Commentary

Fallout starts before Peyton decides

Manning has yet to pick a team, but other QBs are already feeling the effects

Originally Published: March 19, 2012
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

And still, we wait.

The Peyton Manning watch is not yet two weeks old, and while we know where he won't be playing in 2012 -- sorry, Miami and Arizona -- we still don't know where he will be playing.

Will Manning join the Johns, Elway and Fox, in Denver? Or will the lure of finishing his professional career in the state where he went to college pull Manning to Tennessee? Or will he go with the dark horse that emerged last week, San Francisco, which would immediately vault to Super Bowl front-runner if Manning joins?

No one knows what Manning will do, maybe even including Manning himself. He has done his due diligence. There mercifully should be a resolution soon. The wait is almost over.

The 49ers are loaded, but it is hard to imagine Manning picking them. San Francisco has made two extremely interesting moves in free agency, particularly in light of its interest in Manning. The first was signing Randy Moss. The second was signing Mario Manningham over the weekend.

While Moss is somewhat of a wild card -- can he be effective in the red zone after spending last year on the couch? -- Manningham could be a highly effective slot receiver for Manning. He finished last season with 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns, and had five catches for 73 yards in the Super Bowl.

San Francisco has weapons. The 49ers have a good running game and a stellar defense. But I don't see 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh ceding control of the offense to Manning. I don't see their strong personalities meshing. And I just can't see Manning playing eight games a year at Candlestick Park, by far the dumpiest stadium in the NFL.

Alex Smith is collateral damage, and he is not alone. One component to the Manning story is how so many quarterbacks have been thrown under the bus by their teams in pursuit of Manning. Tim Tebow. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Matt Moore. Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker. Mark Sanchez. And now, Alex Smith.

San Francisco's pursuit of Manning says the same thing that Denver's does: Despite what it said previously, the organization does not believe in its incumbent quarterback. Harbaugh probably thinks he maximized Smith's talents last season, and that proved to be not enough.

The difference in the eyes of the Niners is clearly with the quarterback.

And for Smith, who is a free agent, that has to sting.

At least Kolb has 7 million reasons not to be too bent out of shape about the Cardinals' flirtation with Manning. Arizona shoveled a lot of money into Kolb's bank account on Saturday in the form of a $7 million roster bonus.

For a quarterback who has started 16 games in his five-year career, Kolb has pocketed a truckload of money. After trading Donovan McNabb to Washington in April 2010, Philadelphia extended Kolb's contract for a year and paid him a $10.7 million signing bonus. A year ago, after trading for Kolb, Arizona signed him to a five-year deal that included $12 million guaranteed in 2011 and the $7 million bonus for 2012. This season, Kolb will have to prove that he is worth all of that money.

Seattle got Matt Flynn at the right price. The knock against the Green Bay backup quarterback was he didn't have a large enough sample size to project how he would perform as a starter in the NFL. But Seattle mitigated the risk of bringing in a player with just two starts and 132 pass attempts by signing him to a team-friendly three-year deal for $26 million, with only $10 million guaranteed.

Flynn gets a chance to prove himself. Seattle gets an opportunity to test an unproven player with questionable arm strength without mortgaging the franchise. If the 26-year-old Flynn works out, the Seahawks can always restructure his deal. If he doesn't, Seattle did not paralyze itself with an exorbitant contract.

No one wants to take his talent to South Beach. It has been a rough stretch for the Dolphins, who in the past year have missed out on Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, Manning and now Flynn.

The Dolphins hosted Smith over the weekend and on Monday were scheduled to visit with David Garrard. Try selling either of those potential moves to an already disinterested fan base.

Buffalo stepped out of character and signed the best player in free agency not named Manning. The Bills' acquisition of Mario Williams showed that not only is the franchise willing to spend big money -- it gave Williams a six-year, $100 million contract with $50 million guaranteed -- it is also committed to winning. Buffalo hasn't been to the playoffs since 1999 and hasn't won a playoff game since 1995.

With Williams anchored on the left side of the defensive line, the Bills should have the scariest front four in the NFL. New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt envisions having to rush only four to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, like the New York Giants did last season, and thus having more players in coverage.

About Williams, Wannstedt told the Buffalo News: "He's got power or speed. Usually that's what separates great defensive ends, pass-rushers. I've had a lot of 'em that can run as fast as defensive backs in a straight line. But when the quarterback steps up, they don't have the feel and the instincts of when they have to change their rush and come up and under. Or they don't have the ability to go speed-to-power or power-to-speed. Some guys get that, some guys don't. He has that."

And the Bills should have one of the better defenses in the league in 2012.

Roger Goodell should consider significant suspensions over significant fines when settling on discipline for the Saints in the bounty case. It is possible Goodell will announce his decision this week in advance of the NFL's annual meeting, which starts in Florida on March 26. He probably will fine the Saints franchise, head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis.

While fines would hurt, suspensions would send a stronger message that allowing a bounty system, in which players are paid under-the-table bonuses for taking out opposing players, is unacceptable. It would kill Payton, or any coach, to be away from his team.

If Goodell wants to put an end to a practice that has been around the NFL for decades, he needs to hit the Saints where it hurts the most. Remove the coach for a significant amount of time -- four games would be sufficient, eight games would show you mean business -- and see if other teams don't get the message.