The deadline for placing the franchise tag on pending free agents is looming for NFL Teams and we are closing in on some very important dates on the NFL’s off season calendar. The Colts will part ways with franchise cornerstone quarterback Peyton Manning on March 8th, and will turn the reigns over to Andrew Luck, who they will select first overall in April’s draft. The next important date is March 13th which will be the start of free agency. Today we are going to take a look at the upcoming quarterback carousel as we move closer to what should be a wild free agent period. Here is a breakdown on each player that is expected to move, and what uniform they could be wearing next season.
Peyton Manning – He has done it all for the Colts over the past 14 seasons, and holds numerous all time NFL records, and is a 4-time League MVP and won Super Bowl XLI for the city of Indianapolis. However, Manning suffered a serious neck injury and missed the entire 2011 season due to multiple surgeries to alleviate neck pain and arm weakness. The Colts ended up as the worst team in the NFL and hold the first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, with which they will select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, in my eyes the top quarterback prospect to enter the league since Manning himself in 1998. The Colts owe Manning a $28 million dollar bonus on March 8th, which they will not pay, and the team will release him before the bonus is due. There is no trade market for Manning, because the rest of the league knows there is no way that the Colts will pay this bonus, and they will have a good shot to sign Manning outright once he is released. Many teams in the league will have some level of interest in Manning, including the Redskins, Dolphins, Seahawks, Jets, Browns, Chiefs and Cardinals, and Manning will be able to hear pitches from each team and decide where he wants to end his storied career. I think we can immediately eliminate the Jets (who are committed to Mark Sanchez) and the Browns (Manning will have no interest in playing for a rebuilding Cleveland team that lacks offensive weapons) from contention in the Manning sweepstakes. The Redskins will likely offer Manning the most money, but Manning is set for life financially and wants to win, the Redskins play in the always competitive NFC East and would have to face the pass rushes of the defending champion Giants, the Cowboys and the Eagles six times combined each season. This does not sound appealing if I am a 35 year old quarterback coming off major neck surgery. The Manning’s own a home near Miami and love the area, and Peyton would instantly become the best quarterback the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino, but they play in a division that will likely be won by the Patriots with the Jets competing for a wild card spot. The Cardinals are appealing as Manning will look at Kurt Warner, and how he was able to have a career renaissance in Arizona (leading the Cardinals to the Super Bowl), and the fact that they wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who is one of the top playmakers in the game. The problem with Arizona is they have a terrible offensive line, maybe the worst in the NFL in 2011, which led to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb missing significant time due to concussions. If I am Peyton Manning, one team that really stands out to me is the Seattle Seahawks, who would be very intriguing as an option. Seattle has an excellent young offensive line, a nice supporting cast of offensive weapons (they just re-signed running back Marshawn Lynch, they have wide receivers Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Mike Williams with Zach Miller at tight end) and an impressive young defense. They have a player’s coach in Pete Carroll and play in a very winnable division, where they only face one strong defense, the San Francisco 49ers. There problem for the last few years has been dreadful play from their quarterbacks, and with the addition of Manning, I truly believe the Seahawks could contend. It will be very interesting to see where Manning ends up in 2012, it’s clear he wants a shot to win one more title before he calls it a career, and he needs to be wise in finding the best destination for him to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. Prediction: Peyton Manning signs with Seattle. Darkhorse pick.
Matt Flynn – Best known as league MVP Aaron Rodgers’ backup quarterback in Green Bay, Flynn had an excellent game in week 17 if the 2011 season, when he threw for 480 yards. The 27 year old Flynn will have plenty of suitors the offseason, but the three teams you hear associated the most with Flynn are the Dolphins, Browns and Redskins. If I am Flynn, this decision is a no brainer for me, and I sign with the Dolphins, whose new head coach Joe Philbin was my offensive coordinator in Green Bay last season. The Dolphins need a new starting quarterback, Philbin and Flynn are comfortable with each other, and Flynn knows the offense. This makes too much sense. I expect whoever loses out on Robert Griffin III in the draft (Browns or Redskins) to make a push for Flynn as well, I know that Cleveland General Manager Mike Holmgren will be intrigued by adding Flynn, he had success with acquiring a backup Green Bay quarterback who was playing behing a league MVP while he was in Seattle (Matt Hasselbeck). Prediction: Matt Flynn to Miami. Teams with Philbin in an offense scheme he is comfortable with, upping his chances of success.
Andrew Luck – The top quarterback prospect to enter the league since Peyton Manning in 1998, Luck has it all. Smart, rocket arm, athletic, accurate, leadership qualities. He should be a Pro Bowl quarterback quickly, and while to Colts will have to rebuild around him, it should not be long before they are contending for a title again with Luck at the helm. Prediction: Luck to the Colts with the first overall pick in the draft. This is a lock.
Robert Griffin III – I have written extensively about Robert Griffin III recently, in an article that can be found here. Also check out my most recent mock draft, which can be found here. The Rams hold the second pick in the draft, but are set at quarterback after drafting Sam Bradford first overall two years ago, and will trade the pick to the highest bidder. The Redskins, Browns, Seahawks and Dolphins are all reportedly very interested in the exciting signal caller out of Baylor, and the Browns (who have two first round picks) can outbid anybody if they commit to landing him. In the article linked above I list all of the reasons that the normally conservative Browns must outbid the aggressive Redskins and land RGIII, I think they do, as they need to put eyeballs on their franchise in the worst way. Prediction: The Browns trade up with the Rams and acquire RGIII, giving them a face of the franchise (and city).
Ryan Tannehill – A former wide receiver, the athletic senior from Texas A&M is quickly rising up draft boards, and will be selected much earlier than I previously thought. Tannehill had great numbers last season, and they would have been better had he not been a victim of an absurd 64 drops, a ridiculous number. The problem I have with Tannehill is I believe he will need time to sit on the bench behind a veteran and develop into an NFL starter, and I think that whoever drafts him will likely throw him right into the fire, a recipe for disaster. Prediction: The Redskins draft Tannehill, an Mike Shanahan has always liked athletic quarterbacks, I just hope they give him time to develop. I doubt they do. Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan are not patient men.
This is how I see the quarterback carousel spinning during the 2012 off season as of right now, however, everything comes down to where Peyton Manning ends up. I picked a dark horse contender (Seattle) to win the Manning sweepstakes, and everything changes if Manning makes a different decision. The scenario above makes the most sense to me for all parties involved. While we are on the subject, I think that the Cardinals give Kevin Kolb another shot as their starting quarterback with a rebuilt offensive line and John Skelton waiting in the wings if he falters. I think the Chiefs will keep their options open, but go another year with Matt Cassel under center, maybe bring in a veteran backup (Kyle Orton, Jason Campbell, Chad Henne, David Garrard) to push the starter. Same goes for the Jets with Mark Sanchez. I also think the above scenario would be the most intriguing for the NFL going into the 2012 season, but anything can happen, and the first domino (Manning) should be falling shortly.