Peyton Manning is going to pick a new uniform in the next month or two. If Pioli will make a serious play for him, it will have an arrowhead on the helmet. Why? Let's break it down...
Peyton wants two things that I think everyone can agree on. First and foremost, he wants SB rings. The team he chooses has to be able to make the playoffs every year, and then have an above average chance to make a run at the prize. He knows he's got e few years left, but only a few years. He is not going to waste even a year of that time waiting for a rebuild. Second, he does want money. He might not want to be the highest paid player in the game, or take such a big paycheck that it cripples the team around him, but he isn't going to sign for $8M a year, either. When he got a new deal from the Colts last year, and they said openly they were willing to make him the richest man in the NFL, he told the team to give him what Brady got, about $18M per, and spend any savings on some help for him. It's crystal clear that they fumbled that request badly. With the injury concerns he is facing, along with the desire to compete for championships, he may be willing to back off a couple million from that. It is even being reported that he will take an incentive laden contract. I still expect him to demand $15-$16M, even if it's, say, $10M base plus $2M if he plays 12 games, $1M if he makes the playoffs, $1M if he makes the SB, and $1M if he wins it... That would be a great deal for the Chiefs, and we are one of only a handful of teams who can even pull that off without wholesale changes to the existing squad.
I personally think Manning will stay in the AFC. The NFC has at least one, if not more, dominant team/QB in every division. The west is the weakest, but SF is hot off a 13 win season, has one of the toughest Ds in the league, and looks like the player there for several years. Unless they are willing to dump Alex Smith and sign Peyton themselves, which looks very doubtful, I can't see Arizona or Seattle being a serious player. StL certainly isn't in a position financially to move on from Bradford, even if they wanted to, which they don't. The north has GB and Rodgers to contend with, and Detroit with Stafford looks pretty damn good, too. Chicago has Cutler, the Vikes just spent a 1st rounder on a QB and are rebuilding anyway. No home for Peyton here. The south has three teams set at QB in NO with Brees, Atlanta with Ryan, and Carolina with Newton. Even if TB dumped Freeman and made a run at him, this is no place for a QB who wants to see the playoffs this year. And the east is the worst of all. Washington will put big money on the table, but they are a disfunctional franchise with a flake for an owner, and then he would compete with Philly and Vick, Dallas and Romo, and of course the Giants with Eli. No way in hell he wants to knock Eli out of the playoffs in week 16 or 17, or worse yet play him in a wildcard game. I honestly think that the chance of a Manning Bowl alone will keep him in the AFC. There are fewer dominant teams over here, and not having his career and Eli's career working against each other is the final straw.
So what about the AFC? He's not going to the north. Pitt is set with Big Ben, Balt is sticking with Flacco, Cinci isn't giving up on Dalton after his rookie year ending up in the playoffs, and Cleveland can't win the division against those three even with Manning. Miami and the Jets have been rumored to be interested, but I don't see him wanting to compete with Brady for a playoff spot even if he was willing to be part of a rebuilding process in Miami or Buffalo, and Rex Ryan is crazier than Dan Snyder. They aren't really in a position to get rid of Sanchez, and the locker room there is a mess Peyton won't want to be involved in. There might be a little temptation to stay in the south and give Indy fits, but Houston is set at qb with Shaub and now a promising rookie to develop and Jax just sucks too bad to compete. Tennessee might actually be our biggest competition for Manning imo. The west is a natural fit. Four mediocre teams battling it out. Oakland is stuck with Palmer for better, or much more likely worse. SD isn't giving up Phyllis, but they have been self-destructing for several years and it is incredibly likely their window has already closed. Denver could make a push, but they have the only QB in the league more popular than Manning. Signing there would be a nightmare unless they actually had the balls to trade Tebow off, and there's no way Elway has got the balls to do it. He's just going to have to work with Tebow and hope he can get enough better to make the Donkeys more than an also ran come playoff time.
That just leaves us. Coming off a season where despite crippling injuries and an ugly GM/HC divorce mid-season, we were still a blocked fg away from the playoffs. Get Berry back and have Manning lead an offense that could actually sustain a 4 minute drive and score 20 points a game, and this defense is top 10 in the league. Add a run stuffing NT and we might be top 3. Best running back Peyton has ever handed off to, solid group of WRs people had actually heard of before Manning got here, and an exciting TE to check down to? All in place. The line could use some help, but if we brought in Saturday to be his center, let Lilja, Asamoah, and Hudson fight it out for the guard spots, and spend the 12th pick on a RT, Peyton could send a couple of them to the probowl. There's no reason to think this team couldn't win the west every year until Peyton retires. We've got one of the most respected GMs in the league with plenty of money under the cap to fill any holes that come up and a stable, experienced, "player's coach" to offer Manning. And the 12th man? The home-field advantage at Arrowhead (which would be packed to capacity every single week with him under center) is like having a 12th and a 13th defender! We get him a regular season shot at Indy and Luck for the next two years, and he won't see Eli unless they both make the SB until 2014. And I haven't even mentioned BBQ yet!
There are 15 or 20 teams that currently harbor a pipe dream of signing Manning. For the Chiefs, it's no pipe dream. Hopefully Pioli is on the phone with Archie Manning right now, because this is my new five year plan.