The Peyton Manning Saga Continues After Release

There are many issues surrounding the events that have taken place recently within the Indianapolis Colts organization, and almost every one of them involves future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. The All-Pro quarterback’s relationship with the team that drafted him first overall in 1998 officially came to an abrupt end Wednesday. Manning now stares face-to-face with free agency for the first time in his illustrious career.

Events leading to his release began before the team kicked off the ‘11 season. A May 23 neck surgery left Manning sidelined longer than expected and it was announced that he would miss the Colt’s regular season opener against the Houston Texans. After subsequent opinions from several doctors revealed additional damage, another surgery was scheduled for Sept. 8. The second procedure inevitably knocked the quarterback out for the remainder of the season.

In Manning’s absence, the franchise toiled to a 2-14 record, their worst mark since posting a 1-15 campaign in 1991. As a result, the Colts have set themselves up with the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft, where they will almost certainly take QB Andrew Luck. Luck has been praised as an NFL ready player, groomed for three years by San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh, and has shown similarities to a young Manning.

While the Colts now prepare for the future, presumably one that includes Luck, Manning packs his bags in preparation to relocate to another NFL city. Several factors will determine where the record setting player will finally land.

The Risk Involved

The price of football brilliance isn’t cheap.

For NFL owners, running a franchise is business; and with any business, money plays a major role in the decision making process. There’s constant pressure to make intelligent and economical signings to insure a franchises success on the field and off. The stakes are elevated even further when dealing with a player of Manning’s skill level and pay grade.

The 11-time Pro Bowler’s 7-year $98 million contract which expired after the 2010 season, made him one of the richest players in NFL history. Any team that wants the quarterback under center this year will likely need to draw up an offer that shares some resemblance to the now defunct 5-year $90 million extension that the player signed with the Colts in July 2011.

Health is the major concern for any team that decides to pursue a future with the talented signal caller. The 35-year-old has been cleared to play as soon as he steps on the field, but questions remain concerning the condition of his surgically repaired neck.

The single level anterior fusion was performed in order to fix a nerve problem that affected Manning’s throwing arm, according to USA Today’s Gary Mihoces, and the procedure should make his neck sturdier than ever; but unfortunately it’s hard to determine how much the nerves will heal, and whether the muscle issues that led to the second surgery will subside. The quarterback’s ability to recover from hits upon returning will be the deciding factor.

One aspect of Manning’s persona that can’t be doubted is his incredible work ethic, which should help him return to the elite level of play that fans are accustomed to seeing. He should have no problems staying motivated to play with a new team because his little brother Eli captured a second championship ring, leaving the 2006 Super Bowl winner out to prove that he is the better Manning in that category.

Despite the expensive price tag and risk packaged with the 4-time MVP, he will have an immediate positive impact on any team he plays for, leaving several franchises interested in signing him.

Most Likely New Locations

Miami Dolphins

Salary Cap Space: $9.05 million*

South Beach seems to be the most likely final landing spot for Manning because he already owns a home in Miami and the Dolphins don’t have the playmaker necessary to consistently get the ball to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Dolphins will need to improve their lackluster offensive line to give the quarterback a reason to sign.

Kansas City Chiefs

Salary Cap Space: $62.9 million*

Matt Cassel wasn’t impressive last season before breaking his hand in Week 10, leaving Kansas City more inclined to make the signing happen. The Chiefs have plenty of cap space to make a Joe Montana-esque move for the second time.

Washington Redskins

Salary Cap Space: $47.6 million*

The money and a need at the position are there for Washington to make a run at Manning, but with the No. 5 pick in the draft, the Redskins may decide to pursue Heisman winning quarterback Robert Griffin III instead. This move would place both Manning brothers in the NFC East, providing for an interesting storyline next season.

Denver Broncos

Salary Cap Space: $50.7 million*

Making the quarterback a Bronco would bring a veteran offensive presence to the franchise. John Elway’s hope would be that Manning’s attributes rub off on long-term project player Tim Tebow. Would Tebow be willing to ride the bench for a few years before starting again?

Seattle Seahawks

Salary Cap Space: $21.3 million*

The Seahawks seem like an ideal team for Manning because Tarvaris Jackson is the team’s best available quarterback for now. Although from a health standpoint, Seattle may provide the worst field conditions of any possible location for a player who risks reinjuring himself.

New York Jets

Salary Cap Space: $8.39 million*

While the bright lights of New York seem like a fairy tail type scenario for Manning, low cap space and Rex Ryan’s commitment to current QB Mark Sanchez will make it very tough for the team to acquire him.

* Projection of salary cap space from NFL Football Now, collected by ESPN’s John Clayton and Pro Football Talk.