The big news around the Patriots might not necessarily have to do with New England itself as we head into free agency next week. The big storyline around the entire NFL is the free agent status of Peyton Manning. The long-time Indianapolis Colt is now free to go wherever he pleases and he might be back to his old self next year. The question will be whether or not it is in the NFC or if Manning is torturing the Patriots again once or maybe even twice a year. For this article, we are going to ignore the NFC contenders for Manning such as Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington. This piece will focus on the AFC contenders for Manning and how each one could affect the Patriots.
1. MIAMI DOLPHINS: This seems to be the clear frontrunner on where Manning will land by next week. He has a condominium in Miami and works out in the offseason there with his wide receiver buddy Reggie Wayne. The Dolphins are still searching for Dan Marino’s replacement fifteen years later. Yes, Matt Moore filled in nicely after an awful 0-6 start to 2011, but he is not the short-term answer. Manning is a perfect fit for the Dolphins. You put him with Reggie Wayne, Brandon Marshall, and Reggie Bush and that is an explosive, dynamic offense. Last year, the Dolphins blew a 17-0 lead to the Patriots on Christmas Eve. Let’s just say, if Manning is there, New England probably won’t be making seventeen point comebacks.
This would do two things for the Patriots. For one, this would put more emphasis on drafting a defensive player, primarily a cornerback with one of their two first round picks. Also, the AFC East would become a lot tougher to win with two installments of Brady vs. Manning (Which, by the way, the NFL would love). The Patriots-Dolphins rivalry is in need of some sizzle again, and this might be the juice that gets it going.
2. NEW YORK JETS: This is the most likely pipe dream out of the scenario we are putting out there. The Jets are in dire need of some form of leadership. They have a quarterback who most fans are sick of and has been treated with kid gloves throughout his career. Clearly, ground and pound is not the focus of the league anymore and it has been proven you need a good quarterback to get to the promised land. You can make the case that Manning to the Jets is the most logical case if Peyton is looking to win a Super Bowl right now, even if it is in the tough AFC East.
The reasons I say it is a pipe dream is because why would Peyton come to the Jets? He is not going to play in the same city as his brother because he wants to avoid all the comparisons between himself and Eli. Plus, the weather is cold outdoors in December usually. Manning is known for struggling in cold weather games as Patriots’ fans know from past Pats-Colts playoff games. Finally, the leadership is not stable and as long as Rex continues to open his mouth and say stupid, trash-talking comments, that dynamic is not going to change. Right now, just the talk of the Jets’ interest in Peyton helps New England because it makes the dynamic between the organization and Sanchez much more difficult.
3. DENVER BRONCOS: Yes, the fighting Tim Tebows just might be looking for a new quarterback for 2012. There are reports that the Broncos have reached out to Manning and that Denver is on Manning’s short list. Tebow went 8-5 last season as the quarterback, but most people still do not feel he is the long-term answer in the Mile High city. Despite general manager John Elway’s “vote of confidence”, he would jump all over for a true pocket quarterback who reminds him of himself for the end of his career.
One of the problems the Broncos had in their first two meetings against the Patriots was their inability to keep up with the high octane offense of New England. Peyton, if healthy, could help Denver rack up the points and put less pressure on a defense that carried the team in some games last year. The weather is not great up in the Mile High, but the division is very winnable. This move would not surprise me and is a win-win for Manning and Elway, as well as Tim Tebow because Tebow can go to a place that truly believes in his ability to succeed as a NFL quarterback.
4. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Ever since the NFL Combine, the Kansas City Chiefs have been a team that has quietly been placed into the Manning sweepstakes. Kansas City is in dire need of a quarterback after the struggles of Matt Cassel and the lack of a proven QB behind him. Manning is the perfect fit for a team that will get Jamaal Charles back at running back and a trio of good receivers in Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jonathan Baldwin. With Romeo Crennel at the helm in KC, Manning will no longer have to face Crennel’s defenses that tortured him during the dynasty years. Kansas City is like Denver because it is in the same winnable division (AFC West) and a young, improving defense.
5. HOUSTON TEXANS: This is the scenario that is the best for Manning if he wants to get some payback against Jim Irsay and his former team. Houston was mentioned by ESPN’s Mike Greenberg as the best fit for Manning on Wednesday. As I stopped and thought about this, I realized that this could be a good fit for a team that is already heads and shoulders above the rest in the AFC South. Yes, they have a quarterback in Matt Schaub, but he is 30 years old and has had his own fair share of injuries. This is like the Brett Favre to the Vikings move where Manning can get revenge on his old team and the guy who will most likely replace him in Andrew Luck. Plus, imagine him leading an offense with Arian Foster at running back and Andre Johnson at wide receiver. If Manning went to Houston, they right away become the best team in the AFC, which has to scare Patriots’ fans.