By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The crying game in Indianapolis is over. It’s time for Peyton Manning to move on.
You can’t blame the Colts for letting go of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, just like you couldn’t blame the 49ers when they traded Joe Montana to Kansas City. The Colts are about to draft Andrew Luck to step into the starting quarterback role. The 49ers had Steve Young ready to step in and continue to produce championships.
Manning gets a chance to write another chapter to his legacy. In the initial moments after his separation from the Colts, 12 teams reportedly contacted Manning. Another report quoted Hall of Famer Archie Manning as saying his son would prefer to play for an AFC team.
That may not be the case. Manning will go where he has the best opportunity to win and he may determine that an NFC team like the Arizona Cardinals represents his best chance of winning another Super Bowl.
The other factor that has to be considered is control. Manning ran the Colts offense. He had the help of Indianapolis offensive coordinator Tom Moore throughout much of his career, but Manning made most of the decisions. He is going to want a great deal of influence no matter whom he signs with, but he almost certainly won’t have as much as he did in Indianapolis.
On the Bears front, Manning will not have any business with NFC North teams. The Bears, Lions and Packers are spoken for quite nicely at the quarterback position, while the Vikings are years away from title contention. Manning will want no part of Club Purple.
1. Arizona Cardinals—The NFC West may prove to be a soft landing spot for Manning. The 49ers were world-beaters last season, but their offense is ordinary. The year before, the Seahawks won the division with a 7-9 record, the worst of any division winner ever. The Cardinals are badly in need of a quarterback. Kevin Kolb is no answer at quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt would drool over the possibility of paring Manning with All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The running game is already solid with Beanie Wells, and if you have a superior quarterback like Manning to run the offense, this team has Super Bowl potential. Remember, Kurt Warner was considered washed-up when he got a chance to play in Arizona and he led the team to its only Super Bowl appearance.
2. Miami Dolphins—The Dolphins are desperate to build a complete team. Supporters of the team will tell you that they have not had a top-level quarterback since Dan Marino was behind center. The presence of Peyton Manning would clearly change that, but does Manning want to work with a rookie head coach? The Dolphins hired Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the new head coach because he was the hot assistant for the best regular-season team. How would he mesh with Manning? Would they clash? Would Philbin try to assert himself against a Hall of Famer? Or would he completely give in to everything Manning wants to do. The Dolphins were going to make a move on Packers backup Matt Flynn, but how would that go over with the fans if they signed Flynn instead of Manning. The Dolphins need to sell tickets, so they have to push hard for Manning.
3. Washington Redskins—This is the opposite situation of the one Manning would face in Miami because Mike Shanahan does not like to give up control. He would have to make some adjustments in that area or it wouldn’t work with Manning. If Manning’s play-calling ability and his expertise at changing plays are ignored, he is not the same quarterback. Shanahan is stubborn, but he is not stupid. If he signed Manning and the quarterback put on a burgundy and gold uniform, it seems like these two are smart enough to work it out and come to a good understanding. That working relationship would be tested if the Redskins started to lose, but if they got off to a fast start, a return to Redskin glory is a strong possibility. The Redskins beat the Super Bowl champion Giants twice last season.
4. Kansas City Chiefs – Manning may not want to go to a team that has so far to go. While the Chiefs have some moving parts in a hard-hitting defense and a go-to receiver like Dwayne Bowe, it seems like they are at least another year away from becoming a solid team. However, new coach Romeo Crennel would love to have Manning on the team and may give him control of the offense. Who can blame him when the alternatives are Matt Cassel and Ricky Stanzi.
5. Seattle Seahawks – Another longshot, but head coach Pete Carroll can’t feel very good when he looks out at Tarvaris Jackson as his starting quarterback. Jackson is honest and hard working and will give everything he has, but he’s an ordinary passer. Carroll wants to take the team to the heights and he knows he needs a top-of-the-line quarterback. The Seahawks have the wherewithal to make the big signing, and the fans would love him.
6. Denver Broncos – John Elway eventually got on board with Tebow-mania last season because the Broncos won the division and a playoff game. However, Tebow’s lack of accuracy offended Elway’s quarterback sensibilities. In his heart of hearts, Elway has to know that Tebow will never be a good enough passer. He would be thrilled if he could bring in Manning to run the offense.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.