Only seven Months ago, Peyton Manning was without a team for the first time in his NFL career. Unsurprisingly, there were no shortage of options for Manning to consider before he finally selected the Denver Broncos.
But at just 3-3 in a tough AFC East division, and with many of his other suitors holding better records than the Broncos, it's only fair to consider the question; Did Peyton Manning make the right choice, and what might his career have looked like had he picked someone else?
In the first part of this article we considered what the future may have held for the Denver Broncos had Manning signed with someone else, as well as considering what his career would have looked like in Kansas City, Seattle and Miami.
In this second part, we look at the Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
Tennessee Titans - The Titans 2-4 start has been a real disappointment for a team who narrowly missed out on the playoffs last season. Could Manning have saved the team from this disappointing start, and improve on their 2011 record?
When Titans owner Bud Adams unveiled Peyton Manning the onlooking press, he also changed the face of football negotiating forever. Manning's "Contract for Life" not only included a 25 million per year salary, but a guarantee of employment post-playing career, naming Manning one of the teams future executives right there and then.
Manning helped develop the teams young receiving corps of Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Jared Cook and Kendall Wright into one of the elite units in the NFL. And with a more effective passing game, running back Chris Johnson also managed to shake of his 2010 and 2011 doldrums, posting more than 1800 rushing yards and nearly 2200 total yards from scrimmage.
However, the team's new found offensive prowess was not enough to overcome their defensive struggles. The Titans defense never gave Manning the cushion he needed to dominate, regularly asking him to make spectacular solo plays to keep the team in contention. Sadly, these often did not pay off as hoped, and the team managed only an 7-9 record in 2012.
The Titans made some effort to bolster their defense in the years that followed, but Manning's monster contract left the team with little room to negotiate.
When Manning retired in 2015, his relationship with Adams and the Titans front office had become so strained by back-to-back losing seasons and constant attempts to renegotiate and restructure his deal that he walked away from his "for life" contract, instead accepting his first coaching job at his alma Mater, the nearby University of Tennessee.
Arizona Cardinals - At 4-2, the Cardinals are one of the surprises of the season, but in spite of their defensive prowess, and elite receivers, have thus far failed to back up their success with consistent QB performance. Could Manning have helped improve on what Kurt Warner did in the desert?
When the Cardinals signed Peyton Manning, it was no secret that they had a lot of work to do to get under the salary cap. This involved restructuring the deals of many current players, and jettisoning still others, like Kevin Kolb and Levi Brown.
The team traded down in the first round, and back into the second to acquire David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, in an attempt to bolster their pass protection, but many remained seriously concerned by the team's lack of a proven and experienced players at tackle and guard spots.
However, in spite of these concerns, Manning quickly developed a rapport with Larry Fitzgerald rarely seen in the NFL. The two were widely considered the best pairing of a generation, and even second tier players like Andre Roberts, Early Doucet and Rob Housler quickly benefited from Manning's experience, regularly performing well above their perceived ceilings.
The Cardinals defense were able to allow Manning to create, and then extend, leads, and rarely surrendered needless points.
However, the Cardinals young and inexperienced pass protection quickly took it's toll on Manning. Several crushing blows throughout the season left many wondering how much longer the veteran quarterback could survive such punishment, and questioned whether the cost of winning was too great.
The constant pounding finally caught up with Manning, when a concussion knocked him out of the Week 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks. The injury appeared to end his season, and many suspected, his career. But two weeks later, Manning was back on the field, for the Cardinals final game of the regular season.
A win against the 49ers would secure a first round bye in the playoffs for the team, a loss would force them to them face the 49ers again the following week in the Wildcard round.
Manning would lead the Cardinals to a convincing win, and first round bye, and would do so again in the divisional round two weeks later.
In the Conference championship game, however, Manning once again took a blow to the head late in the game, and suffered his second concussion in a little over a month. Fortunately, this was not before Manning and Fitzgerald had lead their team to an insurmountable lead.
Manning's final act as an NFL player was to lead the Cardinals to their second, and what should have been Manning's third, Super Bowl game. Sadly, Manning was forced to watch from the sidelines in a concussed haze, as John Skelton lead his team onto the field. The Cardinals would go on to lose, and Manning, deciding his health was more important, would retire from football shortly after the game.
San Francisco 49ers - The San Francisco 49ers remain one of the hottest commodities in football. But losses to the Vikings and Rams, many wonder if that hype is misplaced. Could Manning have done what Alex Smith has thus far failed to do and turn a competent and efficient 49ers offense into a dominating one?
The San Francisco 49ers were latecomers to the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, but once they entered the fray, it seemed obvious that theirs would be a marriage made in heaven.
The team had great coaching, one of the NFL's top defenses and an efficient and talented offense. The team seemed to be only an elite quarterback away from becoming a modern day dynasty. Colin Kaepernick had the look of a potential franchise QB in the making , leaving Peyton Manning to start things off, building the dynasty and mentoring the younger players who would maintain it.
Manning appeared to be the perfect fit in San Francisco, but almost as soon as the honeymoon was over, the marriage began to show signs of strain.
Almost from day one, things between Manning and head coach Jim Harbaugh looked at times fractious. In spite of early wins, through the first four weeks of the season, Manning appeared on track for the worst season, statistically, of his career.
Manning was unashamedly vocal when he perceived that Harbaugh's calls were wrong. Used to the freedom to make calls and changes at the line of scrimmage, he regularly overruled his head coach. Manning made it clear by his actions that, unlike Alex Smith before him, he was not willing to merely become a game manager.
Harbaugh, a former Colts quarterback himself felt he was uniquely qualified to do exactly that, and manage Manning. Manning had effectively acted as offensive coordinator in Indianapolis later in his career—with only limited success—Harbaugh hoped that the control he exercised over Manning would one day make him a better coach. He did not take kindly to being constantly overruled, eventually benching Manning for multiple drives during the 49ers week four rout of the Buffalo Bills
In the end, the two men eventually found a happy medium before their differences derailed their season. Manning gave up his traditional no huddle offense, running the plays Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman called, and Harbaugh and Roman designed a playbook with lots of option routes, sight adjustments, hot routes and other modifiers which Manning could use to modify, though not outright change, the play to his liking.
The team rode this success to the Super Bowl in back to back years—one win, one loss—before Manning's arm strength and speed began to wain. After a disastrous 2014 campaign, Manning agreed to step back from his on field role, accepting a role as quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach at the 49ers, before moving to offensive coordinator, and kick starting his successful head coaching career soon after.