Sizing up Peyton Manning’s options

For what it’s worth, Vegas still thinks the Broncos are the favorites to land Peyton Manning. In odds published Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times, R.J. Bell of Pregame.com had the Broncos at 24 percent, the Dolphins at 14 percent, the Cardinals at 11 percent and the Titans at 10 percent.

Of course, the Titans’ odds seem to have improved after yesterday’s meeting with Manning in Nashville.

Over the past week, a lot of folks have floated alleged scoops on Twitter that turned out to be false, so let’s clear up a couple of things:

The Broncos have had no contact with Tim Tebow since the Manning courtship began. If you think about it for a moment, there’s not much they could say. Until Manning makes his choice, Tebow, the Broncos and the rest of planet Earth are in a holding pattern.

The Broncos have not pestered Manning for progress reports or a decision since he left Denver on Saturday. John Elway is driving this bus. He and Manning connected well during the visit Friday and Saturday. The Broncos expect Manning to be as thorough in this process as he is in his game preparation, which is very. They do not feel the urgency, say, of Arizona, which would have to release its current starter, Kevin Kolb, by 2 p.m. mountain time Friday to avoid paying him a $7 million bonus on Saturday.

Still, the worst-case scenario for the Broncos would be a little messy. If Manning signs elsewhere and Tebow is so upset by the courtship that he demands a trade or his release — an unlikely outcome, I think, but a possible one — the Broncos wouldn’t have a quarterback. Some free agent options are already choosing their new laundry. Jason Campbell has agreed to terms with the Bears and Kyle Orton is joining the Cowboys, not that either side would have had much interest in that reunion.

All that said, let’s have a look at the pros and cons of Manning’s four main options:

Arizona

Pros: The Cardinals offer the best receiving weapons among Manning’s suitors in wideout Larry Fitzgerald and tight end Todd Heap. They also have a respected offensive mind in head coach Ken Whisenhunt. They made sufficient salary cap room to do a deal by cutting left tackle Levi Brown. They play their home games indoors, just as Manning did for the first 14 seasons of his career in Indianapolis.

Cons: The Cardinals gave up the second highest sack total in the league over the past two seasons, and that’s before they cut Brown, their best offensive lineman. They’re in the NFC, a conference less familiar to Manning than the AFC, where he’s played his entire career. They’re in a division with the San Francisco 49ers, who won 13 games last season and came within a dropped punt of the Super Bowl. They’ve never won a Super Bowl and their ownership, the Bidwell family, is . . . how to put this politely . . . not among the most respected in the league.

Miami

Pros: Manning has a condo there. The weather is nice. They have the best defense of the contenders, or did last season, anyway, when they surrendered 19.6 points a game, sixth-best in the NFL.

Cons: They just traded away their best receiver in Brandon Marshall. Speculation had it they would replace him with Reggie Wayne, Manning’s old pal from Indianapolis, but then Wayne re-upped with the Colts. The Dolphins have had largely dysfunctional management over the past several years. This year, they have a new coaching staff with a rookie head coach in Joe Philbin. They play in the same division with the New England Patriots.

Tennessee

Pros: Manning went to college there. Manning’s wife went to college there. Manning’s wife grew up in Memphis. The Titans play in the AFC South, the same division as the Colts, so the opponents and schedules would be familiar. It’s generally a warm-weather climate, although not always. They have the second-best defense of Manning’s suitors, having surrendered 19.8 points per game last season.

Cons: The targets in the passing game are OK, but nothing special. It’s not clear that anybody in the organization other than 89-year-old owner Bud Adams is that fired up about tearing up their current quarterback succession plan to bring in Manning and his offense. They already have a veteran in Matt Hasselbeck and a first-round apprentice in Jake Locker. And, as Manning knows, the Houston Texans are an emerging power in the division. They went 10-6 last season with starting quarterback Matt Schaub missing the last six games and the playoffs with a foot injury. With a healthy Schaub, they might have won 12.

Denver

Pros: The clearest path to the playoffs. The AFC West is the weakest division of the four Manning is looking at. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy proved last season he will tailor his offense to his quarterback. John Elway can relate to Manning in a way no other suitor can, as a member of the elite club of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. John Fox is an easygoing, defense-oriented head coach. And the Broncos have the most salary cap space of the four (roughly $40 million), enough to do a deal with Manning and a couple of his best friends (Jeff Saturday? Dallas Clark?) too.

Cons: The targets in the passing game are OK, but nothing special, at least not yet. The offensive line is excellent in the running game but only so-so in pass protection. The defense, although improving, remains a work in progress. The Broncos play their home games outdoors, where it sometimes snows in Colorado (although it was 65 and sunny on the March days Manning visited).

Rational analysis may not determine the outcome here — emotions certainly come into a decision like this — but if it does, the speculation focusing on Tennessee and Denver makes some sense. Arizona and Miami have questionable management. Denver has solid ownership and management and a winning tradition. Tennessee is familiar ground with solid management and a pretty fair team.

The Broncos will have fences to mend and roster work to do if Manning goes elsewhere. For now, they are focused on shoring up the defensive line — they are interested in Paul Soliai, the former Dolphins defensive tackle, and their own free agent, Brodrick Bunkley — as well as the secondary. As is their custom, they are content to let the big spenders go first, then search for value.

The bottom line on the Broncos’ pursuit of Manning is this: Elway is in charge, and Elway is interested in Super Bowls. The argument that the Broncos improved last year and won their division (on a tie-breaker) with Tebow doesn’t cut much ice with Elway. He knows what it takes to be a Super Bowl contender and he believes bringing in Manning is the fastest way to get there. He knows the Manning courtship is a high risk/high reward mission. He believes that going for greatness usually is.

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

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