AFC South: Colts release Peyton Manning

One very popular theory as we debate and speculate Peyton Manning's landing spot is that he doesn’t want to go to the NFC.

I think that may be the case.

But outside of eliminating the Redskins, in part because he doesn’t want to face his brother and the Giants twice a year, I think the rationale being used is off.

The primary reason Manning might want to avoid the NFC isn’t to stay away from Eli Manning, it’s to stay close to the defenses he knows.

He’s a meticulous note-taker and student. And he’s got a book on the teams of the AFC, who he faced far more regularly in his 14 years with the Colts. That knowledge base is a piece ingredient that works in Manning’s favor.

Sure, if he’s healthy he wouldn’t have trouble preparing for an NFC team. But I bet, given a choice, he’d rather prepare for teams, schemes, players and coaches he’s literally got a book on. And more of those are in the AFC than the NFC.


All but a handful of teams would be better with a healthy Peyton Manning at quarterback.

So while we know that at least 12 have inquired, why wouldn’t all those teams that could upgrade be constantly calling his agent?

Well, it’s not quite so simple.

I think all but a handful of teams should do their due diligence and check in to see what Manning wants most. Maybe you’re more of a fit than you think.

But let’s consider some reasons a team might not pursue him.

Health: Sure if he is interested in you, you’ll get to see him throw and your medical people will get to examine him and look at all the X-rays, MRIs and tests they could want. Different teams have different standards. Some may judge him to be fine and believe he’ll be close to his old self by the time the season starts. But others may believe he’s insufficiently recovered or is too much of an injury risk.

Money: He’s set for life, of course, and has plenty of other sources of income. His camp has indicated he’d be fine with an incentive-laden deal that will protect a team in the event his heath prevents him from contributing the way both sides would imagine when he signs. Still, there is going to be more than one team that wants him. And one way to edge out the competition is to ramp up the money. It’s reasonable for a team to decide it doesn’t want to play that game. Not every team will be able to afford Manning even if they want to.

Long-range plans: The NFL is generally a meritocracy. GMs and personnel folks are always looking to upgrade. The better guy is supposed to play. But you also build a team with a long-range plan, and some methodical teams won’t want to discard theirs for a three-year run with Manning. It’s easy for fans to say, "Just alter course, he’s an all-time great." GMs generally don’t get as anxious and jumpy. Here’s a situation where maybe more should.

Loyalty and fit: Let’s use Houston as an example here, as I do in the video above. Is Matt Schaub at the same level as a healthy Manning? Nope. Would the Texans be a Super Bowl favorite with Manning? Yep. But they may be a Super Bowl favorite as they are. They’ve invested a lot in Schaub and don’t want to pull the rug out from under him. Plus, Gary Kubiak’s offense is heavy on bootlegs and rollouts. Those aren’t Manning’s game. Certainly a team could scrap it and craft things for Manning. But if the owner is loyal to the coach and the coach is loyal to the quarterback, they don’t want major changes to an offense that’s pretty effective as currently constructed.

A desire to develop your own: I hesitate a bit to call Manning a mercenary. Everybody in the league is one, really. But say you’re the Titans and you’ve invested in Jake Locker. Is it irrational for them to think, “We want to develop Locker. We hope he’ll become our Peyton Manning. Maybe not an all-time great, but a guy who anchors a successful team for 10 years”? Manning is 36. If you project a young quarterback to be a star for you, do you just push him aside for three years? Sure he’d learn a lot watching Manning work, but not nearly as much as if he got into the lineup himself. It’s OK to want to find your guy instead of going out to get THE guy.

Alternate needs: Stick with the Titans as an example here. Be honest and unemotional as you answer this: Would the team as currently constructed improve more if it had Manning at quarterback or Mario Williams at defensive end? I’m not saying they wind up with either. But the distance between their quarterbacks and Manning is smaller in my eyes than the distance between their ends and Williams. Other teams will have similar situations. Would it be great to add Manning? Sure. Do they have other holes on their roster demanding more attention? In many cases, it’s likely.
The courtship is on, and according to ESPN’s reports, Peyton Manning could have a new team within a week.

