It's looking more and more like Peyton Manning
has played his last snap as a member of the Indianapolis Colts. If the Colts' claim that they "won't pass" on Andrew Luck with the top pick in the 2012 NFL Draft didn't spell it out for you before, perhaps the hiring of defensive-minded coach Chuck Pagano did the trick.
And, of course, there's that whole $28 million option bonus thing.
The reality is, Peyton Manning is a 35-year-old superstar quarterback with a bad neck, a gigantic bonus looming, and nothing but questions staring him down as his franchise attempts to brace for the worst.
And at least for Manning, the worst may already be being realized. Manning admitted himself earlier in the week that things just weren't the same in Indy anymore, forcing many to suspect he's come to terms with the fact that he'll either be released, traded, or will opt for retirement.
To keep it light and fun, let's roll with the notion that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time won't bow out so cheaply. Here's a look at the top five potential teams that could/should vie for Manning's services, should be become available by trade or as a free agent:
1. San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco just got eliminated from the Playoffs because Alex Smith wasn't efficient when it mattered. You could actually probably blame return man Kyle Williams more than Smith, but the point should still be well taken. If the 49ers - a team with a solid rushing attack and an elite defense - had the option of signing Manning, they shouldn't hesitate one bit. And neither should he in regards to joining the them.
The 49ers don't have many sexy options in the passing game, but the signing of Manning could influence them to add some more talent at receiver, and/or bring in Manning pals Reggie Wayne and/or Pierre Garcon.
2. New York Jets
While the 49ers are literally the closest team to the Super Bowl on this list, the Jets are arguably better built to make a strong run. They made it to two AFC Championships in the past three years, have a strong defense, and arguably have only been held back by spotty quarterback play. Manning would have Santonio Holmes and could get another wide receiver if he came into town, although the big question will remain if he can handle operating under Rex Ryan.
3. Miami Dolphins
Miami has been extremely open about two things: they want to get a major quarterback upgrade, and Manning is their first choice to do so. Green Bay's Matt Flynn has serious ties to the Dolphins with ex-Packers' offensive coordinator Joe Philbin taking over as head coach, but Miami knows they could be serious Playoff contenders with Manning under center. It'd be pretty interesting to see Manning go and win in a town where the great Dan Marino could not.
4. Arizona Cardinals
Can Manning finish the job Kurt Warner started? It's not out of the question, even with Kevin Kolb's bloated salary hanging around. If the Cardinals cut or traded Kolb (good luck with that), it could open up a real possibility of the team trying to make another deep Playoff run with an aging veteran quarterback. Manning is still "just" 35, and if healthy, would go to work with arguably the best receiver he's ever played with in Larry Fitzgerald (sit back down, Marvin Harrison). The Cardinals also have good coaching, a solid ground game, and an aggressive and maturing defense.
5. Washington Redskins
There's no doubt Washington is the least likely to land Manning on this short list, but I like their chances over the Seahawks or any other scrub team that has faint hopes of acquiring Manning. Mike Shanahan won both of his Super Bowls with an old John Elway that basically used a crane to meander around the field, so you know he can put together a winning team with a veteran guy. The only real problem with this picture is the team around Manning wouldn't be good enough (as it is right now) to even win the NFC East, much less seriously compete in the Playoffs.
What do you think the future holds for Manning? Feel free to comment below.