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Imagining potential fits for Peyton Manning as a player

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What will the biggest factor be in Peyton's decision? (1:52)

Skip Bayless thinks Peyton Manning's future will be decided by how his scandals play out, while Stephen A. Smith believes Manning has nothing left to give physically. (1:52)

As it turns out, Peyton Manning isn't as ready to retire as many of us thought he was. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Manning would like to continue his playing career in 2016 "in a perfect world."

At the moment, of course, there isn't exactly a mob of teams awaiting the chance to sign a soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback -- one who threw the second-most interceptions in the NFL last season (17) despite missing six games. Front-office or television work still seem the likelier options for Manning's next step.

But you never know when an unusual string of events could create an opportunity, and we all know that Manning's primary ailment last season -- a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot -- can fully heal over the course of an offseason.

So assuming Manning does not retire, where might he (eventually) find interest? Let's dive deep into our imaginations …

1. Los Angeles Rams

Schefter reported that, in the end, the Rams probably won't sign Manning. But if he's playing anywhere in 2016, Los Angeles makes the most sense.

Coach Jeff Fisher said at the scouting combine that his starter at the moment is Case Keenum over the higher-paid Nick Foles. If that doesn't suggest room for an adjustment, I don't know what does.

Ticket sales opened strongly for the Rams this spring -- more than 56,000 deposits were placed before an initial deadline. But the Los Angeles market demands more sizzle than Keenum, Foles and/or a second- or third-tier quarterback from the draft.

There is precedent for Hall of Fame quarterbacks finishing their careers in Southern California. Johnny Unitas did it with the Chargers in 1973. Joe Namath played for the Rams in 1977. And don't forget that the Rams' current leadership group poked the tires on Brett Favre -- 43 at the time and nearly three years removed from the game -- in 2013. This match, however unlikely, merits further consideration.

2. Houston Texans

The Texans have been patching it together at quarterback since Matt Schaub imploded in 2013. Ryan Fitzpatrick was their primary starter in 2014, and Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett shared the role last season. By all accounts, they seem set on finding a longer-term answer this offseason.

But the Texans might have to be creative to find a credible, immediate upgrade in the draft. Picking at No. 22, they could miss out on the consensus top-three picks -- Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch. If they're outmaneuvered and unhappy with the eventual free-agent offerings, a year of Peyton Manning could beat the alternative.

3. Former coaches need help

What if the Detroit Lions lose Matthew Stafford to a season-ending injury? What about the Miami Dolphins and Ryan Tannehill? Each team has backups, but Manning's connections to their offensive coaches should be noted.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell was Manning's quarterbacks coach for seven years and head coach for three with the Indianapolis Colts. Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan were both assistants with the Broncos during Manning's tenure.

Meanwhile, Dolphins coach Adam Gase was Manning's offensive coordinator for two seasons and quarterbacks coach for one in Denver. Dolphins offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen was a Colts assistant for almost all of Manning's time in Indianapolis -- including three years as his offensive coordinator.

Would Caldwell or Gase prefer Manning in a short-term situation? Given the familiarity, they could do a lot worse.

4. Cleveland Browns

The Browns appear to be moving toward a less-impulsive, more objective method of building their roster. But owner Jimmy Haslam is a Tennessee native and a longtime friend of the Manning family, so, well, you know how these things get started.

Would Haslam make Manning an offer to play for one season, if for no other reason than to get ahead of the presumptive 2017 bidding to hire Manning into the front office? If you've followed Haslam's tenure in Cleveland, the scenario is not as farfetched as it would otherwise seem.

5. Denver Broncos

That's right. As Schefter noted, the Broncos seem prepared to move on from Manning and hand the position to Brock Osweiler. Slight issue there: What if Osweiler signs elsewhere?

Because the Broncos are using their franchise tag on linebacker Von Miller, Osweiler will have a chance to test free agency if he wants to. He can almost certainly drive up his price by hitting the market and forcing the Broncos to match.

If Osweiler departs, or even if he is hurt, Manning would be a natural one-year replacement. There are a lot of ifs there, but isn't that what imagination is all about?

6. Chip Kelly

I'm throwing in the coach of the San Francisco 49ers mostly because he tends to look at the quarterback position a little differently than the rest of us.

Did anyone think last year at this time that Sam Bradford was a Chip Kelly type of quarterback? Bradford's history suggested he was neither particularly accurate nor mobile, and yet Kelly gave up multiple draft choices to acquire him last spring.

In San Francisco, Kelly has one quarterback on his roster who appears to fit his system (Colin Kaepernick) and a high-enough draft position (No. 7 overall) to find another. But it's never that simple with Kelly, is it? By definition, he and his team should be a wild-card possibility whenever any semi-prominent quarterback is available.

ESPN NFL Nation reporters Nick Wagoner, Michael Rothstein and Pat McManamon contributed to this story.