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Friday, February 24, 2012
Updated: March 3, 2:14 AM ET
Reading between the lines on Manning

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson are allowed to speak about Peyton Manning. That puts them in the minority at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.

But what other teams aren't saying about Manning is saying an awful lot about not only the four-time MVP but also about the starting quarterbacks at other shops whom he might replace.

There are trigger words for parsing coachspeak, words such as "right now," "today" and "as it stands." It's like when a college football or basketball coach says, "I'm the head coach of [add your school here] today," and books for a better job tomorrow. He wasn't lying, per se, at least that's how the coach justifies it. He was telling the truth as it stood at that moment in time, even if he had a solid job offer in his back pocket.

And so it was at the combine Thursday, when a parade of coaches and general managers scaled podiums to talk about their teams' needs.

As he did during the Super Bowl festivities in Indianapolis, Manning looms large at the combine, and not just because his image still hangs outside Lucas Oil Stadium. He remains the NFL's biggest story. Will he play again? Will his arm strength return? Will the Colts release him? Where will he go?

Manning is synonymous with Indianapolis, but he has become a real-life Where's Waldo. Grigson and Pagano, the new general manager and coach of the Colts, respectively, say they haven't seen Manning throw a football at the team's practice facility. Manning's father, on sports talk radio in Philadelphia (of all places) on Wednesday, was noncommittal about his middle son's whereabouts or future. One report this week put Manning in South Beach working out with Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne.

Kam Chancellor
Kevin Kolb was injured and ineffective for the Cardinals in 2011. Is his job secure?
It is clear there will be a line at Manning's door if he is able to play -- and if the Colts release him before March 8, when they would be on the hook for a $28 million roster bonus.

Listen to what was not said about Manning - comments about him by anyone other than the Colts would be tampering, after all -- and how that translated into real information.

First up, Arizona general manager Rod Graves, according to The Arizona Republic: "Every day you have to work with the information you have at hand. And right now, as I look at it, we fully expect that Kevin [Kolb] is going to be with us, and we'll honor that contract as it is, obviously. But we'll see what every day brings forward, and we'll make our decisions accordingly. Right now, we've got three quarterbacks that have done a great job for us. We're happy with those guys. Right now, as it stands today, we're not anticipating anything different."

Translation: If Manning were available and chose the Cardinals, Kolb would be a goner. Savior one offseason, potential trash the next. In his first year with Arizona, Kolb could not stay healthy and was shaky when he was. The Cardinals have succeeded with a veteran quarterback in the twilight of his career before (see Warner, Kurt) and could do so again.

Kolb is as nice and professional a guy as there is in the NFL, and he went through a lot in Philadelphia, where he was Donovan McNabb's backup, then the starter for all of one game before the 2010 Michael Vick experience took off. Now this. Kolb is smart enough to hear what Graves is saying and know that there is a big difference between today and tomorrow.

Next up, the always colorful New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, via The Newark Star-Ledger: "I said that I think Mark Sanchez is an outstanding quarterback, and he's our quarterback, and I think he's got a great future, and I'm not coming off any of those. But we will look at every scenario, of course."

Mark Sanchez
The Jets run the risk of undercutting Mark Sanchez with teammates at a critical point in his career.

Translation: The Jets know Sanchez's limitations, that he couldn't appease or control Santonio Holmes and that having him under center restricts the offense they can run. He is good but probably won't ever be great, and New York is New York. The Giants just won the Super Bowl. The Jets are clearly little brother.

Ryan doesn't want to be little brother. Owner Woody Johnson doesn't want to be little brother. GM Mike Tannenbaum doesn't want to be little brother. That's why they won't rule out Eli Manning's big brother.

For the Jets more than any other team, this is a dangerous game. If they make a run at Peyton and don't get him, they will have undercut Sanchez in the locker room at a time when he needs support more than ever.

Then there was new Miami coach Joe Philbin, via The South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "We're looking for a great decision-maker. We're looking for a leader. We're looking for an accurate passer. We're looking for a guy that has excellent management skills. [You need] a guy that has pocket presence and awareness. Leadership. And obviously, the stronger, the more velocity in the arm, the better."

Translation: The Dolphins would love a healthy Manning and really aren't afraid to say so. That billboard now up in South Florida showing Manning in a Dolphins uniform with the words "Manning to Miami"? The Dolphins didn't mind that one bit.

Unless they go for Matt Flynn.

Manning's situation won't be resolved for weeks, at best, which means the parsing of language will continue, as will the questions for players like Kolb and Sanchez.

Ashley Fox is an NFL columnist. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyMFox.