Is Denver the right fit for Peyton Manning?
But did Manning make the right move?
Yes, he's got 96 million reasons to believe it's the right move, but take the money out of the equation for a second. Let's assume all five of the teams Manning seriously considered or visited with were offering near-equal compensation (because this was never about the money, right?)
So let's break it down based on ownership/front office, coaching staff, competitiveness, offensive line and offensive weapons, shall we? I'll rank each of the teams 1 to 5 in each category, and award 5 points for 1st, 4 for 2nd, etc.
1 (5 points) - Denver Broncos - Pat Bowlen is a respected owner and executive VP of football operations John Elway is a legend and by all accounts, one of the biggest deciding factors in Manning's decision-making process. I'm not sure how Elway's presence helps now that the ink is dry on the contract, but it got him to don that hideous shade of orange.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - Owner/CEO Jed York is only 31 years of age, but has done a nice job in rebuilding the 49ers franchise toward its one-time dominance. President Gideon Yu, while not from a football background, is a sharp cookie who served as the CFO for Facebook and GM Trent Baalke is the reigning NFL Executive of the Year.
3 (3 points) - Tennessee Titans - Bud Adams is an aggressive and outspoken owner, who despite his less than polite finger gestures from time to time, is respected around the league. Senior exec VP Mike Reinfeldt has a wealth of experience in the league as a player and exec, and Ruston Webster, while new on the GM job, also has been in league front offices for more than two decades.
4 (2 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Like it or not, the Cardinals still battle the national stigma of being the "same old Cardinals", even though we in Arizona know that isn't the case anymore. Michael Bidwill and GM Rod Graves have built a competitive franchise since the opening of University of Phoenix Stadium in 2006, but the longtime label on this franchise remains.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - What a mess. Stephen Ross is loaded, which is a good trait for a sports owner to possess. How loaded? Loaded enough to give $100 million to the University of Michigan School of Business, which now bears his name. So with all that money, and Ross' willingness to spend it, why isn't anybody signing with the Dolphins? Good question. GM Jeff Ireland has been roundly criticized and due to the Fins' lack of attracting top free agent talent, made media rounds in South Florida earlier this week to explain things. "I think he's a guy that's not trustworthy. He's a guy that doesn't really hold up to what a GM is supposed to be," former Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said this week on NFL Network. Ouch.
1 (5 points) - San Francisco 49ers - I know Jim Harbaugh's only been on the job for a season. But considering what happened during that season, and what Harbaugh accomplished at what was a dead program at Stanford, he's the best head coach on this list. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is solid, if unspectacular.
2 (4 points) - Denver Broncos - John Fox is a good, flexible head coach who has led his team to the playoffs four times in his ten years in Carolina and Denver. And, he's got a Super Bowl appearance to his credit. Mike McCoy, the former University of Utah quarterback, is entering his 4th year as an NFL offensive coordinator.
3 (3 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Ken Whisenhunt is on a similar career path as Fox, having guided the former laughingstock Cardinals to two playoff appearances and a conference championship in his five years on the job. Mike Miller, the offensive coordinator, is an up- and-comer heading into his 2nd season on the job.
4 (2 points) - Tennessee Titans - Hall of Famer Mike Munchak was 9-7 in his first year as an NFL head coach. He spurned reported offers from his alma mater, Penn State, in the offseason. Longtime NFL assistant Chris Palmer is heading into his 2nd year as the Titans' coordinator.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - The Dolphins have new head coach in former Green Bay coordinator Joe Philbin, who becomes Miami's 7th head coach in 9 years. This will be Philbin's first head coaching job at the college or pro ranks. Coordinator Mike Sherman takes over the reins of the offense after his ouster as Texas A&M's head coach.
1 (5 points) - San Francisco 49ers - The Niners went 13-3 a year ago, and were maybe a botched punt return away from taking on the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Oh, did I mention that San Francisco has one of the top defenses in the league?
2 (4 points) - Tennessee Titans - Under Munchak, the Titans were 9-7 a year ago, and seem to be a team on the upswing.
3 (3 points) - Arizona Cardinals - Yes, the Cardinals were only 8-8 a year ago, but they finished 7-2, and that included a hard-fought win over the 49ers in Glendale. Coordinator Ray Horton has his defensive unit headed in the right direction.
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - I know, I know Broncos fans...you were in the playoffs a year ago. Hell, you won a playoff game last season. That doesn't change the fact that the AFC West was a study of mediocrity that allowed Denver to back into that division title by losing their last three regular season games.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - Notice a trend here? The Dolphins were 6-10 last season, and missed the playoffs for the ninth time in the last ten seasons.
