Commentary

What will Manning choose?

He's accustomed to calling the shots on offense -- would he give that up?

Originally Published: February 10, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Steak or flounder?

Seems simple enough. What are you in the mood to eat, red meat or fish? It is a basic, easy choice with no wrong answer. One meal fills you up, the other leaves you wanting, perhaps, just a little more.

This should come as no surprise: Peyton Manning prefers steak.

Any day now, Manning and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will meet to discuss Manning's surgically repaired neck and throwing arm. They undoubtedly will talk about the good times, the 14 years together when each made the other wealthy beyond imagine. Maybe they will meet at St. Elmo, the iconic Indianapolis steakhouse, and break bread one more time.

And then the two shall part ways. Their union will be over after 208 games, seven AFC South titles and one magical Super Bowl run. Standing as a remembrance will be fabulous Lucas Oil Stadium.

When the suitors come calling -- and the line for Manning's services probably will be longer than the line to bother Shaq at ESPN's Super Bowl party last Friday -- Manning will divide them into two categories: steak and flounder.

Steak: A franchise where Manning can step in and run the show, where the coach is malleable and willing to let Manning do what he does best. Preferential treatment will go to a team with a solid offensive line and an array of offensive weapons.

Flounder: A franchise where others, be it the coach or the offensive coordinator or Daniel Snyder, will dictate the offense Manning will run.

Listen to Archie Manning for a clue where his middle son might go:

After the New York Giants' Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots, Manning talked to Sports Illustrated's Damon Hack about the difference between his youngest sons, Peyton and Eli. Archie said that he thought that Peyton was embarrassed about the amount of media coverage he received before Super Bowl XLVI -- even though Peyton facilitated a lot of it himself -- but that Eli was unfazed by it.

"If Eli orders steak and they bring him flounder, he'll just eat it," Archie told SI. "What would Peyton do? You ought not bring Peyton the flounder."

In other words, Peyton wants what he wants. This isn't exactly breaking news. Manning doesn't like surprises. He isn't going to work around other people's mistakes. He is inflexible and hard-headed and type triple-A.

Those aren't knocks on Peyton. He is who he is, and those qualities have made him the NFL's MVP four times in his career.

At age 35, Peyton Manning isn't going to change. Not now. Not for anybody. He is used to running an offense he wants to run, to calling plays, to dictating practice. He has been in charge of the Colts for so long, he knows no other way.

Not every NFL organization would allow Manning to step in and take over, not at his age and with his health. Not every coach is Jim Caldwell or Tony Dungy, easy, almost egoless personalities who didn't need the spotlight for fulfillment.

[+] EnlargeKyle & Mike Shanahan
Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesWould Peyton Manning get into a power struggle with the Shanahans if he went to Washington?
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder might be willing to throw ungodly amounts of money at Manning -- that's been his history -- but why would Manning go to Washington? Mike Shanahan might be flexible enough to allow Manning to have control, but it is hard to imagine his offensive coordinator, son Kyle, would. The offensive line needs rebuilding, and the Redskins have few weapons currently on the roster. It is also hard to imagine that Manning would want to move into a division where he would play his baby brother twice a year.

Although it has cap space, Seattle is far from his extended family, and the Seahawks' projected starting offensive line of Russell Okung, Robert Gallery, Max Unger, John Moffitt and James Carpenter played all of four games together last season because of injuries. Miami is warm, and Manning, who's used to playing inside, probably could work with Mike Sherman, but it does not seem like the right fit. (Although Dolphins-Patriots games would get a lot more interesting.) The Cleveland Browns play outdoors and in the cold.

The New York Jets are too dysfunctional for Manning. The locker room is fractured. There is not much talent on offense. Rex Ryan is too outspoken. It would be fun to have both Mannings in New York, but it seems unlikely.

The best fit -- the best cut of beef, if you will -- other than the Colts appears to be the Arizona Cardinals. They play indoors. Ken Whisenhunt would allow Manning to control the offense. Arizona just hired Frank Reich, who spent the past six seasons on the Colts' offensive staff, to be its wide receivers coach. Russ Grimm is as good an offensive line coach as you will find anywhere.

And there is a certain stud wide receiver on the roster who would be a big draw. Larry Fitzgerald is loyal to Kevin Kolb, but surely he would be intrigued by the possibility of playing with Manning.

For the Cardinals, as is always the case, it would come down to finances. They owe Kolb a $7 million bonus on March 17. It is hard to imagine the Bidwills paying Kolb and Manning at the same time. If the Cardinals don't pay Kolb the bonus, he could walk as a free agent.

There are still plenty of questions that could render the discussion moot. The most important is Manning's overall health. His doctor said last week that he had cleared Manning to play, but reports about exactly what Manning is able to do have been mixed.

Can he regain strength in his arm? Can he throw downfield the way he used to? Can he make all the throws an NFL quarterback needs to make? In essence, can he be the Peyton Manning we are used to watching?

If not, whether he prefers steak or flounder won't matter.

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