Manning’s decision could impact the NFL for the next decade

Josh Dillon, IVLeader Sports Editor

Despite baseball’s resurgence to the mainstream, the NFL has found ways to make headlines during a star-studded off-season that will begin storylines for 2012 and beyond.

It all began with the discarding of a quarterback legend. Peyton Manning, the man who ran the Indianapolis Colts offense for 13 seasons, was written off as an injury concern and the team has moved on, poised to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck with the first pick in the NFL Draft.

Manning had two neck surgeries in the past year to fix an injury that had been nagging at him for a few years. Being cleared to play, the Colts had to decide whether they wanted their quarterback of the future now or if they wanted to keep the legend in blue and white for the rest of his career.

They chose the latter path, releasing Manning on March 7 and causing a media firestorm that hasn’t been seen in pro sports since “The Decision” by LeBron James.

But, Manning was much more low-key on his approach to free-agency. Being new to the process, he chose to make a quick and informed decision, finding teams that were a good fit for him and keeping interested teams informed of his progress towards who to play for.

It started with speculation that Manning wouldn’t play for an NFC team because it would hinder his younger brother Eli’s chances at a Super Bowl. It also would keep the theory alive that the two brothers could face each other in the biggest and brightest stage. This eliminated teams like San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona, and Washington from the Manning discussion.

Those teams moved on, the 49ers resigned Alex Smith, Seattle picked up Matt Flynn, Arizona recommitted to Kevin Kolb, and Washington sent a slew of draft picks to St. Louis for the second pick to draft Robert Griffin III.

The next teams on the list were the New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and Tennessee Titans.

The Jets offered an interesting idea, to pick up Manning and put both brothers in New York. Miami was solid talent wise but lacked the quarterback play to make a run at the playoffs, Denver wasn’t sold completely on Tim Tebow, and the owner of the Titans, Bud Adams, offered Manning a lifetime contract to sign.

Manning eventually chose the Broncos, a team under the supervision of former hall of fame all-world quarterback John Elway, who won his final Super Bowl at the age of 38 (Manning is currently 35).

New York resigned Mark Sanchez, but then traded for Tebow, who won eight games for Denver last season, including a playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The fallout of the Peyton Manning free-agency frenzy could have major repercussions. If Manning can win a Super Bowl in Denver, it’s a major win for him and the city. If Luck ends up a bust, letting Manning walk will look like the worst decision in the history of a franchise known for questionable decision making. If Tebow supplants Sanchez in New York, Denver could be sorry they dumped him as quickly as they did. If the Rams build a dynasty with the picks from Washington, they could win that trade if RG3 ends up faltering in Washington.

The joy of sports is always the “If”s and this off-season gives football fans plenty of things to “If” about for what could be the next decade of the NFL.