AFC East: Manning Sweepstakes

Does anyone want to play quarterback for the Miami Dolphins next season? It sure doesn't look that way.

After failing to woo future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, the Dolphins also missed on their second choice Sunday. Former Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn agreed to a modest three-year, $26 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

This is another big blow to Dolphins ownership and the front office, which thought it could make a splash this offseason. Instead, the Dolphins have been turned down by veteran coach Jeff Fisher, Manning and now Flynn in a short span. Each decline adds further humiliation to the Dolphins, who were already viewed as a shaky organization at the top to begin with.

But the Dolphins losing out on Flynn may be the biggest surprise of the three, considering Flynn's deep ties with rookie Miami head coach Joe Philbin. The pair spent four years growing together in Green Bay, which made Miami the early favorite to get Flynn.

But something didn't go right this weekend when Flynn met with Miami's brass. Perhaps money was the issue. But were the Dolphins unwilling to give up $26 million for a starting quarterback? Or maybe things just didn't feel right for Flynn in Miami, and he thought Seattle was a better fit.

Regardless, the Dolphins have become one of the league's biggest offseason losers in the first week of free agency. They traded away their best receiver (Brandon Marshall) for pennies on the dollar and continue to whiff in their quarterback search.

The home run (Manning) or any potential extra-base hits (Robert Griffin III, Flynn) are out of the question for the Dolphins. Miami had its three strikes, and it's simply time to go back to the dugout and regroup.

The Dolphins may get desperate and sign Alex Smith or David Garrard. But that would only add to Miami's misery. Neither player is the long-term solution. A case can be made that Dolphins incumbent Matt Moore is better in the short term, especially if you consider the millions it would take to sign Smith, who helped lead the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game.

Miami just needs to stick with Moore and draft a quarterback, perhaps Ryan Tannehill, at No. 8 overall. Free agency could be used to patch up holes at receiver, right guard and right tackle. The Dolphins have suffered enough embarrassment chasing quarterbacks.

But with Miami's front office, you just never know. Maybe we will see Smith in a Dolphins uniform in 2012, or an old-fashioned quarterback competition between Moore and Garrard in training camp.

Anything is possible.
Now that the Miami Dolphins are officially out of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, it's time to look ahead to their future.

Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post makes a compelling case that Manning turning down the Dolphins is actually best for the franchise. Fortenbaugh contends that Miami will be able to build the team for the long term over the next few years.
"And while the Dolphins -- like any organization looking to take the next step -- could certainly have benefited from a healthy Manning's skill set and expertise, this is a team that would be better served by acquiring a younger signal caller whom new head coach Joe Philbin could develop and the front office could build around.
Manning turns 36 on March 24. In the 46 Super Bowls that have been played, only eight of the 92 quarterbacks who have started under center did so at the age of 36 or older. More specifically, the last ten Super Bowls have only seen two quarterbacks start the game at the age of 36 or older (Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner) and both of those guys came up short."

I see Fortenbaugh's point, and this is certainly the direction Miami is going. But I disagree with the idea that winning later is better than winning now.

Manning would've been the best option because Miami would have been an instant contender. Any other option, such as Matt Flynn, Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill, isn't enough for Miami to supplant the New England Patriots in the AFC East anytime soon.

In fact, the Dolphins are probably looking at a two-year rebuilding process under rookie head coach Philbin. That is not what owner Stephen Ross, who has deep pockets, envisioned. But it's the reality.

It's too early to make predictions. But I think a case can be made that the Buffalo Bills, with Mario Williams, and the veteran-laden New York Jets may be in better position to win now in 2011. We will know about where Miami stands after the draft and free agency.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday morning in the AFC East:
  • The Miami Dolphins appear pretty much out of the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.
Morning take: The Dolphins don't really offer Manning much at this point. They traded their best receiver and have a rookie head coach. It time to turn their attention to free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn.
Morning take: Williams is the biggest free-agent signing in Bills history. Opposing quarterbacks in the AFC East need to beware.
  • Free-agent safety Reggie Nelson will visit the New York Jets.
Morning take: New York is taking a look at Nelson and fellow safety LaRon Landry. I think Nelson is the better fit, because New York needs help in coverage.
Morning take: This is probably the end of the road for veteran Dan Koppen. Connolly filled in well after Koppen was injured last season and earned the job.
Now comes the tricky part for the Miami Dolphins.

