Sure, the Dolphins are the leader in the speculation clubhouse. Peyton Manning has a house in south Florida and flew there immediately after parting with the Colts this week to continue working out with former and possibly future teammate Reggie Wayne, a University of Miami product who wouldn’t mind signing with the Dolphins himself.
But with Manning in Denver today for his first free agent visit, the Broncos are clearly in the hunt as well. And check out this video of Manning’s arrival in Miami Beach late Wednesday. The TV dude asks about five different ways if he wouldn’t love playing for the Dolphins, being the next Dan Marino, playing with Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush and possibly Wayne. Manning deflects each and every one.
“I think my agent has been getting calls at 4 o’clock today since this started,” he said. “I haven’t talked to him because I literally just got off the plane and am ready to start back with my training again, because that’s really what I need to do.”
As for his health, Manning declared himself good to go:
“My neck is fine. Doctors have cleared me. That’s been a relief to me, and I’ve continued to work hard. The best part about it is being out there throwing again. I’m throwing with my guys, throwing with Reggie, just got back from Duke, there’s a good chance I could go back there to keep training with my old coach, coach (David) Cutcliffe has been great, but throwing to Dallas (Clark) and Austin Collie and my old buddy Brandon Stokley last week was fun because when you’re in the training room all fall you’re kind of removed from the action. So it’s fun to kind of be back in the action again.”
As he did earlier Wednesday during his farewell press conference in Indianapolis, Manning left no doubt he wants to play again after missing all of last season.
“I really missed just playing quarterback this year,” he said. “I’ve done it for such a long time and I love everything about it. I realize that I’m not going to play forever, and I think I’m going to know the time to stop playing, but right now I still want to play. I want to get back out there and play. Everybody will say he has to do this or he has to prove that. I don’t feel that way. I know how much I love playing quarterback and love football and I want to go play again. So that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Where should he do it? Miami has plenty to offer, no doubt, but here are five reasons he should choose Denver:
1. Clearest road to the playoffs. Even adding Manning and Wayne to the roster, the Dolphins would not be favored over the Patriots (13-3 last season) to win the AFC East. And Manning points out in that TV interview that the Dolphins have a new staff in place. That’s an unknown, particularly when it’s led by a former offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, who has never been a head coach.
No team in the AFC West won more than eight games last season. The Broncos won the division on a tie-breaker. Add Manning and they are immediate favorites to win the division outright. That would give them a home playoff game and put Manning back in the Super Bowl tournament.
2. Stay in the AFC. Arizona has been mentioned as a possible alternative to Miami because it, like Indy, offers indoor football. But in addition to sharing a division with the Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers, who went 13-3 last season and were one fumbled punt away from the Super Bowl, the Cardinals play in the NFC.
Manning has spent his entire career in the American conference and knows the competition better there. In the same way the AFC West provides fewer obstacles to the playoffs than other divisions, the AFC provides fewer obstacles than the NFC. With the Giants, Packers, Saints and Niners, the NFC has a powerhouse in every division, not to mention the up-and-coming Lions and Falcons. The AFC has the Patriots and Steelers and a bunch of question marks.
3. An offense tailored to his game. If the Broncos proved nothing else last season, they demonstrated they have the offensive imagination and flexibility to build a scheme around the strengths of their quarterback. Not only did they bring a collegiate attack into the NFL to suit Tim Tebow, they did it on the fly when he took over as the starter in mid-season after the club started 1-4 behind Kyle Orton. In offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Manning would find a smart, willing partner in transferring his offense to the Rocky Mountains.
4. Money. It’s not about the money, of course. It never is. But just in case it’s just a little bit about the money, the Broncos have as much room under the salary cap as any team in football. They could sign Manning and still have room to do anything else in free agency they might want to do.
5. John Elway and John Fox. In Elway, Manning would find a kindred spirit, one of the rare human beings in the world who can relate as an equal to a veteran quarterback bound for the exclusive club of signal-callers that occupies the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In Fox, he would find a coach who makes work fun.
Skeptics say Fox’s offenses are too conservative for Manning. Funny, the former Colts quarterback’s name came up last season when I interviewed Fox about his penchant for overtime games (he has coached the only two teams in NFL history to win four overtime games in the same season and postseason).
“You don’t design it,” Fox said then. “You’d like to win it regulation, you know what I mean? And you’d like to win it by a couple of touchdowns. The reality is that’s hard to do. Teams that I’ve coached, I don’t know that we’ve ever just been that incredibly dynamic, score-a-lot-of-points offense. You don’t get a lot of blowouts.”
So, I asked him, if he was coaching, say, Peyton Manning, he might not have so many nail-biters?
“Well, I don’t know,” Fox replied, “but I can honestly say I’ve never had that guy.”
Now he has a shot. With Fox at the helm, Manning might have the benefit of a better defense and running game than he enjoyed for many of his years in Indianapolis. The Colts were 10-6 with him in 2010. Without him, they were 2-14 in 2011.
Colorado might be considered a cold-weather city around the league, but the Broncos didn’t have a single bad-weather home game last season. Show him around today. See how he likes 65 degrees and sunshine in March.
The Broncos were 8-8 without him in 2011. How good could they be with him? If Manning wants to get back to competing for Super Bowls, the Broncos provide arguably the clearest path.