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Updated March 10, 2012 @ 8:52 p.m. ET
The question on everyone's mind: Where now?
The emotions were spilled out in full force by Peyton Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay during the press conference to announce that two sides will part ways Wednesday. The end of an era — similar in heft to Brett Favre leaving the Packers, Michael Jordan leaving the Bulls, and Wayne Gretzky leaving the Oilers — has come.
Now comes the next page. Where Manning will end up is fascinating speculation. There will be up to a dozen teams at least kicking the tires and trying to figure out what their level of interest and commitment might be.
With two potential suitors, the Redskins and the Jets, having fallen out of consideration in the Manning derby, here is how PFW handicaps the odds of which teams will be involved now that Manning has become the biggest free agent to hit the market, perhaps ever:
Dolphins (Odds: 5:2)
The common line of thinking is that owner Stephen Ross will not be outspent to sign Manning, the reported apple of his eye. There is a massive roadside banner urging the movement of Manning to Miami. The public pressure is steaming, and Ross can feel it. But a few factors here: One, Manning might not be about signing the biggest contract, and two, Ross' early record has not been sterling as far as landing his man. He botched the pursuit of Jim Harbaugh, leaving coach Tony Sparano twisting in the wind in 2010, and failed to land Jeff Fisher despite more financial resources. The Dolphins might be close to winning now, but the division is a bear with Tom Brady and the Patriots and the always-dangerous Jets on the schedule each twice a season. Plus, head coach Joe Philbin likely would have to hand over the keys of his offense to Manning and change drastically from what he ran in Green Bay. It's not a perfect fit, but there is one wild-card factor that might appeal to Manning: The Dolphins play the Colts in Indianapolis next season.
Cardinals (Odds: 11:2)
Kevin Kolb, who has nine games in a Cardinals uniform, is due a $7 million bonus on March 17. If the Cardinals pay it, he's the likely starter, assuming he fights off John Skelton. But the Cardinals must be considered a possible Manning landing spot because it fits the Bidwill mold of bringing in big-name veterans (see Smith, Emmitt and Warner, Kurt) near the ends of their careers. Plus, Kolb's shaky play and concussion problems last season leave the position looking murky at best. The pros, as far as Manning is concerned, would be that head coach Ken Whisenhunt would tailor his offense to what Manning has run before and that Larry Fitzgerald is a premier target who has expressed a strong private desire to team up with Manning. The offensive line is a work in progress, and the team likely would have to cut OLT Levi Brown and his massive salary to make a Manning signing work. But this is a team with some sneaky talent that could surprise in a watered-down NFC (and NFC West). Manning no doubt wants to join a winner now.
Chiefs (Odds: 6:1)
Head coach Romeo Crennel kind of spilled the beans on the team's interest on this one. "I'm not supposed to talk about anyone else's players and he's still a player with Indianapolis," Crennel said at the Scouting Combine last month. "But with a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it if he were available. I'll leave it at that." Leaving it at that opens the door for the Chiefs, who have the cap space to make this work, to make a play. They are less than fully settled at QB with Matt Cassel and Ricky Stanzi, but the core of the team is fairly solid — especially with several injured players coming back from injury. They'd need a left tackle and perhaps a few more weapons, but the defense is trending slightly upwards, and it would mimic the Chiefs' acquisition of Joe Montana in 1993, which energized the franchise in the short term and proved to be a public-relations motherlode. The Chiefs play the Colts next season at Arrowhead, and the fact that the team recently spent a lot of money to refurbish One Arrowhead Way. They'd love to win games and help pay it off in the form of a jersey-sales bounty. (Oops, sort of a taboo word these days in the NFL ...)
Seahawks (Odds: 7:1)
With Tarvaris Jackson currently starting and fiery, aggressive Pete Carroll coaching, anything is possible. They have the means, the team scenario, a strong fan base and a weak division to offer Manning, and they would let him run the same offense he has for years. They also likely would listen to Manning's suggestions for player acquisition, such as if Manning wanted to bring Reggie Wayne wherever he goes. Don't rule the Seahawks out. They are one of the teams that will be in on him, and Manning might just be interested.
Broncos (Odds: 18:1)
How about this possibility for a shakeup? Sure, Tim Tebow stirred a nation — and perhaps divided it — with his staple comebacks last season. But can anyone safely say that John Elway is 100 percent behind Tebow? Imagine his deep admiration for Manning, a player who entered the league right when he was leaving it and perhaps the best QB to enter the NFL since Elway. The Broncos would create a semi-P.R. nightmare, but imagine the possibilities of Tebow, perhaps needing some refinement, playing behind Manning for a few seasons. It's not out of the question, clearly, but the Broncos have to be called a serious long shot.
49ers (Odds: 25:1)
Odds are they will re-sign Alex Smith — perhaps in the next 48 hours, so as to quash the Manning talk — although they were limited at times on offense and came within a few offensive breakdowns of making a Super Bowl. This is a title-contending defense, although the receivers need a hearty upgrade. Still, this isn't happening.
Browns (Odds: 30:1)
They too play the Colts in Indy next season, but this one seems too far to make a connection. Yes, they could use a quarterback, but wouldn't they go young before they go old? The Browns appear comfortable with Colt McCoy for now and could draft a QB, but the chances of Manning landing in Cleveland are, at best, remote. They are far from winning and the offensive talent is low, except on the offensive line.
Cowboys (Odds: 40:1)
It's fun to speculate, eh? Yes, Jerry Jones has asked himself if he'd like Manning. But his and Stephen Jones' strong recent comments supporting Tony Romo appear to put any serious Manning talk on ice. But, boy, it would be fun.
The field (Odds: 50:1)
Are there one or two teams close to a title (Ravens? Falcons?) or an AFC South team (Titans? Jaguars? Texans?) that might consider signing Manning or that he would have interest in? Yes — but those thoughts are not likely to leave the water cooler. It's likely that Manning's next team will come from the list of 10 teams we have discussed above.