Miami wants free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning in the worst way and met with him for hours Monday evening. But Manning has meticulously taken his time and reportedly will drag his decision beyond 4 p.m. Tuesday, at which time free agency begins.

Should the Dolphins wait for Manning or pursue former Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn on Tuesday afternoon while the Manning situation is still pending? It's an interesting dilemma.

On one end, Miami still thinks it has a legit shot to land Manning, a future Hall of Famer. If word comes out the Dolphins are simultaneously chasing Flynn on Tuesday afternoon, that may sway Manning's thinking about Miami’s level of commitment.

The Denver Broncos have Tim Tebow and won't be chasing Flynn on Tuesday. Neither will the Arizona Cardinals, who have Kevin Kolb. Those teams will be waiting patiently on Manning, who has dictated the terms of this entire process. Manning may view the Dolphins' negotiating with Flynn as rushing his decision -- something Manning would not like.

On the other end, the Dolphins do not want to leave this offseason empty-handed and without a new starting quarterback. A number of interested teams will be jumping right in on Flynn. If the Dolphins wait a few days to join the party due to Manning's indecision, they could be too late for Flynn. Under this scenario, Manning's decision would basically hold the Dolphins hostage.

This is the type of high-stakes game you play when trying to land one of the biggest free agents in NFL history. Miami reportedly is not the favorite in the Manning sweepstakes. So it might be wise for the Dolphins to be one of the first teams to jump into the Flynn sweepstakes after 4 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Either way, Miami is taking a risk. If you were Dolphins management, what would you do?
The Miami Dolphins will finally get their meeting with free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning -- sort of. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Manning will meet with the head coaches of the Dolphins and Tennessee Titans away from the facilities in the next few days before making his final decision.

Here is my take on what this means:
  • In my opinion, this sounds like a courtesy meeting from Manning. I don't think the quarterback is seriously considering the Dolphins at this point. It's no secret the Dolphins want Manning badly, and Manning is a really nice guy, and probably doesn't want to hurt people's feelings in the process. He already shut down several teams, including the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, who called his representatives. Manning taking the full tour in Denver and Arizona, and not in Miami, should say all the Dolphins need to know.
  • This also doesn't help the league-wide perception that Miami has dysfunctional leadership. Miami's power pair of owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland do not have the best reputation around the league for various reasons. The most recent public handling this past year of former head coach Tony Sparano, particularly, drew ire around the league. Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher both turned down Ross and Ireland, and it appears Manning will be the third big name to do so in a year.
  • Finally, it's time for the Dolphins to resort to Plan B. The chances of Philbin, a rookie head coach, saying something magical to convince Manning to join Miami without even visiting the facilities are slim. The Dolphins appear all but out of the Manning sweepstakes. That means it's time for Miami to jump into the Flynn sweepstakes. Free agency starts in less than 24 hours. Miami must go back to the drawing board if it wants a new starting quarterback next season.
Two of Peyton Manning's most reliable weapons are now on the free-agent market. Former Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark -- both multi-time Pro Bowlers -- will wear new uniforms next season due to Indianapolis' big roster makeover.

Should the Miami Dolphins consider signing one or both players? This would be one sure way to appease Manning, who is considering Miami as one of several destinations.

Miami could use an upgrade at receiver opposite Brandon Marshall. Wayne is a good friend of Manning and lives in Miami, where he went to college. Wayne seems like a good fit. The Dolphins don't have a huge need at tight end. But Clark, 32, could make a decent tandem with Anthony Fasano. Clark does have an injury history the past two seasons that Miami needs to be careful of.

The Dolphins are expected to meet with Manning over the weekend, and Manning has all of the leverage. But this is a very fine line for Miami to walk with free agency approaching.

On one hand, the Dolphins need to be careful not to let a player who may or may not sign with the team dictate how they operate with free agents. On the other hand, this is Peyton Manning -- one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. If going after Wayne and/or Clark is what separates Miami from the other potential Manning suitors, it's probably general manager Jeff Ireland's best interest to swallow his pride (and offseason game plan) and go for it.

