoffs. Some of the competition has more of a proven track record as a head coach in the postseason. Would the Colts’ victory over the Titans in Week 15 — Indy’s first of the season — count against him?
Pro: Running back Chris Johnson would give Manning the kind of balance that could make the offense lethal, possibly rivaling the St. Louis Rams with Marshall Faulk and “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The Titans have some promising receivers in Nate Washington and Damian Williams along with tight end Jared Cook.
Con: Top receiver Kenny Britt blew out his knee last season, and such injuries can take longer than a full season to get back to 100 percent. The Titans have looked at three different offensive linemen during free agency, which shows that unit could be a work in progress — a point that could be a special concern to Manning in light of his neck injury.
Pro: The Titans had a great 2011 draft, with defensive tackle Karl Klug and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy all making an impact. The unit seems to be on the right track.
Con: Tennessee still needs a top pass rusher, which could be hard to afford after signing Manning. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan, arguably the team’s top defensive player the past few years, was allowed to depart via free agency and could lose another player, defensive end Jason Jones, to free agency. Is the unit good enough to win a Super Bowl? Maybe not yet.
Pro: Relatively moderate with an outdoor stadium. Manning would be accustomed to it from his college days at Tennessee, although Knoxville is located near mountains, so the weather could be slightly colder and with a little more snow.
Con: It’s not Miami or Arizona.
Pro: Possibly the biggest factor in the Titans’ favor: the emotional pull of playing in the same state where he was a college football legend. The UT fan base, which already confers god-like status on him, would go to even greater heights to exalt him. The owner, Bud Adams, reportedly is prepared to offer a contract for life, which could bring a front-office position when his career ends.
Con: Within the division, Houston, when its team is healthy, could be a Super Bowl contender and has a top defense. How does he feel about playing his former team twice a season — is it a pro or a con?
Pro: John Fox has arguably the strongest resume of any of the coaching candidates. Like Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, he has brought his team to a Super Bowl and narrowly lost. The fact that Fox produced relative miracles — with the help of Tim Tebow — in his first season in Denver speaks well on his behalf. Of the four teams, he’s the only one with a defensive background. That could allow him to empower Manning to have a free hand with the offense.
Con: Fox’s reputation for having a somewhat boring, run-oriented offense would have to change.
Pro: Running back Willis McGahee, in rushing for 1,199 yards last season, underwent a renaissance and will bring that good balance. The Broncos also are said to have one of the better offensive lines in the league, which, again, should be a major factor. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are up-and-coming receivers.
Con: Could use an upgrade at tight end, which is not a huge deal, and maybe also at the third wide receiver spot.
Pro: Denver would seem to have the strongest defense of any of the teams available. Heck, the Broncos got to the playoffs and won a game last season almost single-handedly on the strength of their defense. During a six-game winning streak last season that propelled the Broncos into the playoffs, they allowed 24, 10, 13, 13, 32 and 10 points. In their season finale — a loss —- they allowed only seven points. Could be good enough to win a Super Bowl. End Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Von Miller were Pro Bowl selections last season.
Con: Hard to see from the Mile High vantage point.
Pro: Hmmm, beautiful snowscapes?
Con: This has to be one of the Broncos’ biggest drawbacks, if Manning cares at all. Of the four suitors, Denver has the worst weather, and an outdoor stadium, but if Manning doesn’t care, it’s not a factor.
Pro: In team president of football operations John Elway, Manning will have someone with whom he can identify — one of the great quarterbacks of all time who is now running a franchise. If Manning wants to a run a team after his playing career ends, Elway could be a perfect role model. The AFC West is among the league’s weakest divisions, so making the playoffs might not be too tough.
Con: Would Manning suffer a backlash from the pro-Tebow crowd? Maybe, but it could be small or nonexistent.
Pro: Ken Whisenhunt came just a hair from winning the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner as quarterback, giving him the second-best track record of the coaches in the hunt for Manning. Whisenhunt is an offensive mind who could be good for Manning to work with. Whisenhunt won back-to-back NFC West titles for a moribund franchise that hadn’t done that in more than 30 years.
Con: Hasn’t won more than 10 games in a single season. Teams have been good but not great. Had an ugly 5-11 season after going to the Super Bowl after Warner retired.
Pro: This is erhaps the Cardinals’ biggest selling point and biggest advantage against the field. In Larry Fitzgerald, Manning would have one of the game’s top two receivers. Manning’s presence could help revive the career of Todd Heap, who was one of the league’s best tight ends in Baltimore. Beanie Wells was a 1,000-yard rusher last season.
Con: The Cards could use an upgrade at the Nos. 2 and 3 receiver spots after the departures of Anquan Bolden and Steve Breaston, who made Warner’s teams so deadly.
Pro: Adrian Wilson is one of the best safeties in the league, and Darnell Dockett is a top defensive tackle.
Con: Not exactly a unit you think of when it comes to being one of the league’s best. Finished 16th last season in total defense.
Pro: Another big feather in the Cardinals’ cap. No inclement weather. A place people go to retire.
Con: Desert heat during training camp.
Pro: Again, a weak division. Manning could dominate it.
Con: The Cardinals owe quarterback Kevin Kolb a big roster bonus by Friday. If Manning doesn’t make his decision by then, it could hurt the team’s salary-cap situation.
Pro: Joe Philbin will be in his first season as the Dolphins’ head coach after serving as offensive coordinator in Green Bay, which has had one of the top offenses in the league the past few years. On paper, he might be the best offensive mind of the group.
Con: Inexperience. Philbin has never been a head coach before. Lots of great coordinators have turned out to be awful head coaches, though the situation could be akin to Jim Caldwell’s taking over in Indianapolis without any previous NFL head-coaching experience when Manning was the quarterback there.
Pro: In Jake Long, the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, the Dolphins have a top left tackle. He was a Pro Bowl selection last season. Reggie Bush rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and adds an explosive element. Tight end Anthony Fasano had 451 receiving yards. Some speculated Miami traded its best wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, because of his poor reputation in regards to professionalism and to enhance their standing with Manning.
Con: Especially for a player like Manning, the wideouts are particularly lacking. None currently on the Dolphins’ roster broke the 600-yard mark. It’s the worst group in the field.
Pro: After Denver’s, Miami has the best unit. Linebacker Cameron Wake had 8.5 sacks and interior lineman Paul Soliai was a Pro Bowl choice last season.
Con: Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, one of the better defensive minds in the league and producer of a top-10 unit with Miami in 2010, is gone to Atlanta. New defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has not confirmed — at least publicly — whether the Dolphins will stick with the 3-4 or go to a 4-3. That flux normally takes some time to iron out, if Miami ends up changing schemes.
Pro: Is there any better?
Con: Swampy, infernal training camps.
Pro: Manning allready owns a condo there, so obviously he has some affinity for the area.
Con: Playing in a division with New England quarterback Tom Brady and a New York Jets team that went to the AFC title game in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 makes for stiff competition, though Manning would not seem to shy away from that.