The NFL is in the middle of one of its greatest offseason storylines in history as the Colts try to decide what to do with quarterback Peyton Manning. But it's even more captivating knowing the Colts could replace Manning with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who has become one of the most hyped prospects of all-time.
The more this scenario unfolds, the more it looks like Manning has played his last down with the Colts. If that's the case, about one-third of the league will be lining up at his door requesting Manning's services, assuming his neck can return to full health.
Let's run through those suitors, starting with the franchises that should be serious contenders, and concluding the list with the teams that could pull something out of their you-know-what to surprise everyone.
Redskins: This starts with owner Daniel Snyder, who isn't shy with his spending. The Redskins desperately need a quarterback, and the combination of Manning and head coach Mike Shanahan could be potent. They'd be an instant playoff contender with the defense to complement their newfound offensive firepower.
Dolphins: Owner Stephen Ross has made a lot of terrible decisions with his organization, but if there's one thing he loves, it's star power. Expect the Dolphins to make a strong push for Manning. The marriage would almost be too perfect.
Cardinals: It worked with Kurt Warner, and the Cardinals haven't had an issue paying quarterbacks. Kevin Kolb was a borderline disaster in his first season in Arizona. It might be too early to make a long-term prognostication on Kolb, but if the Cardinals can land Manning now, they can deal with the Kolb repercussions later.
It Could Work
49ers: The Niners don't usually make big splashes in free agency, but head coach Jim Harbaugh might be the guy who can convince ownership otherwise. If the Niners acquired Manning, they'd be on the very short list of Super Bowl contenders in 2012.
Seahawks: Manning would look so weird in a Seahawks uniform, but hey, they've got yacht-loads of money to spend this offseason. The Seahawks seem like a team that should spend recklessly on someone like Manning.
Jets: This would be disastrous for Mark Sanchez's career, but you reap what you sow. There's a constant battle to own the back pages in New York, and the Jets have gotten smoked by the Giants for a couple months now. The Jets took a step back in 2011, but they're still a quarterback away from making a serious run. Not sure if Manning's personality really matches up with head coach Rex Ryan, but it'd be fun to watch it play out.
No Chance, But Why Not?
Vikings: The Vikings probably like what they've got with Christian Ponder, but this could be like a second version of that whole Brett Favre experiment. Granted, Favre went to a much more complete Vikings team that was ready to win, and this roster needs more work. Manning could be enticed by keeping his home games in a dome.
Jaguars: They've got the worst quarterback situation in the AFC South, so if Manning wants to stick it to the Colts twice per year, Jacksonville would be his best option. The Jaguars also have a new owner and an uncertain future. If Shahid Khan wants to keep the team in Florida, Manning would obviously help ticket sales, and if Khan wants to bolt for Los Angeles, Manning would help the sales pitch. The biggest problem with this option is the Jaguars aren't built to compete, which should be a turnoff to Manning at this stage of his career.
Chiefs: They did it with Joe Montana two decades ago, and there's pressure to upgrade the quarterback position in Kansas City. The Chiefs have done a better job rebuilding over the last two years, and if they think they're an elite quarterback shy of competing in the playoffs, they should make a run at Manning.
Buccaneers: Don't ever discount an owner with international marketing power after he's hired a new head coach, but I just don't see it happening. The Bucs have a lot of money to spend, but with quarterback Josh Freeman already on board, it makes more sense to bolster the defense.
The Wildest of Wild Cards
Broncos: They'll have a ton of money to spend this offseason, and John Elway hasn't exactly given Tim Tebow the most ringing of endorsements. If Elway really wants to move on from Tebow, he knows he'll have to deal with a massive public-relations backlash, both nationally and from Broncos fans. By replacing Tebow with Manning, Elway would remove himself from that criticism.
Cowboys: Because you never rule out Jerry Jones.
Saints: Admittedly, this one is a crazy idea, but does anyone else find it strange that nothing is happening publicly with Drew Brees' contract negotiations? Look, I expect Brees to stay in New Orleans for the long haul, but if things fall apart, the Saints could sell Manning on a homecoming, a roster that can still win a Super Bowl and a great offensive mind in head coach Sean Payton.
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