Manning
A dozen teams contacted Manning’s representatives Wednesday after his release by the Colts became official.

As he got to Miami, where he has a home, he reiterated he hadn’t yet considered where he’d like to play next.

Manning has supreme focus, and I believe he’s been working out hard and trying to sort through a lot in his head with regard to a parting with the Colts. But even as strong-willed as he is, it’s human nature to think about what’s next when you know something is coming to an end, no?

"I literally have not had one conversation with anyone about these teams,” he said in South Florida. “It's been so hard for me trying to figure out some closure with my situation with the Colts. I haven't thought about teams, and I don't know who is interested. I really don't.””

If that’s the case, he’s done a great job insulating himself from a lot of talk, and his friends have done a great job resisting starting that conversation.

It sounds like Manning will have “significant dialogue” with suitors, consider a list, whittle it and then make some visits to investigate opportunities and show people his arm.

What a whirlwind week of speculation we’re about to face. It should be pretty fun.

Video: Polian on Manning's departure

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ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts vice chairman Bill Polian talks about Peyton Manning and the team's future.
What kind of scheme will fit Peyton Manning best?

One that’s a lot like what he ran while he was with Indianapolis.

We can do a lot of speculating about what’s most important to Manning going forward. My belief is a guy who is a creature of habit and loves routine and repetition will be most inclined to go somewhere where he gains a good measure of control. Where the coach and offensive coordinator will be willing to bend things to him. Where he can continue to do the things he's been honing for years.

That’s why I don’t see Washington as a good fit at all.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Jerry Lai/US PresswirePeyton Manning would likely do best in an offense that's similar to the one he ran in Indianapolis.
Mike Shanahan is a control freak and his son and offensive coordinator, Kyle, is a chip off the old block. Toss Manning into that mix and there isn’t enough control to go around.

Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona has shown a willingness to fit a scheme to a signal-caller. Joe Philbin in Miami is just starting out and would surely be willing to tilt things. Pete Carroll in Seattle seems to be a flexible guy when dealing with big personalities and stars. Romeo Crennel in Kansas City is a defensive guy.

John Fox is intense, but he and John Elway wouldn’t jump in unless they would mold things for Manning. And we certainly know they are willing to move away from the offense Tim Tebow was running.

“In the end, the chances are that whichever team Manning lands with will incorporate its present offensive system intertwined with what Manning did with the Colts,” writes Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc Insider. “Manning's offense in Indy included a zone run-blocking scheme that featured athletic, movement-based linemen, limited personnel groupings and formations, a ton of pre-snap reads, and a timing-based passing attack that thrived after hours and hours of practice time.”

I can’t give away the store of the Insider piece, so I won’t share the order Williamson lists the matches in. We’ll go alphabetical as we share some snippets. As a bonus, my blog network brethren have chimed in with a flexibility rating for the coach/staff/scheme. A "10" means the team would hand over the keys to Manning and a "1" means he’d be expected to run precisely what the coaching staff wanted.

Arizona

Williamson: “This is the offense I would expect to change the most for Manning. Ken Whisenhunt is a very good offensive mind, but his philosophies have changed dramatically in his tenure as head coach, depending on the quarterback he's had at his disposal.”

Flexibility index from Mike Sando: 7

Denver

Not on Williamson’s list.

Flexibility index from Bill Williamson: 10

Kansas City

Williamson: “Adding Manning should make the team the clear favorite to win the AFC West, if not more. But, without a quarterback of the future on the roster, if Kansas City swings and misses on this acquisition, it could cost it dearly. Cassel is mediocre, and probably always will be, which could make the Chiefs too complacent in terms of finding a replacement or successor. It's time for them to be aggressive.”

Flexibility index from Bill Williamson: 10

Miami

Williamson: "With Joe Philbin taking over in Miami, the team will be installing an offense very similar to the one in Green Bay, which would fit Manning with all the pre-snap reads it requires. Also, limiting some of the injury risk of signing Manning and putting all the eggs in that basket is that Miami has Matt Moore returning. Although Moore is far from elite, you could do much worse as backups go."

