The great Peyton sweepstakes

By Jordan Murray

Sports Editor

Although I’ve heard there was a game of some significance a couple of weeks ago, the real news in the NFL over the past month was the announcement that Peyton Man­ning has been cleared by doctors to play football again, the nerves in his neck finally healed from a third surgery that caused him to miss this season. This leaves the Indianapolis Colts with a franchise-changing de­cision—cut ties with Manning and cast their lot with likely number-one pick Andrew Luck, or stick with Manning and risk losing the loyal­ties of Luck, a quarterback with ex­pectations higher than any prospect in recent memory.

While some maintain that Luck should spend some time sitting on the bench and learning from Man­ning, a la Rodgers from Favre, Luck seems to be an NFL-ready quarter­back and has already made com­ments insinuating he will want to play immediately. If the Colts don’t get rid of Manning, Luck may refuse to sign with the team.

What, then, will become of Man­ning? He’s a living legend in India­napolis, and is arguably the great­est regular-season quarterback in the league’s history. But, as newly christened MVP Aaron Rodgers has proved, moving on from a legend can be the right move for a franchise. And don’t count on the ultra-com­petitive Manning to retire. Here’s my breakdown of where Manning may play next year, with the per­centage of likelihood that he’ll end up there:

Indianapolis Colts – 10 percent

The team cannot afford to lose out on Luck, and owner Jim Irsay seems willing to move on from the Man­ning era. Manning has meant every­thing to this franchise, but business is business. Look for the Colts to cut Manning loose to sign with another team.

New York Jets – 5 percent

Here’s the sexy option, the one that Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will endlessly (and mind­lessly) debate on ESPN. But it won’t happen. The team is a mess—Man­ning will want a relatively stable situation. Besides, hasn’t Mark San­chez led the Jets to the AFC champi­onship game twice in three seasons?

Washington Redskins – 15 percent

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Although his reputation as an offensive genius has taken a hit recently, coach Mike Shanahan is a two-time Super Bowl winner who has experience with aging legends at the quarterback position. The problem? The team has little in the way of offensive firepower, and it’s doubtful that even Manning could make this a premier offensive unit.

Arizona Cardinals – 30 percent

Two words likely to make think Manning think long and hard about this destination: Larry Fitzgerald. Just ask Kurt Warner what a differ­ence throwing to Fitzgerald makes. Plus, Manning could play in a dome with a coach who’s relatively prov­en. The only question is if Arizona is willing to give up on the massive investment it made in Kevin Kolb.

Minnesota Vikings – 0 percent

Dream on.

Miami Dolphins – 40 percent

Here’s my pick. Manning would stay in the AFC where he’s played his whole career. The Dolphins showed vast improvement towards the end of last season, winning six of their last nine games. Left tackle Jake Long could keep Manning up­right, while Reggie Bush and Dan­iel Thomas offer the prospect of a consistent running game. Mercu­rial wideout Brandon Marshall may struggle with consistency, but his ability has never been a question.

The Dolphins have no real com­mitments at the quarterback posi­tion. New head coach Joe Philbin just finished directing one of the most potent offenses in NFL history in Green Bay. If I were a gambling man, I’d bet on Manning wearing a Dolphins jersey come next fall.

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