|Colts owner Jim Irsay is letting one of the all-time great leave Indy. Why? (AP)|
The lineup of clubs interested in Peyton Manning has begun to form at the back of the class, but before we take roll I have one question: What exactly are these guys looking for?
You know what I mean. It's one thing to covet Peyton Manning, circa 2010. But the guy hasn't taken a snap in more than a year, has been through four neck surgeries and is such an unknown that Colts' owner Jim Irsay is willing to cut him loose after 14 magnificent seasons.
Yeah, I know, there was that video of Manning -- or what appeared to be Manning -- that was leaked this week, and I'm not sure what we gained from it other than the quarterback in it seemed accurate on a handful of throws.
"What did I learn?" asked a coach interested in Manning. "Nothing. I'm not sure when it was taken, and I'm not sure who it was."
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So then how do Manning's suitors decide if he's their man? That's the question I posed to persons intrigued by him, and what follows is a step-by-step process to how they might make their decisions.
First things first, and first Manning must pass the team exam. I know, he's been cleared by the doctor who did his last surgery. Big deal. Clubs want to look at the guy themselves and determine if he's OK to start working out -- and, if he's not, how long it might be before that happens.
"Basically," said one coach, "you want to see what his ability is to throw the football. I don't expect that he's going to be 100 percent, but I want to know what his rehabilitation program looks like.
"In other words, I want to know what his timetable is. If he's not healthy, how long will it be before he is? And when can he take a snap? Will it be five weeks into the season? One week? Can he be ready for training camp? I want to know all those things before I move on."
Nobody knows what Manning wants from his next club, other than a chance to start somewhere and play again. But will he play for someone like Washington that doesn't have a history of recent success but has a quarterback-friendly head coach? Or is he more interested in someone like San Francisco that is close to the top and could use a healthy Peyton Manning to push it to a Super Bowl?
Would he want to stay out of certain divisions or, maybe, the AFC in general? Does he want to play for an indoor team? Or someone in a warm climate? Is the offensive line a consideration? How about the receivers?
All that must be determined ... and that's only the beginning.
"I want to know if he has to go to a club that will tear up its offense to suit him," said a coach, "or if he can go somewhere he can play within what is already there.
"Basically, is it meaningful to him to be somewhere he has to run the offense -- and, by that, I mean become the offensive coordinator who makes all the calls and runs the offense the way he's always done it -- or can he go to a team where he just fits in with what they're running?
"I don't know the answer to that because he hasn't said anything. Everyone thinks they know what he wants, but no one knows for sure. Well, I know somebody who does, and I want to hear from him."
There have been conflicting reports about Manning's last workouts with the Colts, with former team executive Bill Polian saying he was surprised how much better, how much stronger the quarterback was by December.
"He threw the ball pretty well," Polian said at this year's NFL scouting combine. "He didn't get much beyond 25 or 28 yards, but those throws that he made were accurate, on the money and had good velocity.
"I was impressed with the workout and clearly, clearly, clearly, he had come a long way from where he was in September. The statement that I made that has been misconstrued in some quarters is that I said, 'He looked great compared to where he was in September.'
"Now, obviously, at that point he still had a ways to go, and from what I understand he continues to improve. At least that's what people tell me. Now, how soon he will be back at 100 percent? I don't know. But, from my perspective, watching him that day I was pleased."
That's a start. The suspicion is that Manning has progressed farther, with the Duke videotape as evidence, but I'm with our coach. I didn't learn anything from that other than someone who looked like Manning seemed to throw the ball comfortably.
That's why clubs want to see what he has now. It's one thing to pass a physical; it's another to make the throws Manning made in 2010 or before. If the Colts let a future Hall of Famer walk, they must have their reasons -- and this is our chance to find out.
"When I say I want to see him make the throws," said one coach, "I mean the downfield throws -- the ones you must do without stepping into the throw. I want to see how he throws off his back foot, where he can't move into the pass and has to rely on arm strength."
If Manning clears the initial hurdles the question then becomes: What would it take to hire him? The Colts paid Manning $26 million a year ago, and he didn't play. They weren't going to put down another $28 million this week with no assurance that he could suit up again.
So, let's say you think he can play, and let's say you're willing to assume a risk that, if and when he makes it to training camp, he can withstand contact and the punishment he will absorb once games begin.
How do you structure his contract?
"Well," said a GM, "I can tell you one thing: He won't be signing for $28 million guaranteed. That said, I don't think he's going to be taking a contract where he gets $3 million, either, with everything else based on performance. Still, I'd have a hard time not structuring a contract where at least some of the money isn't in the form of performance incentives. You have to protect yourself."
Most people believe Manning plays -- or tries to play -- this season, but no one is certain where or for how long. The guy turns 36 this month and may not be ready to show what he can do yet.
If he is, however, most believe his workouts will be conducted when and where he decides. That's logical. I mean, if draft-eligible quarterbacks can refuse to throw at the combine, preferring to hold their own workouts with receivers of their choice and at the locations of their choice, why can't Manning?
"My guess?" said one coach. "He's not going to work out until he's absolutely ready, and he's going to do it on his terms."
I would expect nothing less. But that's all I'd expect. With everything else, it's wait and see.