Flexibility index from James Walker: 7

New York Jets

Williamson: "I don't think Manning would put New York over the top because it has problems at right tackle, No. 2 wide receiver and possibly at running back on offense. On defense, the Jets have a hole at safety, at outside pass-rusher and with an inside linebacker who excels in coverage."

Flexibility index from Walker: 10

San Francisco

Williamson: “Manning wouldn't have to put the entire team on his shoulders in San Francisco. The wide receiver position certainly needs upgrading, but Manning could have a reduced role from his time in Indianapolis -- which might be best for him now -- and consistently get his team into strong play choices at the line of scrimmage.”

Flexibility index from Sando: 3.5

Seattle

Williamson: "With a power ground game, an improving offensive line and some young receiving weapons to work with, Manning might be able to accomplish quite a bit with this offense. If Seattle signs Manning, it definitely could make a run."

Flexibility index from Sando: 8

Washington

Williamson: I also have some concerns about how well Mike Shanahan would be able to -- and how willing he would be to -- alter his offense, which stresses a move-oriented quarterback, to fit Manning's cerebral skill set.

Flexibility index from Dan Graziano: 3

Video: Peyton Manning time frame

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Adam Schefter discusses when Peyton Manning might sign with another team.
I spoke with NFC West blogger Mike Sando this morning as he was putting together this post.

It’s a great idea and he included a few of my thoughts in good takes on myths vs. motivators for Manning. Still, I’m compelled to circle back to offer a bit more of my thinking on a few of them.

First, there's the idea that the division of a potential team will play a big factor into where Manning lands.

If Peyton Manning likes the opportunity in Miami, he’s not going to shy away from it because of the Patriots and Tom Brady. Al Davis once said he didn’t get heart attacks, he gives them. That applies here: Manning doesn’t fear competition, he intends to instill fear into his competition.

Other things on Sando’s list that I think are overrated:

Offensive line: Yes, a good one would be desirable to work behind. But he’s played behind some bad ones in Indianapolis and he knows how to work around them. He can get rid of the ball more quickly than any quarterback in the league, whether it’s the play as designed to the primary receiver, a quick dump-off to avoid trouble or a throwaway. Given a choice between great route runners or great blockers, I think he'd lean toward the first.

Reggie Wayne: I’m sure Manning and Wayne would both love to work together more. But as I’ve written, it’s pretty insulting to Wayne to suggest he’ll be an add-on item to Manning’s next team. He’s a prime free agent with a few good years left who can do just fine without Manning.

Preference for a smaller market: Look, in a superstar’s world, market size is way overrated. Manning wasn’t walking around Indy undisturbed. When you learn how to be low key in one place, you can apply the same methods to a different place. Manning’s weekly news conference in Indianapolis was packed. He was engaging and measured in much bigger situations, including two Super Bowl weeks. Yes, those weekly sessions will be more packed if he’s with the Jets. Do we seriously think he’ll be turned off by that to the degree where it’s a factor in deciding where he works?

Video: Peyton Manning moments

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A look at the notable moments in Peyton Manning's career.

So what’s the future hold now that Peyton Manning and owner Jim Irsay have spoken about the Colts releasing the quarterback?

While I feel sure Manning knows the process, he said his thinking has been about where he’s been, not where he’s heading.

A creature of habit and a lover of regimen, he said he’s in “uncharted territory” now. He knows what a typical NFL March is, but he has no idea what this March will be like.

Manning said after being unable to throw or work with teammates for a long time, “It feels like home being back out there."

While he emphasized Indianapolis will remain home, he’s now on the market for a new football home.

As for his ability to play on, he said: “I am confident.”

"I'm throwing it pretty well. I've got some work to do. I've got some progress to make. But I've worked real hard."

He said he has no interest in retiring. No one, he said, loves his job or loves playing quarterback more than he does.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning and Jim Irsay
AP Photo/Michael ConroyColts owner Jim Irsay, right, said he'd like to see Peyton Manning enjoy success elsewhere while the Colts rebuild.
As he referred to notes to make his initial statement, I thought he was as emotional as we’ve ever seen him. He’s a guy built on composure and poise, but he showed us the human side -- one opposite from the jokester in TV commercials -- in this goodbye.

