Five thoughts on a Manning-free division

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
12:30
PM ET

Five considerations now that Peyton Manning has told the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans he plans to sign with the Denver Broncos:
  • Big sighs of relief: Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis no longer must worry about defending against a Manning-led 49ers offense. A healthy Manning would have made the 49ers even more formidable than they were while going 5-1 against the division last season. It's looking like the Seahawks will be the team in the division with the best shot at upgrading their quarterback situation.
  • Harbaugh must take lead: The seemingly special bond between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and 2011 starter Alex Smith could need some repairing. That should not be too difficult if Harbaugh has been forthright with Smith throughout the process. The 49ers, like the Cardinals, will want to define their interest in Manning as a special case unrelated to their incumbent quarterback. Re-signing Smith should be a no-brainer now.
  • Smith's only logical option. Smith has made it known he wants to continue playing for the 49ers. Hurt feelings suffered during negotiations and the Manning diversion should not be grounds for divorce. Unless Smith acts hastily out of anger, which seems unlikely given his temperament, the 49ers should now be able to re-sign Smith to a deal that gives them the flexibility to hand things over to Colin Kaepernick in the next couple years if Smith falters. The 49ers did lose some leverage, however, when Manning picked Denver over Tennessee. A deal with the Titans would have pushed Matt Hasselbeck onto the market.
  • Forget about Tim Tebow. The Broncos wanted Manning not only because Manning is a great quarterback when healthy, but also because the organization was seeking a Tebow exit strategy. Manning's acquisition provides the perfect cover for Broncos executive John Elway, who has made clear his feelings that Tebow's playing style is not sustainable. I would not anticipate NFC West teams having interest in Tebow if the Broncos tried to trade him.
  • Manning not on schedule. NFC West teams do not play the Broncos in 2012. They still face a lengthy list of talented quarterbacks, including Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Jay Cutler. Every NFC West team does face the Miami Dolphins, who lost out on Manning, did not sign Flynn and could have a tougher time signing Smith now that the 49ers have lost out on Manning.

It's a relief to have the Manning situation resolved. I was looking forward to the possibility of having him in the division, however, whether with Arizona or San Francisco.

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