Miami's front office has spent months analyzing the draft and free agency, and there is a good chance spending money and cap room on two 30-something pass-catchers wasn't in the plans. But chasing a player the caliber of Manning is a high-stakes game where just about anything goes.
There is very little to criticize about the career of future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. He's a complete quarterback on the field -- one of the best of all-time -- and a standup citizen off the field.

But if there is one thing you might be able to nitpick about Manning throughout his career, it's that he likes control -- and plenty of it. Once Manning proved himself in Indianapolis, the offense, playbook -- everything was built around Manning. He was essentially the quarterback, offensive coordinator and, to some degree, the head coach when the Colts had the football. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky examined this topic Wednesday.

In the AFC East, are the Miami Dolphins willing to hand Manning the type of unquestioned offensive control he had in Indianapolis?

We've seen it every week: A play is called, and Manning goes to the line and changes it two or three times into a play he likes better. Usually, it works. But at the same time it's tough on a head coach and offensive play-caller, who doesn't have nearly as much control as with other quarterbacks.

The topic of control is a quiet but important one for Manning. He's not going to join a team unless he has a lot freedom in the offense.

That's not a concern for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who is not a football guy and desperately wants Manning to make a splash and sell tickets. General manager Jeff Ireland probably cares to some degree, but not too much. The brunt of this falls on rookie head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, who are both considered good offensive minds.

Philbin and Sherman are in the process of implementing a West Coast offense, a system Manning didn't run in Indianapolis. Manning won't be a spoke in the wheel. He has all the leverage and needs to be convinced he's the biggest cog and decision-maker on offense. If Manning can't get that in Miami, he will get it in Arizona, New York, or somewhere else.
Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk is a former teammate and close friend of quarterback Peyton Manning. That is why you have to take Faulk's opinion seriously when he says Manning will not go to the NFC and the Miami Dolphins are potential favorites.

Manning
Faulk seemed adamant Wednesday that you can pretty much cross off 16 NFC teams, including the Arizona Cardinals and Washington Redskins, who are both considered strong contenders to sign Manning.

"If you're in the NFC, you're out. The Mannings (won't) play a regular-season game," said Faulk, also referring to quarterback Eli Manning of the New York Giants. "They're not gonna stop each other from going to the Super Bowl. Meeting in the Super Bowl? How great would that be for the family?"

Faulk continued by saying "There's no way, there's no way, there's no way" when NFC teams were mentioned. Faulk didn't seem as sure where Manning will land but mentioned Miami as a possibility.

"Matt Flynn just doesn't do it," Faulk said. "(He's) not Aaron Rodgers, let's be honest."

If Faulk is accurate about his good friend, Peyton Manning, this is an interesting development. Teams like the Dolphins and New York Jets would basically have their competition cut in half, especially with strong suitors like Arizona, Seattle and Washington out of the mix. We will see if Faulk's prediction holds true.
Ask the New York Jets about Peyton Manning this offseason, and you will get some of the most sideways, non-committal answers you will ever hear.

The message ranged somewhere between "Mark Sanchez is our quarterback" to "we won't rule anything out" regarding Manning. What does that all amount to? Who knows?

But we are about to find out how much confidence the Jets truly have in Sanchez. Manning, the soon-to-be former Indianapolis Colts quarterback, is about to become available and there will be several teams quickly jumping into the Manning sweepstakes.

It's unknown if the Jets will join the Manning party. The team seems committed to Sanchez for at least one more year. But New York also could have put out the Manning fires a long time ago and chose not to.

Several teams, including the AFC East rival Miami Dolphins, have made it clear that Manning is a priority. That would be extremely dangerous for the Jets to face Tom Brady and Manning four times a year within the division. That may be enough to convince the Jets to try to recruit Manning for themselves.

New York's salary cap space isn't the best, and Sanchez is due to make a lot of money next year. Monetarily is doesn't look like the Jets are in position for Manning. But maybe the Jets have been dodging the Manning question for a reason.

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