By Chris Fedor
Could Peyton Manning be holding the Cards when it comes to the Browns’ off-season?
While the Super Bowl festivities are underway in Indianapolis, all the talk is about a quarterback with the last name Manning.
Not the one that you would think, though.
The buzz isn’t about Eli, whose Giants are playing New England in Super Bowl XLVI, it’s about his big brother, Peyton.
The Colts’ icon is still trying to recover from neck fusion surgery and nobody knows how his rehab is coming, let alone if he would risk further injury for one more shot at a Lombardi Trophy. The one thing we seem to know is that he won’t be back in Indianapolis if he decides to play in 2012. His agent, Tom Condon, said three words today that will leave teams salivating this offseason. “Peyton’s not done.”
If that is indeed the case, it’s great news for the Browns. In fact, Browns fans should pray that Peyton Manning plays somewhere in 2012.
Loaded with cap space and draft picks, the Browns enter a critical off-season with the means to take the next step forward if they choose to be aggressive. Then again, maybe the front office will once again sit back and explain how this is its third first year in Cleveland. Who knows? I can’t keep up with this organization’s clock. Nonetheless, the Browns are at the crossroads, and unless they address their situation at quarterback, they will remain one of the most irrelevant franchises in the NFL.
Colt McCoy is not the answer. Neither is Seneca Wallace. Neither is talented enough. Granted, there are things out of Colt’s control. The running game, wide receivers, shaky offensive line, and play-calling were all things that contributed to his failures in 2011. The other things that contributed to his poor play were his physical tools, or lack thereof.
While Randy Lerner remains the person writing the checks, Mike Holmgren has the important job title and Tom Heckert is picking the talent, the person who may control what the Browns do in this vital offseason is none other than Peyton Manning.
Before you start asking Holmgren for playoff tickets, Manning is not coming here to Cleveland. If he plays this season, and that remains a big question, Manning will have his choice of going nearly anywhere. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins, Tennessee Titans and the Arizona Cardinals are expected to take a run at Manning.
That makes sense, because he’s one of the best quarterbacks to ever buckle a chinstrap. At the same time, all those teams are more appealing to Manning than Cleveland. But just because the Browns don’t stack up, doesn’t mean he won’t have an impact on what they do. No matter where Manning goes, he will open up a golden opportunity for the Browns to improve the QB position.
Let’s take a look at his options, and how Manning’s choice could impact the Browns:
New York Jets
The bright lights of New York City could be appealing, but does Manning want to share the city with his little brother, Eli? Does he want to play for a team that has to see his nemesis, Tom Brady, twice per year? If he does, then that means Mark Sanchez would become available. Sanchez had a pretty disappointing year. Maybe we are learning “Sanchez” is Spanish for overrated. Maybe. He also has two AFC Championship appearances attached to his resume and is more talented than Colt McCoy or Seneca Wallace. Sanchez isn’t perfect and has his flaws, but he would upgrade the position in Cleveland.
The Dolphins have been starving for a quarterback since the days of Dan Marino and they hold the ninth pick in the draft. By that time, the top two QB’s will be long gone. The good news for Miami is that it appears to be the clear front-runner to land soon-to-be free agent Matt Flynn. After all, his former offensive coordinator, Joe Philbin, is now the head coach in Miami. However, if Manning becomes available, the Dolphins have already said he would be the top target. In this scenario, the clear landing spot for Flynn would be occupied by No. 18. That could bring the Browns back in the running for Aaron Rodgers’ back-up who is ready to become a starter.
Aside from the Browns, it would appear that the ‘Skins have the worst QB situation in the NFL. They simply don’t have a competent starter on the roster and can’t go into 2012 with the combination of Rex Grossman and John Beck under center. Unless, of course, they’re hoping to “Play Like Mularkey for Barkley.”
If there’s one thing that we know about Mike Shanahan -- besides the fact that he looks like a rat -- it’s that he knows quarterbacks and will go to great lengths to solidify the position. He traded up to grab Jay Cutler in Denver and he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again for the right guy. The ‘Skins would also make sense as a potential landing spot for Matt Flynn. My biggest fear is that Washington steals the headlines on draft day by trading up for Robert Griffin III. But if Manning goes to Washington, it could pave the way for Cleveland to nab the Heisman Trophy winner.
The Titans have both Matthew Hasselbeck and Jake Locker on the roster. Hasselbeck probably doesn’t have too many throws left in his old right arm, but the relationship he has with Mike Holmgren is strong. If the Titans decide that Jake Locker is not yet ready and they want an upgrade at the position in the short-term, they would be wise to take a run at a face they have seen opposite them numerous times. While this wouldn’t be the ideal situation when it comes to the Browns and they would once again be targeting a temporary solution to a permanent problem, Hasselbeck is a Mike Holmgren guy and it seems like a move he would sign off on.
This one speaks for itself. On one hand the Cards have invested pretty significantly in Kevin Kolb. Larry Fitzgerald has a great relationship with him and has raved about Kolb the last few years. In saying that, the last time the Cards went to the Super Bowl, it was with an aging quarterback looking for one last shot at glory. Arizona could try to duplicate that script used with Kurt Warner. It plays home games indoors, the division is not the strongest in the NFL, the roster (with the exception of a brutally bad offensive line) is ready to compete, and the appeal of sunshine and blue skies in the desert may be too much for Manning to ignore. If this scenario plays out, the Browns would be one of the first teams in line for Kevin Kolb. Even though he had an injury riddled season and didn’t pick up the offense as quickly as some thought he would, the talent is there and he is still only 27-years-old. Kolb is an NFL starter. He was born to play in the West Coast offense Tom Heckert brought him to Philly from Houston in the draft in the first place, and their relationship makes Cleveland a likely landing spot if Manning goes to the valley.
With the Browns in the midst of the most pivotal offseason since the team returned in 1999, the decision of a future Hall-Of-Famer could be the key factor in deciding which direction Cleveland will go in hopes of answering the most important question for the franchise
Follow Chris Fedor on Twitter @ChrisFedor
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