Commentary

Can't underestimate Manning effect

Quarterback's presence in market will impact just about everyone this offseason

Originally Published: March 12, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Peyton, Peyton, Peyton.

Ever since the Indianapolis Colts released him, Peyton Manning has become the real-life "Where's Waldo." Since last week, he has gone from Miami to Indianapolis to Miami to Denver to Phoenix and back to Miami. His has been a dizzying pace.

Where will Manning settle, and when will he settle? Those remain the biggest questions as the NFL braces for the mayhem that is free agency.

Manning should go ahead and make The Decision. It is in his, and his new team's, best interest to get this process wrapped up before free agency opens at 4 p.m. Tuesday. He is the biggest free agent since Reggie White. Next, he will become the biggest recruiter potentially ever.

What wide receiver wouldn't want to play with Manning? What offensive lineman wouldn't want to block for him? What defensive player wouldn't want to join a team that instantly became a front-runner to go to the Super Bowl?

Manning's decision probably will directly impact players such as Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Mario Williams, Carl Nicks and Cortland Finnegan. Want to play for a winner? Well, whichever team Manning chooses will be a winner.

That would be quite a draw.

It had to be a rough weekend for Tim Tebow. He is smart enough to know that while John Elway and John Fox have said he is the Broncos' starting quarterback, they would rather have a more traditional, polished quarterback. But to watch them bring Manning to town for a visit still had to sting.

Tebow was a great story last season. He is many things: a charismatic leader, a fierce competitor, a heady player, a red zone threat to run for a touchdown. A pure pocket passer he is not.

Tebow wants to be Denver's starter. He wants to get better. He is a tireless worker who is motivated. But if there was ever evidence about how Elway and Fox really feel about him, it was that they brought Manning to town. It was understandable, but revealing nonetheless.

Fitzgerald
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe presence of Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald makes the Cardinals an attractive option for Peyton Manning.
If I were Manning, I'd take my talents to the desert. Reason No. 1: Larry Fitzgerald. Reason No. 2: The weather. Reason No. 3: The coaching staff. Reason No. 4: The stadium, with its retractable roof and grass field. Reason No. 5: The division.

And did I mention that the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald?

The Cardinals started last season 1-6 but won seven of their last nine games to finish 8-8. They did not quit on the season, which speaks to the character of the guys in the locker room. With all due respect to Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, Manning would make Arizona an immediate contender.

No, there isn't anything else going on in the NFL other than Peyton Manning. Just ask the New Orleans Saints, who should throw a $10,000 bounty payment at Manning as a thank-you for diverting attention away from their scandal. The team that gets Manning will be the offseason's biggest winner. The Saints were the winners last week. They faded to black once the news broke that the Colts were cutting Manning.

The Redskins gave up a ton to move up four spots in the draft, but it will be worth it. It is unfamiliar territory to say that Washington made a sound business decision … but the franchise made a sound business decision. Yes, the Redskins gave up first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 and a second-rounder this year to swap their No. 6 overall pick for St. Louis' No. 2 overall pick, but they really had no choice. They had to have a franchise quarterback. Either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III fits that description.

Washington has spent the better part of the past two decades relying on average or aging quarterbacks to carry the team. The Redskins have finished in the NFC East cellar in the past four seasons, haven't won a division title since 1999 and have won only one playoff game in the 12 seasons since.

With passing numbers through the roof last season, having a legitimate quarterback has never been more important in the NFL. Finally, Washington will have one, probably RG3, who has the talent and charisma to win over the District and its long-suffering fans.

It was asinine for the Jets to extend Mark Sanchez's contract Friday. Why the rush? There were two years remaining on Sanchez's rookie deal, and while he has taken the Jets to two AFC title games, didn't they miss the playoffs last season? Wasn't Sanchez awful for most of the season, including in the season finale against Miami? Wasn't the locker room a free-for-all?

This move smacked of a makeup gift after New York flirted with Manning. Sanchez didn't earn an extension. His teammates undoubtedly know it. Some think the Jets coddle Sanchez. This won't do anything to dispel that belief.

[+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
AP Photo/Greg TrottWide receiver Vincent Jackson would be a great fit for the Patriots' offense.
Vincent Jackson would look spectacular in a New England Patriots uniform. The biggest wide receiver prize of free agency would give the Patriots something they haven't had since Randy Moss was on the team: a deep threat who can stretch the field.

Jackson has been fantastic for Philip Rivers, but imagine him in an offense led by Tom Brady, with Wes Welker, the two tight ends, possibly Deion Branch and what is typically a solid running game. Jackson is not going to come cheap, but the Patriots have the cap space to sign him.

The 49ers should sign Randy Moss. Remember the NFC Championship Game, when San Francisco's receivers were targeted nine times and combined to catch one pass for 3 yards? They need a deep threat, and if the reports are true that Moss hasn't lost a step (yet), then he would fill a huge void in San Francisco's offense. Give him an incentive-laden contract and tell him to do one thing: go deep. It would be a low-risk, potentially high-reward move.

Philadelphia doesn't have to be a big player in free agency, but the Eagles must sign a talented, productive linebacker. Last season, the Eagles were the big players in free agency. They won't be nearly as active this time, but they need to make a run at Stephen Tulloch, the 27-year-old middle linebacker for the Lions, or Curtis Lofton, the middle linebacker for the Falcons.

Never a team to value linebackers either in the draft or free agency, the Eagles' defense was gouged last year in large part because of their linebacker play. They could use an overhaul at the position, and Tulloch or Lofton would be a significant upgrade on the field and in the locker room.

Thanks for playing, Brandon Jacobs. On Friday, the Giants released Jacobs after a seven-year career that included 1,078 carries, 4,849 rushing yards, 56 rushing touchdowns, four receiving touchdowns and two Super Bowl titles. Jacobs had an impressive run.

And now, sadly for him, it is likely over.

The harsh reality of the NFL is that once a running back turns 30, he is usually finished. Jacobs will be 30 in July, right before training camps are scheduled to open. He will probably sign with a team, and could extend his career with a series of one-year contracts, but the likelihood of Jacobs being a player with impact is low.

It is always nice to go out on top.