Manning Logic 101
Sources close to Manning have reported he wants to make a decision in less than a week. Many experts believe this is because Manning wants to sign with a team before free- agency begins so that whatever team he goes to will be able to sign other free agents - such as Reggie Wayne. Still others believe Manning wants to get to work as soon as he possibly can, grabbing a playbook and immersing himself in a team's terminology. Both of these reasons make sense and have merit but neither of them makes the most sense.
I believe Peyton Manning wants to get this free agent process over within a week because he has already narrowed down the teams he wants to play for and the Arizona Cardinals are one of them. If, in fact, the Arizona Cardinals are a team Manning will seriously consider, why wouldn't he move with alacrity to alleviate the Cardinals pressing quarterback concerns?
The Cardinals owe Kevin Kolb a roster bonus of $7 million on March 17. They need to know where Peyton's level of interest is before they can put a plan in place. I believe Manning knows this.
Manning would be a perfect fit in Arizona. In Larry Fitzgerald, Peyton would have the best receiver in the game to throw the ball to, the consummate professional with a work ethic and desire that rivals his own. Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have already embraced a quarterback in Kurt Warner that was heavily involved in the type of offense being run and, moreover, was allowed to game plan with the staff. The Cardinals offense is a conceptual offense that's both fluid and flexible - just like the offense Manning ran in Indianapolis. Ken Whisenhunt's scheme more closely resembles the offense Manning played in than any of the digit system or West Coast offenses in the league. The Cardinals play in a dome and also have Peyton's former quarterback coach and current Cardinals wide receiver coach, Frank Reich, on their staff. Coach Reich could help assimilate and blend Manning's offense with coach Whisenhunt's offense. The Cardinals won 7 of their last 9 games and have a young, up-and-coming defense.
Although the Cardinals offensive line is a concern, I'm told it's not a priority over a marquee receiver, strong and established head coach, type of scheme and desire to win. Keep in mind that Manning never played behind great offensive lines in Indy.
Why wouldn't he want to play in Arizona? Expert analyst after expert analyst has said it's not going to be about the money for Peyton; it's going to be about the situation.
As I write this column, NFL.com has the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals as the top two teams in the Manning sweepstakes - with their stock rising. Well of course, Manning had to be eyeballing the Dolphins and Cardinals the whole time Jim Irsay was calling him a "politician" and dropping hints to the Colts faithful that Peyton was going to be moving on. Manning had to have his agent, Tom Condon, looking into each team's situation, studying their personnel, evaluating how much interest they might have. This has not been a surprise to Manning.
Which brings me back to Kevin Kolb, a deadline and why Manning will decide where he's going within the week.
If you believe the Cardinals are one of the favorites in the Manning game, if you believe they have much to offer Peyton, if you believe the Cardinals may be one of two teams Manning is seriously considering, don't you think Manning knows that too? Don't you think Peyton has evaluated the situation and had a pretty good idea of not only who might be interested in him but whom he would be interested in? If you believe the Cardinals might be a great fit for Manning, don't you think Manning might think it's a great fit for him? And if Manning thinks it's a great fit for him why wouldn't he be in a rush to accommodate the Cardinals and their situation with Kevin Kolb?
If you believe the Cardinals have a ton to offer Manning and think he knows the Cards have a ton to offer him but think he's not considering the Cardinals March 17 deadline, you have just contradicted your beliefs. You have vitiated your own logic, undercut and debased what you believe.
Either you think the Cardinals are real players - one, two or three in the Manning endgame - or you do not. But if the Cardinals are a viable, vibrant option for Manning, why wouldn't March 17th be paramount in his thinking?
There's a good chance Manning will choose the Miami Dolphins over Arizona, but the Cardinals are driving Manning's bus.