He goes out at peace with the way things have played out, and at peace with Irsay and the organization.

That peace is an important piece to this, as he starts to envision life somewhere else after 14 years with the Colts. Irsay said he’s rooting for Manning to have a chance to go out a winner and that the move is in his best interest.

“As a franchise, where we are right now with the salary cap, where we are rebuilding, we’re definitely a few years away,” Irsay said. “I want to see him come back and play great, there is no question about it. Just like in 2001 when he was completely healthy and everything else and we didn’t have everything to surround him. I want that opportunity for him as well to succeed at the end of his career.”

Just to sign a draft class the Colts will need to make roster moves, Irsay said.

Manning certainly has to wind up in a better situation than that.

An emotional Peyton Manning, pledging that no one loves playing quarterback more than he does, said goodbye to the Colts in a 20-minute news conference this afternoon.

It sounded like he was anticipating an afternoon of goodbyes with support staff at team headquarters with whom he’s had long-term relationships. When he spoke of one faction of those people, the equipment guys, his voice cracked.

“It’s weighed real heavy on my heart but, yeah, I am at peace with it,” he said of parting with the team that drafted him first overall in 1998. He and owner Jim Irsay both said that it wasn’t a decision either of them wanted to make, but one the circumstances dictated.

He was most emphatic about his thanks to fans of the Colts.

“This town and this team mean so much to me,” Manning said. “It truly has been an honor to play in Indianapolis. I do love it here. I love the fans and I’ll always enjoy having played for such a great team. I leave the Colts with nothing but good thoughts and gratitude to Jim, the organization, my teammates, the media and especially the fans.

“I haven’t thought yet about where I’ll play. But I have thought a lot about where I’ve been. And I’ve truly been blessed.”

Turning to fans specifically, he said: “Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback.”
Jones-Drew, Luck, Foster Getty ImagesMaurice Jones-Drew, left, Andrew Luck, center, and Arian Foster are candidates to become biggest star the AFC South has to offer.
The Colts' release of Peyton Manning will leave a huge void in our division.

Without him in the AFC South, how does a star system that’s revolved around him for some time now align?

We’ll make two large presumptions here -- Mario Williams will be out of the division and Andrew Luck will be in it.

Here’s my order, with comments from Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.:

1. Arian Foster, Texans running back.

Production: An average of 88.5 yards rushing and 126 total yards per game, with 33 touchdowns in 35 games. That’s tremendous. Last season in the Texans' second playoff game he ran for 132 yards against a highly touted Ravens defense in Baltimore.

Personality: He’s a complex, smart guy whose interests extend well beyond football. And that’s a model a lot more people in the league should follow. He’s been the most underpaid player in the league over the past two seasons, and rather than gripe about it he offered context, showed patience and just got rewarded with a five-year contract.

Popularity: It’s giant and growing in Houston and nationally. He tweets with fans. And he's unafraid to take on big topics in social media, like his perspective on fantasy football or sharing an injury X-ray.

Williamson: “Perfect piece for this running game -- with [Adrian] Peterson injured, could be the top running back in all of football. Very versatile. GREAT all-around player on the best team in division.”

2. Andre Johnson, Texans receiver

Production: In 122 career games, he’s averaged 79 receiving yards a game and 13.7 yards a catch. He’s scored 52 touchdowns and led the NFL twice in receptions and twice in yardage while earning a spot on the All-Pro first team twice. He is a willing and effective blocker who combines size and speed.

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackHouston's Andre Johnson has the talent to be the best receiver in the NFL.
Personality: Has done a good deal to help take the diva out of the receiver position, a trend that had reached some epic proportions. Soft spoken but strong willed, he’s shown himself to be accountable. A rock and a leader for a team that took too long to surround him with playoff talent.

Popularity: He’s absolutely beloved in Houston and qualifies as the all-time face of the young franchise. For a star of his size, he seems accessible and approachable, and appreciative that people want access and approachability.

Williamson: “With the body of work, he’s not far removed from being the best wide receiver in the NFL. He easily could rebound from injury to regain such status.”

