by Russ Bliss (1/20/2012)

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning and his future. As I outlined in my fantasy football blogs entry recently, Manning could either end up back with the Colts in 2012, he could be released by the Colts, and be free to sign elsewhere, or he could retire. We simply don't know because of his neck injury, but for the purposes here, let's look at some of the most intriguing spots Manning could end up if he is healthy enough to play, and gets released by Indianapolis.

I'm not going to go into all the teams that would be thrilled to have a healthy Peyton Manning as their starting QB as they are too numerous. Minnesota, Seattle, Washington, Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Cleveland, and Miami all are places that would vie for Manning's services. Any of them could potentially end up with Manning with a good bit of luck. But I think the primary desire of Manning would be to go to a place that offers him the best opportunity to both get back to a Super Bowl in the few remaining years he may have left, along with allow him to continue having great statistical seasons. While he certainly would make each of those teams mentioned contenders, they either don't have the feel of teams just being a QB away from being amongst the favorites to be a Super Bowl champion, or they lack the big time weapons for Manning to continue to be amongst the elite QB's in the NFL (and as fantasy football enthusiasts, we would like to see Manning go somewhere where he again places in the top 5 QB's in 2012 fantasy football projections). I want to concentrate on 6 other teams that do offer that along with immense intrigue.  

1) Arizona Cardinals: I mentioned the Cardinals as the best destination for Manning on my radio show this past season when speculating on this topic. The Cardinals offer up a lot of intriguing things for Manning. They have an elite WR in the prime of his career in Larry Fitzgerald. They have good young WR's that haven't realized their potential in Early Doucet and Andre Roberts. They have a speedy young pass catching TE in Rob Housler. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams (providing Williams can come back from a ruptured patellar tendon injury) are good RB's. The defense is improving. They also play in a stadium with a retractable roof so it can be a dome. Manning historically has been lights out good in dome games in his career. The Cardinals could part ways with Kevin Kolb and have John Skelton develop further behind Manning.

2) Dallas Cowboys: Money is never an issue when it comes to Jerry Jones and making a splash like this would provide Jones all the publicity he craves. Sure, Tony Romo is there, but he's yet to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl and he's always under scrutiny. Add in that he only has 2 years left on his contract and he could be deemed expendable. In Dallas he'd have Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (along with Laurent Robinson most likely) to throw the ball to. Jason Witten is a Dallas Clark clone. You have the palatial stadium that has a retractable roof so it can be a dome. He'd get to play his brother, Eli, twice each year. Dallas is a place that it's all too easy to see being a significant bidder for Manning if he were to be available. Manning in Dallas would place high on fantasy football cheat sheets in 2012 to be sure.

3) Houston Texans: Matt Schaub is entering the final year of his deal with the Texans and while Schaub has been a very good QB most of the time, he's also had some head scratchers. Manning doesn't exactly fit the Texans hardnosed rushing attack, but imagine a return to the type of offense Manning had when Edgerrin James was in his prime in Indianapolis. Now figure in that Arian Foster is likely even more talented than James was and you can see this odd fit working out quite nicely. There's an elite WR in Andre Johnson, a good TE in Owen Daniels, a strong offensive line. An aggressive defense that is loaded with talent. And a chance to play the Colts twice a year. It's odd to think of Peyton Manning playing for a division rival team he has dominated in the past, but if there was a little bit of revenge in his mind; Houston would be a place where he could extract it every year, twice a year.

4) Baltimore Ravens: This is another prime "revenge" spot for Manning. The Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis, and football fans in Baltimore still see red when thinking about that. What better way to get revenge than to get Manning? Joe Flacco has been good, but he's been inconsistent and the 2012 season is the last one on his contract. It would not be a salary cap issue to let him go. The Ravens are a strong passing game away from being a Super Bowl favorite each year. The WR weapons in Baltimore aren't as good as the other places mentioned, but they are still pretty good with Anquan Boldin and emerging Torrey Smith. There are two young, developing pass catching TE's in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Ray Rice would flourish even more with a strong passing game, and also catch possibly even more passes. The only thing missing from the Ravens is the ability to be in a dome. But Baltimore would also provide Manning with the opportunity to immediately compete with Tom Brady every year in the playoffs. And the Manning/Brady rivalry has been one of the best between two QB's in a conference ever.

5) New York Jets: If the rivalry between Manning and Brady would be good if Manning were in Baltimore, it would be much more so if Manning were to be the QB of the Jets. He'd get to face Brady twice each season. The Jets offer up some intriguing weapons on offense with Santonio Holmes (providing he isn't pouting), developing WR Jeremy Kerley, a solid TE in Dustin Keller, and some potential at RB with the combo of Shonn Greene, Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell.  While dysfunction has run rampant within the locker room, Manning would bring stability and leadership. However, it just seems an odd fit as the Jets appear to be more about the bluster of Rex Ryan than they are anything else. On the plus side, Manning would be reunited with former Indianapolis offensive coordinator (and now offensive consultant for the Jets) Tom Moore. There would also be the media spectacle of having both Peyton and brother Eli in the nation's largest media market, New York. The marketing potential of that would be huge and something that could be worth the headache of being on a team that lacks locker room discipline and self accountability.

6) New Orleans Saints: While the Saints are fully expected to re-sign free agent Drew Brees, you have to ask the question: what if they don't? In that case, where do they turn? Chase Daniels? Doesn't seem likely. How would you replace the most prolific passing QB in the NFL over the last several years? How about with the best QB in the NFL? The Saints might not miss a beat offensively with a switch from Brees to Manning. The weapons are there in abundance with Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, and Devery Henderson, along with an elite TE in Jimmy Graham (imagine a hulking Dallas Clark), and great pass catching RB's in Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. How about the angle of Peyton finishing his career with the same team his dad, Archie, played with for 11 seasons? No one in New Orleans wants to see Brees go, but if he were to leave, the Saints would certainly soften the blow and have a media field day with Peyton Manning replacing him.

Where do you think Peyton Manning will go if released? It's just speculation, but that's part of the fun of the off-season! Be sure to discuss this on our fantasy football forums!