Indianapolis Colts release quarterback Peyton Manning; imagine the possibilities

Can you imagine Peyton Manning in gold?

You know, the kind of gold his weight will be measured in?

Manning, the newest unemployed American, needs a job. At this precise moment, you can imagine him hunched over a keyboard, typing out his resume in case, say, the San Francisco 49ers are interested.

"Hey, hon. How do you spell '399 touchdowns?' ''

After all these years, after all these moments, Manning and the Colts are no longer the best thing that ever happened to each other. The Colts cut Manning loose Wednesday, and although you knew it was coming, you knew that nothing else made sense, it felt as if the landscape of the entire NFL shifted beneath our feet. Today, it is a different sport.

Manning doesn't have a team. Imagine that. Tarvaris Jackson has a job, and Rex Grossman, and Colt McCoy. Curtis Painter is employed, and Matt Hasselbeck, and Blaine Gabbert. Manning is not.

Can you imagine Manning in green?

You know, the kind of green with dead presidents on it.

Picture him standing in strange colors in a strange locker room, pulling a foreign jersey over his head. Imagine him preparing to lead, say, the Jets onto the field.

If you thought that Wednesday's sight of Manning saying goodbye looked odd — and it did — imagine him with another team. The sight of Manning the mercenary is coming, you know. And it isn't going to be pretty.

By now, you would think we would be used to familiar faces in unfamiliar colors. We have seen Joe Montana as a Chief and Ronnie Lott as a Jet and Jerry Rice as a Seahawk. We have seen Thurman Thomas as a Dolphin and Emmitt Smith as a Cardinal and Reggie White as a Panther. Anthony Munoz was once a Buc, and John Lynch a Patriot and Johnny Unitas a Charger.

This feels worse than most, however. For years, Manning and the Colts fit together perfectly. Now that they are separating, it feels as if something pure has been lost.

It took a lot to break these two up. It took age and it took injury and it took money and it took Luck and it took the realization the Colts are no longer a special team. If any of those were different, you could argue that the Colts should have hung onto Manning.

However, surgeons have opened Manning's neck so often lately they might as well put a zipper back there. He has had four surgeries, and no one knows how much he has left or how sturdy he will be.

Not only that, but Manning is about to turn 36, and not only that, but he was due a $28 million bonus, and not only that, but the Colts seem to love Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, and not only that, but the Colts proved last year they have a lot of holes on that roster.

So the Colts let go of Manning, which is kind of like the $1 bill letting go of George Washington. Across the league, expect general managers to jump on his medical report as if it was a fumble.

If he's healthy, why, who wouldn't want Manning?

Which brings us to this question: Can you imagine Manning in pewter?

You know, the kind of pewter that is on the Bucs' helmets?

Quick response? Ha-ha-haaaa-ha-ha.

No, you can't. At least, you shouldn't.

Don't get me wrong. Even if doctors had turned Manning's head into a removable screw top, he still would be twenty times better than any quarterback the Bucs have ever employed. It would be fun to watch Manning play, and the Bucs would finally sell some tickets.

All of that said, however, most people seem to realize Manning isn't a good fit in Tampa Bay.

Think of it from Manning's standpoint. If you were him, would the Bucs be among your top choices? Of course not.

No one knows how many seasons Manning has left, but it isn't many. If Manning is going to win another title, he needs to find a team on the verge of winning. He can't waste time waiting for a new team to find someone for him to throw to, or to hand off to, or to get the ball back for him. At this stage of his career, Manning doesn't need a fixer-upper.

Think of it like this: How long do you think it will take for the Bucs to win? Two seasons? Three? Now: How long do you think Manning has left? Three seasons? Four?

In other words, the math doesn't make sense. Wouldn't the Bucs be better off trying to get some weapons around Josh Freeman to turn him back into Josh the Good? For the Bucs, the question shouldn't be about Manning's ability; it should be about his durability.

Can you imagine Manning in teal?

For the time being, the Dolphins are the favorite to land Manning. According to the gambling site Bovada, it is 2-1 that Manning ends up playing for the Dolphins.

Now Miami isn't exactly Super Bowl bound, either, and it plays both the Patriots and Jets twice a year. Still, Miami is easier to imagine for Manning than Washington, which is listed as the second-biggest favorite, or Seattle, which is third.

If I was Manning's agent, I'd start off by calling the 49ers. Granted, Alex Smith had a fine season in 2011, but if Manning played there, San Francisco would have reached the Super Bowl this year.

With Manning, the Jets would not seem quite as annoying. With Manning, the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald might catch 150 passes. With Manning, the Cowboys might get over the hump that Tony Romo cannot manage.

In other words, there are going to be a lot of teams interested in Manning, which is going to drive up the price, which is going to beg this question:

How much, exactly, is an injured Manning worth? Ten million a year? Fifteen a year? Eighteen? And if you pay him that much, what does a team expect in return? The playoffs? The conference final? The Super Bowl? Remember, even when he was younger and healthier, Manning only won one of those.

Still, someone will pay.

For most teams, the odds of winning with Manning are better than without. Think of Manning as a very expensive lottery ticket.

For a good team, he could be a big reward.

For a bad one, he's a big risk.

Indianapolis Colts release quarterback Peyton Manning; imagine the possibilities 03/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 12:12am]

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