1 (5 points) - Tennessee Titans - RT David Stewart graded out as the NFL's top right tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus, while left tackle Michael Roos ranked 6th. In pass protection, the Titans allowed just 24 sacks in 584 pass attempts -- the 2nd lowest total in the league. However, the Titans ranked 2nd-to-last in the league in rushing despite having Chris Johnson locked up to a big money long-term deal.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - LT Joe Staley, a 2011 Pro Bowler, anchors a good offensive line for the 49ers. San Francisco allowed 44 sacks in 457 pass attempts a year ago and the line helped pave the way for the 8th-ranked rushing attack in the league.
3 (3 points) - Miami Dolphins - LT Jake Long is the single-best offensive lineman for any of the teams Manning considered, and went to his fourth Pro Bowl last season. Long allowed just 5 sacks and drew only 5 penalty flags in 2011 for a line that allowed 52 sacks in 469 passing attempts.
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - While many have touted the Broncos line to be a huge selling point to Manning, their pass protection left a lot to be desired. Broncos quarterbacks were sacked 42 times - not a great number for a team that threw the ball less than any other NFL team. LT Ryan Clady is also often put on a pedestal as one of the top lineman in the league, but his Pro Football Focus ranking was 66th in the NFL among tackles. He also drew 12 penalty flags, 2nd-most in the league among tackles.
5 (1 point) - Arizona Cardinals - There's no other way to slice it, the Cardinals' line hasn't been very good. Much of the criticism is lobbed at LT Levi Brown, who did show some improvement during Arizona's resurgent second half of the 2011 season. But the scuttlebutt is that Brown will be moved to the right side, and there is a lot of uncertainty on the line, as starting guard Rex Hadnot was cut and right tackle Brandon Keith is a free agent not likely to be brought back.
1 (5 points) - Arizona Cardinals - As John Elway was the a huge advantage in the front office category, Larry Fitzgerald should have been just as big an advantage in the weapons category. Fitzgerald has excelled in the Cardinals' offense no matter who's throwing him passes, and the thought of Manning throwing to #11 would have kept NFC defensive coordinators up at night. But the Cardinals boast more than Fitzgerald. Receiver Early Doucet was re- signed and Andre Roberts returns, giving the Cardinals three receivers who more than 50 catches last season. Tight end Rob Housler should develop into a stretch-the- field type and running back Beanie Wells returns as does Ryan Williams, who missed 2011 with a knee injury.
2 (4 points) - San Francisco 49ers - The Niners have beefed up their offensive weaponry this offseason, signing future Hall of Famer Randy Moss to go along with former Giants receiver Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, who caught 72 balls a year ago. Tight end Vernon Davis is a freak of nature who is a matchup nightmare and running back Frank Gore is a steady threat in the backfield.
3 (3 points) - Tennessee Titans - Chris Johnson ran for over 1,000 yards again in 2011, but his output has been cut in half since his 2,000-yard season in 2009. Nate Washington was Tennessee's top receiver in '11, but the Titans will welcome back the supremely talented and knuckleheaded Kenny Britt, who had his season cut short by injury. Tight end Jared Cook is one of the good, young, up-and-coming players at his position.
4 (2 points) - Denver Broncos - Denver has a young receiving corps headed up by Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, but they combined for only 76 catches in the run- heavy Broncos offense in 2011. Top tight end Daniel Fells bolted to New England via free agency. Running back Willis McGahee ran for over 1,000 yards at age 30, and Knowshon Moreno remains an injury-plagued enigma.
5 (1 point) - Miami Dolphins - Outside of Reggie Bush, there's not much to be excited about in South Florida after the trade of Brandon Marshall to Chicago. Anthony Fasano is a decent tight end who caught 32 passes and scored 5 touchdowns last year.
Considering the five categories, again assuming the money would be similar from all five teams, and knowing that Manning is hell-bent to get back to the Super Bowl, my rankings indicate that Peyton made the 3rd-best selection for his career.
1. San Francisco 49ers (23 points)
2. Tennessee Titans (17 points)
3. Denver Broncos (15 points)
4. Arizona Cardinals (14 points)
5. Miami Dolphins (7 points)
Of course, if he's healthy, Manning just might be good enough to eliminate any disadvantage the Broncos may have had in this process.
Just look at what the Colts' record looked like with him in street clothes.