3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars running back

Production: Despite facing stacked boxes throughout his career, Jones-Drew has plowed for 73.7 yards a game and 4.6 yards a carry. He’s also been a solid receiver with at least 34 catches a season. In 93 games, he’s scored 73 touchdowns.

Personality: He’s a fun guy who’s well liked by team executives, coaches and teammates. But he can be defensive and take things way too personally. He maintains a list of reporters whom he feels slighted him, which is a bit over the top for a star of his magnitude.

Popularity: Very much the face of the franchise -- many would say too much so. He’s an affable guy who’s very well liked in Jacksonville and has built a national profile thanks largely to his fantasy football production and a regular gig on Sirius NFL Radio centered on the fantasy game.

Williamson: “No running back had a better 2011 season than MJD. He does it all with ZERO around him. A pro’s pro.”

4. Andrew Luck, presumed Colts quarterback

Production: In three seasons as the starter at Stanford, he completed 67 percent of his passes with 82 touchdowns and 22 interceptions despite not being surrounded by great weapons. His football IQ and accuracy are factors that make him such a big-time prospect. He’s underrated as an athlete who can run and jump and do a lot of things that may not be primary skills for a pocket passer but will be big factors in a well-rounded game.

Personality: He seems like a nice enough guy and is close to an engineering degree from Stanford, which tells you he’s quite smart. He stayed in school for his senior year, which showed confidence that he would be better positioned coming out after another year of school. It also suggested some perspective on football.

Popularity: He’s a huge star coming out being so strongly the consensus No. 1 pick. He has a regular-guy demeanor that will serve him well as he inherits Manning’s spot with the Colts. It may come a bit more slowly than most No. 1 picks because of that context, but if he plays as predicted, it’ll come.

Williamson: “It is all about the future/potential/hope ... and that is a terrific story. Of course, following in Manning’s footsteps factors in as well. An exceptional and rare prospect.”

5. Chris Johnson, Titans running back

Production: It dropped off in a major way last season after he got the big contract extension he was looking for. Even with a down year, he’s averaged 89.6 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards a carry and he’s scored 42 touchdowns in 63 games. Does he have the same speed he showed in his first three seasons?

Personality: In a word, brash. He’s made big predictions and the down year hasn’t stopped that. He recently tweeted that he will lead the league in rushing next season. Some view him as selfish -- and it’s a fair idea to examine as his effort was questionable at times. You won’t find a more confident guy, and he may like the star life a little bit too much.

Popularity: He was huge when he topped 2,000 rushing yards in 2009, and with 12 touchdowns in 2010 he was still one of the league’s top backs. But Titans fans (and fantasy owners who drafted him at or near the top) loved him less as Tennessee didn’t run nearly as effectively as usual in 2011.

Williamson: “We have certainly seen what a difference-maker Johnson can be. And actually, I expect his situation to improve a great deal next season with an improved interior offensive line and getting Kenny Britt back in the lineup, but there were just too many runs in 2011 where Johnson lacked competitiveness.”

Two notes:

  • I struggled to choose between Johnson and Houston linebacker Brian Cushing for the last spot. But it’s hard for a defensive player to outrank a guy who has the ball all the time. And fair or not, Cushing has a dent in his national reputation because of his four-game suspension in 2010.
  • Williamson said Britt and Titans quarterback Jake Locker could press for inclusion soon and I agree. For Britt it’s about health; For Locker it’s about opportunity and production.
Reading the coverage of Peyton Manning's pending release by the Colts ...

"There is no bad guy here. Not Colts owner Jim Irsay. Not Peyton Manning. It was the perfect storm of imperfect circumstances, a 2-14 season, a devastating series of neck injuries and the unexpected and incredibly fortuitous availability of (Andrew) Luck at the No. 1 draft spot.” Bob Kravitz’s column from the Indianapolis Star.

"If you think about it," said Carmen Policy, the man who traded Joe Montana "pro football is a social example of Darwinism operating in its purest form. It's crueler than Hollywood. I mean, you're a gorgeous star today, but a few years from now you're too old and there's someone prettier and someone with more talent." Clark Judge’s column from CBSSports.com.

