It's hard to imagine that it is now seven months since the Peyton Manning sweepstakes reached their peak. In hindsight, Manning to the Denver Broncos seems the only choice, the obvious outcome.
But it wasn't always the case. Seven months ago, Cardinals fans and writers like myself were convinced that Manning was coming to Arizona. It just made too much sense. Similar sentiment was also felt in Tennessee, Miami and San Francisco, and though hope was crushed early in Kansas City and Seattle, had once bloomed there too.
At just six games into the season, it is still too early to accurately judge exactly what Manning's legacy in Denver will be. Similarly, speculating about what could have been is just that—speculation.
However, as the Broncos now sit at 3-3, and several of his suitors now have the same, or better records than the Broncos even without Manning, speculating is likely to be exactly what he is doing.
So what might have happened had Manning joined another team? Join me as we take a look.
Denver Broncos - The first obvious question would be, what would have happened to the Broncos without Manning?
Tim Tebow remained in Denver, and immediately started a QB controversy with the veteran quarterback brought in to compete with him (Matt Hasselbeck should Manning land in Tennessee, for example).
Tebow would eventually lose out in preseason, in no small part due to the fact that John Fox and John Elway had never felt he was a long term solution.
But after a few poor games by his replacement, fan outcry caused the coaching staff to relent, and Tebow won back the job. He would lead the team to a few more late wins, and cement his status as a comeback king, in spite of some overwhelmingly poor individual performances. Fans would force the management's hand, officially making Tebow their franchise QB, and cementing the Broncos as a mid-tier franchise for several years to come.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs have clear QB issues without Manning, but could number 18 have stopped the slide?
Manning to the Chiefs immediately ended their culture crisis, giving the team a real identity and fans a rallying point. Players and coaches responded in kind, leading the Chiefs to a modest, if not spectacular start to their season.
Manning struggled to adjust to life in Kansas City, failing to develop a real rapport with either receiver Dwayne Bowe or running back Jamal Charles.
The Chiefs much hyped offensive line, and Jeff Allen in particular, struggled, and Manning takes his share of licks and throws his share of picks as a result. Personality clashes between Manning and Pioli abounded, eventually leading to Manning's premature retirement after just one season.
In his only season in Kansas City lead the Chiefs to a .500 season, narrowly missing out on a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks have started the season an impressive 4-2, in no small part due to their top ranked defense. Could Manning have improved things still further on Offense?
Manning immediately made the Seahawks the NFC West favorites, and caused the teams core of young receivers to become some of the hottest commodities in football.
Solid pass protection and stellar defense gave Manning the time he needs to make plays, and maintain leads.
However, some of the things which initially put Manning off Seattle soon come back to haunt him.
His recovery and transition to life in Seattle were hampered by the cold and wet of the city, and his ball security was negatively affected as a result. The lack of an elite receiver also caused real concerns for Manning.
Multiple avoidable fumbles due to cold, wet hands and misthrown and dropped balls cost the Seahawks valuable games down the stretch. The Seahawks would go on to win the NFC West with a 10-6 record, but failed to progress past the first round of the playoffs.
Manning would follow up his first season with an uninspired 8-8 season, before retiring without ever really reestablishing his career in Seattle.
Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins currently find themselves at 3-3, but could count themselves very unlucky not to be sitting at 5-1 right now. Could Manning have done enough to settle this ship a little sooner?
Miami were the early favorites to land Manning, and he felt right at home almost as soon as they signed him.
New head coach Joe Philbin gave Manning a lot of freedom to run the offense his own way. The Dolphins passed on QB Ryan Tannehill in the draft instead taking wideout Michael Floyd to complement their new star, and Russell Wilson in the third round to back up, and be mentored by Manning.
Manning's no huddle offense was perfectly complemented by his up tempo running back, Reggie Bush, who took a lot of pressure off Manning during his transition.
Manning, who loves options, quickly developed a solid rapport with Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Floyd, and the three become a solid receiving corps. However, Floyd's development into a number one receiver was not quite quick enough for Manning's tastes.
Sadly, the lack of an elite pass catcher did show at times; dropped passes and the lack of big plays cost the Dolphins dearly in several games.
Manning has a solid, though not spectacular, outing in Miami, making the playoffs twice more before handing over to a thoroughly prepared Wilson in 2015, but never plays on the biggest stage again, failing to make it past the divisional stages.
Manning's legacy would live on, however, in the form of Wilson, who lead the Dolphins to multiple Super Bowl performances over his career.