Since Rob Lowe had broken the news that Peyton Manning was going to retire this offseason, we have yet to see any speculation or even a subtle rumor that No. 18 is actually going to hang them up. The NFL and Fantasy Footballers alike took Lowe's Tweet and blew it up like fireworks on the 4th of July.
But since Lowe's "people" didn't get their facts straight and Manning is still officially in Colts white and blue, we as sports journalists (Am I a journalist?) get to dissect and throw around possible outcomes as to where Manning will be playing in 2012. The original thought was that the Colts were going to re-negotiate Manning's contract before his $28 million bonus kicked in. Or they could simply shell out all that cash, draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck and be stuck paying a whopping $50.5 million to keep both Manning and Luck on the roster in 2012. That's a lot of coin for two players, one who isn't even going to be on the field much.
Philip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star dropped a bombshell, sort of, by conceding that Manning won't be with the Colts next year. Now while this is more speculation than fact, Wilson is one of many beat writers in the Indy area that have gone on record as saying Manning is all but finished as a Colt.
So if owner Jim Irsay goes back on his words and does trade Manning, or even flat out releases him, lets take a look at the teams that have already been linked to having heavy interest in the 12-year vet:
New York Jets: I'd like to think that if the Colts do trade Manning, that he should and will be allowed to pick where he wants to go. If that's the case, I don't see it being with the Jets. Even though the Jets clearly need an upgrade over Mark Sanchez, who made a lot of poor decisions in 2011, Manning doesn't seem like the type that would be able to put up with a loud mouth head coach like Rex Ryan. Imagining Manning with a young arsenal including Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller is intriguing. Not to mention the Jets Defense would be better than what the Colts have put out in several years. Still, I think the Ryan factor makes this marriage a huge question mark. Sorry Jets fans. You're stuck with Sanchez for the time being.
Miami Dolphins: The Palm Beach Post reported that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has his eyes on Manning as not only an upgrade at the quarterback position, but also to put butts in the seats. With the Dolphins hiring of former Packers OC Joe Philbin as their new head coach, the Dolphins might want to help Philbin out by getting him a new toy to start off with. Matt Moore, despite being a decent quarterback in the past, shouldn't be counted on as a full-time starter. And long-time dud Chad Henne is likely headed to free agency or will be brought back as a backup. The Manning-to-Dolphins scenario would likely be played out only if Manning wound up being cut outright. I don't see the Colts trading him within the AFC unless they think his neck injury has finished him. Another likely scenario, and a much cheaper one, would be for the Dolphins to go after Matt Flynn instead. It also makes it an easier decision since Flynn had some success with Philbin in Green Bay.
Arizona Cardinals: On an episode of ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown from January 22nd, both Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen mentioned, along with the Dolphins, the Cardinals having possible interest in Manning. After trading a 2nd rounder and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles for Kevin Kolb, Kolb's debut as the starter in 2011 was a disaster. He missed almost half of the season because of injuries and made some pretty bad decision making under center when he did play, throwing 8 interceptions to just 9 touchdowns. The Cardinals have to pay Kolb a $7 million offseason roster bonus that is due on March 17. So with Manning's roster bonus due March 8, unless pushed back, the Cardinals could easily try and bid for Manning. And if he is signed, they'll dump Kolb in a heartbeat. The biggest problem with this would be how will Kolb react if the Cardinals do pursue Manning and lose? That could create some tension between the team and their quarterback. For now, I consider the Cardinals' interest very mild compared to other interested teams. Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic believes Arizona will stick with Kolb and hope a full offseason under their system will turn things around for 2012. Just imagining Manning throwing to Larry Fitzgerald would make any fantasy owner's heart skip a beat.
Other teams who have been mentioned:
Washington Redskins: Sexy Rexy isn't the answer and the Redskins have been known to throw picks at big-name players in the past.
Seattle Seahawks: NFL.com's Jason La Canfora said GMs around the league have mentioned Seattle as a possible destination. They definitely need an upgrade from Tarvaris Jackson. But Manning wants to win NOW. Seattle wouldn't give him the best chance at that anytime soon since they have many other holes to fill besides quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers: Also mentioned in the same article from NFL.com, but they could be ruled out after Alex Smith took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game. However, Greg Cosell of NFL Films states "Smith left a lot of plays on the field against the Giants." So if Jim Harbaugh doesn't see Smith as the starter next year, he could try and go after Josh Johnson, who Harbaugh coached at the University of San Diego and was linked to San Fran after the lockout.