Breaking down all the money matters with Manning, from Andrew Brandt of ESPN.com.

Darren Rovell spun Brandt’s numbers to come up with Manning’s hourly wage during his term in Indianapolis.

WISHTV.com shows us Manning and Irsay arriving in Indianapolis on Irsay’s private jet and their stop to say hello to reporters.

Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports ranks the 12 destinations Manning should consider, and Houston’s No. 1 despite reports it is not interested.

Manning is more motivated than ever, says Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com.

If Manning’s new team gets anywhere near his typical quality of play, then the Colts’ decision to send Peyton packing could have a major hand in how the 2012 NFL season unravels, says Chris Burke of SI.com.

Irsay better hope he made the right call on Manning, says ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox.

A timeline of all that’s unfolded, from NFL.com.

Despite the divorce, Manning’s legacy will always be in Indianapolis, writes Jeff Darlington of NFL.com.

Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com looks at potential landing spots for Manning.

Seven possible landing spots for Manning from The Sporting News.

Parents who named their kids Peyton lament the quarterback’s exit, says WISHTV.com.

Manning and the Colts cultivated a fiercely deep, loyal fan base not only in Indiana, but around the globe, says Greg Cowan of Colts Authority.
Colts FansScott Boehm/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning led the Colts to 19 playoff games and a championship in Super Bowl XLI.
Just a few weeks ago, a high-tech decal of the Lombardi Trophy rose above Indianapolis, stuck to the city’s newest skyscraper, the J.W. Marriott. The building is an easy walk from the Indianapolis Colts' home field, Lucas Oil Stadium.

It sounds like hyperbole to suggest that the city never would have had the hotel or stadium or Super Bowl without Peyton Manning. But it’s true.

A franchise that snuck out of Baltimore in March 1984 to make a new home in Indiana played 14 seasons before Manning’s arrival in 1998.

Before him, the Colts played in five playoff games and maxed out at 9-7, a record they hit five times.

With him, the Colts won at least 10 games 11 times and played in 19 playoff games, including two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XLI.

In those 14 years, he took a region that had been basketball country and altered its sporting course and preference.

Bill Polian drafted Manning and was fired after the 2011 Colts went 2-14 without the injured quarterback. Next week, Polian will join ESPN as an NFL analyst. He talked to "SportsCenter" about Manning after the news broke.

“He ignited a fever for football in the state, and Indiana was a basketball state before Peyton came there,” Polian said. “It’s a football state now, producing more Division I football players than ever before.”

The shock of the separation is minimized only because we’ve seen it coming for so long.

While I’ve spent a lot of time in Indianapolis, and feel I have a sense of the place, I cannot pretend to know it as a hometown.

I do know many people with Indianapolis and Indiana addresses, though. And through them I know how deep the affection for Manning runs, how truly many who rooted for him every Sunday feel he represented their city and state.

It’s a place that prides itself on hard work and he epitomized a hardworking football player, with grit for sure, but with plenty of grace, too.

Indianapolis may have had plenty of time to get ready for the official news that the team and Manning are parting ways -- an announcement will come Wednesday.

But for those who pledged their loyalty to the Colts while Manning was making them relevant, no degree of prep time will make it easier to see him don a helmet without a horseshoe on it.

A percentage of fans won’t be able to watch him play for someone else. But I suspect many more will find it harder not to watch him. When a guy’s done that much to endear himself to you and to help shine a positive light on your city, it takes more than a change of uniform to sever the tie, particularly when the divorce was out of his control.

In Indianapolis, as Colts fans check out the new quarterback -- Andrew Luck is the presumed successor -- many people won’t be able to help checking on the old one, too.

The Lombardi Trophy decal that stood so tall over Indianapolis during a wonderful Super Bowl week came down shortly after the game.

The huge banner of Manning on the city-facing side of Lucas Oil Stadium will soon follow in a face-lifting move.

No matter how long Indianapolis had to brace for it, this separation still stings.

Video: Fans react to Manning news

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Indianapolis Colts fans react to news that the team will release Peyton Manning.

Where will Peyton Manning land?

March, 6, 2012
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