The slightest clue that he is in town draws curious onlookers to airports and practice fields. Reporters stake him out, and television helicopters hover overhead to capture his every move.
There’s never been a free agent frenzy like this in the NFL. Then again, there’s never been a free agent like Peyton Manning.
He’s undergone four neck operations, missed an entire season, and is about to turn 36, ancient by NFL standards. His old team cast him off like yesterday’s garbage, infatuated by the thought of a fresh new face playing quarterback in Indianapolis.
And yet normally sane NFL executives are convinced he’s the player who will lead them to a Super Bowl. They’re willing to mortgage their team’s futures to have him play, and they’re raiding their piggy banks to find enough cash to pay him.
The field has now been cut, by most accounts, to three. One will get the prize, while the other two will have to figure out how to deal with quarterbacks with abandonment issues.
Money doesn’t seem to be an issue. The price for the recycled Peyton Manning reportedly is the same as the Colts put on him a year ago when he signed a five-year, $90 million deal. His decision will be made for other reasons, and the teams courting him can only hope they have the other reasons.
I’m making the Broncos the favorite in this race that includes San Francisco and Tennessee.
They were the first to publicly embrace Manning, and seem to have a game plan in place to land him. The salary cap is not an issue and, perhaps most important, they have John Elway in charge of their courtship.
Imagine the conversations the Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl winner could have with the future Hall of Fame quarterback with a Super Bowl ring. Better yet, Elway can drop the facade and quit acting like he’s happy when Tim Tebow is flinging wild passes around the field while somehow finding a way for the Broncos to win.
Denver’s leaky offensive line might be an issue for an aging quarterback with health issues. And, after a season with Tebow, the Broncos don’t have any receivers who remember what it’s like to have passes thrown in places they can actually catch them.
The downside? The demise of Tebowmania, which before Linsanity was the greatest craze in sports. Elway is so eager to find a way to get Tebow out of town that he might send him on his way in the same private jet that brings Manning to town for his official signing.
Sometime this week Manning will likely announce his choice, and we’ll have a winner. Assuming he’s ready to play next season and can remain healthy, some lucky team will have a four-time NFL MVP with impeccable credentials under center.
The other two teams? Well, at least they gave it a shot. Nothing lost, except maybe the loyalty of an incumbent quarterback or two.
The only real loser in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes might be the team that let him go in the first place.