Manning’s options limited by his demands

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If he parts ways with the Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning’s search for a new team might be a lot like the commercial for the Internet car buying site.

The buyer in the ad says he wants a car, and a million pop up out of nowhere. Then he says he wants a red one, and a bunch disappear. By the time he’s done listing his criteria there are a handful of good vehicles to choose from.

At first glance, Manning would be a good fit for almost any of the 31 NFL teams not in Indianapolis. Well, other than the Packers, Saints and Patriots. Those teams already have future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

And why should Manning worry? If he can turn a 2-14 team into a Super Bowl contender, he should be plug and play with just about any team.

But it’s not quite that simple.

First, if he’s healthy, Manning wants to play. That’s obvious. He’s not coming to camp to compete for a starting spot. He wants a guarantee. So if you have an established quarterback, or a young and developing quarterback, that probably rules out that match.

Second, Manning, despite his riches, isn’t playing for nothing. The Vikings paid Brett Favre somewhere in the neighborhood of $22 million annually. For a short-term deal (one to three years), Manning will want at least that much.

So the team that wants Manning had better have $20 million to $25 million in cap space. A few more teams just evaporated.

Despite the miracles he worked in Indianapolis, Manning is no longer interested in hoisting a team on his shoulders. And he’s not willing to play for pride or exercise. There’s only one reason for Manning to come back and risk his health: to win a Super Bowl. So if you’re not a true championship contender—right now—you may be excused.

Speaking of his health, there’s another thing to consider. Even if doctors deem Manning fit to play, he’s well aware that he’s had three neck surgeries in less than two years. And neck injuries are serious business.

Manning isn’t coming back to be anybody’s tackling dummy. Yes, Manning has the quickest trigger in the NFL, but he’s beyond his days of standing behind a porous offensive line.

The team that wants Manning had also better have a coach and offensive coordinator willing to bend to No. 18’s will and structure their offense to suit his skills. Favre showed in his year in New York what a great quarterback looks like in a system that doesn’t suit him.

So if a team wants Manning, all they’ll need is a boatload of cap space; a solid offensive line; a championship-caliber defense, special teams and receiving corps; an egoless coaching staff and a quarterback happy to play backup for one to three years.

A domed stadium or warm climate would be a nice bonus.

That takes the list of teams down to a small handful.

It worked out in Minnesota for Favre for a year until the wheels fell off.

So who knows? It could work out for Manning.

Or maybe Indianapolis doesn’t look so bad after all.

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