According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Peyton Manning's representatives have been contacted by 12 teams hoping to gauge his interest in playing for them next year.
Of those 12, Schefter reported seven clubs by name. The Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, and New York Jets were specifically identified as having contacted Manning.
Taking a look at each of the teams and the cases they can present to Manning brings the picture into sharper focus. It is important to remember in this process that Manning has all the power. He is a free agent, so he chooses the team.
That means that while he might be a great fit for the Cleveland Browns, he won't be playing there. He has a limited window left in his career (he is 36 before the season starts) and he isn't going to squander the last few years he has to win a second title on a rebuilding project.
Of the seven places listed by ESPN each one can present a unique case to Manning, but when the various factors are examined, only a few options make any sense.
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Kansas City Chiefs:
This is full of question marks. Manning doesn't like to play outdoors and doesn't do well when he does, especially in cold weather. He is 13-10 outdoors in his career in December and January including an 0-3 mark in January.
Steve Breaston and Dwayne Bowe aren't a bad 1-2 punch on the outside, but the team lacks a decent third option and a tight end which have been so important to Manning throughout his career.
While the Chiefs are a potential fit, don't expect to see Manning play his home games at Arrowhead next season.
While the Broncos brass has talked a good game about Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback, at least they have since General Manager John Elway threw him under the bus early in the year. They are certainly in the market for a guy who is a more traditional quarterback, more like Elway was as a player. Manning fits that bill, but the Broncos have to many other factors to overcome.
As was mentioned above, the weather in Denver is not conducive to Manningball, his receiving options, Eddie Royal, Eric Decker and Daniel Fells are underwhelming, and while there is a running game in Denver to help take some pressure off, there are just too many negatives.
The Redskins seem to be in the hunt for Manning simply because owner Dan Snyder will find a way to circumvent the salary cap to pay him whatever Manning demands. Manning also has a great deal of respect for head coach Mike Shannahan.
But, since Snyder bought the team in 1999, they are 91-117 and have lost at least 10 games in each of the past three seasons. Santana Moss has proven to be an explosive receiver when he doesn't have the likes of Rex Grossman throwing to him but Jabbar Gaffney has never lived up to the hype he had early in his career.
Much like the two teams above, the Redskins are intriguing as an option, but there are just too many question marks and too much uncertainty.
Seattle is likely to push hard to sign Manning, but they have almost nothing to offer him. Pete Carroll is a fun guy, but unproven at the NFL level, in fact it could be argued that he is proven to be very mediocre 47-49 record 2-3 in the playoffs.
The Seahawks also have one of the best and most passionate fan bases in America and the idea of being able to bring those fans their first ever title is exciting, but not even Manning could do it with Benjamin Obomanu and Golden Tate as his wide receivers.
Seattle fans will want this to happen, but it is a totally unrealistic desire when their package is placed alongside others.
New York Jets:
The Jets are a wildcard in this race; they are very tough to read. On the one hand they have committed with words and with money to Mark Sanchez as their quarterback going forward, on the other hand he was pretty bad in big spots last season and better quarterbacking performance could be the only thing separating the Jets from Super Bowl contention.
Plaxico Burress is gone, leaving Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller as the main targets for Manning, and the contract they would have to give him would leave them with little money remaining to get another player.
If Manning wants to jump into the glitz and glam of the spotlight, or if being closer to his brother Eli has any sway over him, then perhaps he does go for New York, but the weather, roster and existence of better options will probably keep this from happening.
Arizona is interested in Manning, and he will likely be very interested in him. They have one of the best wide receivers in the game in Larry Fitzgerald, and the very idea of Manning in Arizona should give NFC West secondaries night terrors.
Outside of the receivers, the Cardinals have a team that can compete right now. They went 7-2 in their final nine games after a very slow start and they did that with John Skelton, a second year player from Fordham under center.
They have the right kind of weather, the right personnel and the chance for Manning to make a huge impact right away. But, Peyton has always been an East Coast guy, he grew up in New Orleans, lives in Miami and went to school in Tennessee. He has also expressed a preference for staying in the AFC according to some sources.
Those problems could be overcome, but the Cardinals will have a serious fight for his services from the final team on the list.
The Dolphins are the most likely landing spot for Manning. He lives in town in the offseason anyway and he and team President Dan Marino are close. Brandon Marshall and Anthony Fasano are a nice combo to catch his passes, especially if the Dolphins can add one more piece, like free agent Reggie Wayne (also a Miami resident and Manning's teammate for 10 years).
Florida has no state income tax, a very attractive option when you make millions of dollars, and they have potentially the best weather in the league (trips to Buffalo, New England and New York not withstanding).
The Dolphins were awful out of the gate last year, losing seven straight before winning six of their last nine, but by the end of the season they were a tight knit group that had been brought together by their struggles.
With Manning in the fold they look like a 10 win team at the very least, and for my money are the most attractive option for the 36 year old free agent.