At 0-13, the Indianapolis Colts will almost certainly have the first overall pick in the 2012 draft. This is, as we all know, the draft that contains Andrew Luck, who many feel is the best QB prospect since Manning himself. It is assumed that the Colts will either trade the picks to get some more talent to put around Manning, or that they will draft Andrew Luck and presumably continue to have one of the best QBs in the NFL for the next decade and a half.
For them, the choice is pretty clear. If they hold onto Manning and draft Luck, there will be a huge conflict on who to play. They would almost certainly be forced to play Manning and let Luck sit, but that would be a huge waste of a talent like Luck that they probably wouldn't do that. Basically, if they draft Luck, they will get rid of Manning.
You would think that it wouldn't be so bad, since they could just trade Manning and get a bunch of picks for him. But, fortunately, they will not be able to do that, because Manning is due a $28 million bonus before they can trade him, which would count against their cap space. The cap is $120 million, so $28 million is a huge chunk of that cap that they would be unable to use.
them with the possibility of either renegotiating Manning's contract and then trading him, or simply releasing him. And if they do renegotiate his contract, part of the deal will be that Manning gets a say in who he is traded to. In short, Manning will decide where he plays next year. And he will probably choose Kansas City.
In order for Manning to play for the Chiefs next year, it will have to be a good deal for both Manning and the Chiefs, and that is certainly the case.
For Kansas City, the move makes perfect sense. In fact, there is not a team in the NFL who would like to have Manning more than the Chiefs. Our QB situation at the moment is not good. Our two best players at the position are both average at best, and one of them is a free agent after this year. Our other two QBs are a developmental prospect and the worst QB in the NFL.
But the prospect, Stanzi, isn't going to suck forever, if he even sucks now. Pioli, I think, believes that Stanzi has a good chance to develop into a really good QB. It is clear that the coaching staff doesn't believe he's ready yet, so we will need a QB who can start for us while Stanzi develops, and right now Cassel is our only option. But Manning is obviously a much better QB than Cassel, and we would far more games with Manning than we would with Cassel while we wait for Stanzi to develop. This would also allow us to not be too concerned about Manning's neck, since odds are good that Stanzi will be ready to go by the time Manning either gets hurt or retires. This would also allow us to trade Cassel and get some picks and get rid of his contract.
But there are a lot of teams who want to develop a QB and would love to have their project learn behind him for a couple years. What sets the Chiefs apart in their need for Manning is that they are about $30 million below the cap, and in 2013 they will be required to be within about $10 million of it. That is a $20 million hole that the Chiefs will be required to fill after next year. With the new rookie wage scale, you can't use a bunch of money on high draft choices. The only real way to spend money is free agency and re-signing players. Bowe and Carr will need extensions, but they will only get a combined raise of about $7 million a year, which still leaves a huge gap. The gap is even bigger because Cassel will be getting a large pay cut after this year.
So our only real option to spend money without giving players ridiculous contracts is free agency. I think that we have learned how bad of an idea it is to just sign a bunch of big name players like the Eagles have. It would make much more sense to close that gap with Manning.
That leaves the question of why Manning would believe the Chiefs were the best team for him. The two big considerations will be money and winning. With a Super Bowl ring in hand, he won't be desperate to win one before he retires, but I would assume that he would like to play for a team where he'd be able to compete for a championship. So what teams can offer him both the right amount of money and the chance to win a championship?
(Note: All numbers are from before this year, so things might be different by the end of the season.)
The Chiefs have the largest amount of cap space with $33 million. There are six other teams with at least $20 million in space, which is about what you'd need to have room to sign Manning: the Bucs ($29 million), Jags ($28 million), Bengals ($28 million), Bills ($26 million), Broncos ($24 million), and Browns ($24 million).
Of those teams, you can eliminate the Bengals for sure with Dalton, and I would guess the Bucs don't want to replace Freeman (even with a down year this year), the Bills won't replace Fitzpatrick (with his new contract), and the Broncos won't replace Tebow (the good part of Tebow tricking people into believing he's good). That leaves the Jags and Browns as our biggest competitors for Manning as far as money goes. But there's not much chance that they could offer much more than we can for him, and our situation is obviously better. The Browns are in the same division as the Steelers and Ravens, which makes their path to the playoffs much harder, and the Jags just lack talent outside of MJD. We are in a much weaker division and have far more talent (especially when our players come back from IR) than either of them.
There is a second tier of teams with cap space though. Teams with between $10 million and $20 million in space, who could sign Manning if they really wanted, but they'd have to make room for him. There are again six teams in this tier: the Bears ($19 million), 49ers ($16 million), Seahawks ($15 million), Cardinals ($14.5 million), Packers ($13 million), and Redskins ($11 million).
We are starting to run into trouble. The Bears won't need him when Cutler comes back, the Packers obviously don't want him, but all the other teams would love him. I think we can outbid the Seahawks and Cardinals just from a talent standpoint, while you never know what the Redskins will do to sign a big name. I think Manning would still rather come here, since they'd have to work real hard to clear that much space, and that will deplete their team even more. I don't see them clearing enough to outbid us.
The 49ers, however, are our biggest contender. They have enough space where it won't be a problem for them to get Manning, especially if the let Alex Smith walk (he's a free agent this year). They have also shown to be a good team even with an average QB, and that will of course be very appealing to Manning. They also have a QB who they won't mind developing (Colin Kaepernick). And they also play in a weak division.
So what gives us an edge over the 49ers? Well, it's not much, but I imagine the fact that our talent on offense (beside the QB position) is better than the 49ers when healthy. Vernon Davis might be better than Moeaki, but Charles is clearly better than Frank Gore, and Bowe-Breaston-Baldwin blows Crabtree-Morgan-Ginn Jr. out of the water.
In short, if Manning gets cut or traded, and assuming Pioli believes Stanzi is the future, the Chiefs and 49ers are the clear favorites to have Peyton Manning as their QB in 2012.