Peyton Manning could be the missing piece for the Miami Dolphins.
Or, the Arizona Cardinals.
Maybe even the New York Jets or Seattle Seahawks.
Washington, Kansas City, Denver and Tennessee also are possible suitors.
But for now, where the free agent quarterback lands is anybody’s guess. Including Manning’s.
“I have no idea who wants me, what team wants me, how this process works,” Manning said. “I don’t know if it’s like college recruiting where you go take visits. I mean, this is all so new to me.”
The four-time league MVP was released by the Colts on Wednesday after spending all 14 of his NFL seasons in Indianapolis, but made it clear he still wants to play football.
Plenty of teams will be interested in the 35-year-old Manning — as long as he proves he’s healthy after missing last season while coming off a series of neck operations. If everything checks out, the laundry list of teams will be lengthy — a Peyton-palooza of sorts.
And, why not? Manning has been one of the greatest to play his position, rewriting record books while throwing for nearly 55,000 yards and 399 touchdowns, and winning a Super Bowl along the way.
“I realize that I’m not going to play forever, and I think I’m going to know the time to stop playing,” Manning said in South Florida, where he has a home and flew to after the news conference in Indianapolis to announce his release.
“But right now,” he added, “I still want to play.”
Rex Ryan’s Jets could be the landing spot, a scenario that would have Manning sharing the New York-area headlines with his brother Eli of the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. That sure would ramp things up in their sibling rivalry — and the teams’ back-and-forth battle for the city spotlight. It would also likely signal the end for Mark Sanchez after three up-and-down seasons.
The Dolphins have said they would strongly pursue Manning if he became available, even after Matt Moore had a solid season while taking over for a team that has tried to replace Dan Marino since 2000.
“Dan Marino is my all-time favorite quarterback after my Dad and after Eli,” said Manning, whose father Archie played 14 NFL seasons. “He’s No. 3 on my list, so everybody knows how I feel about him. I literally have not had one conversation with anyone about these teams.”
The Cardinals, three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, are an intriguing possibility with one of the game’s top wide receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. But they still have a lot of money invested in quarterback Kevin Kolb.
“There will be no other Peyton Manning,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said.
Which is exactly why the quarterback will be one of the most sought-after free agents in NFL history.
Here’s a look at some of his options:
Certainly having Fitzgerald there would give Manning a game-changing receiver. Arizona would also offer Manning a warm-weather climate.
The Cardinals also have been known to go after the big-named signal caller, as they did with Kurt Warner a few years ago.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt gave Warner lots of freedom at the line of scrimmage and would have no problem doing that with Manning. The problem? Arizona made a big splash last offseason when it signed Kolb to a huge contract, and would owe him a $7 million roster bonus on March 17 if he remains on the team.
What about Tebow Time?
Well, despite going 8-5 and guiding the Broncos back to the playoffs for the first time in six years, Tim Tebow lost four of his last five starts and completed fewer than half his passes. Team vice president John Elway has said Tebow will be the starter when training camp rolls around — but stopped short of naming him the QB for the season.
That’s because there are still plenty of questions about Tebow. The Broncos haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Elway retired following his second straight championship more than a decade ago. But they’re eager to see what Tebow can do with a regular offseason and dedication to becoming a pocket passer. Sure, he could learn a few things from Manning being around, but his growth could also be stunted.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS:
Matt Cassel was a Pro Bowl quarterback just two years ago, but a healthy Manning would be a step up. A big one.
The Chiefs also have a terrific trio of young playmakers in running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and tight end Tony Moeaki. Manning would have people around him to make plays.
And coach Romeo Crennel put the Chiefs in the conversation when he welcomed the idea of having Manning on his team at the NFL combine a few weeks ago.
Still, Kansas City owes Cassel $5.25 million this year, $7.5 million next year and $9 million in 2014 — a hefty bill for a backup.
They also have a new offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll, and general manager Scott Pioli is often hands on when it comes to that side of the ball. Would there be a clash?
When the Dolphins hired the offensive-minded Joe Philbin as coach in January, team officials privately said they would go after Manning if he became available.
Miami has money, terrific talent and warm weather: three big selling points. Manning also has a home there.
The team has started 16 quarterbacks since Marino retired, but Moore played well last year after Chad Henne was sidelined by a season-ending shoulder injury. There are doubts, though, that Moore is a franchise quarterback, and if the Dolphins don’t sign Manning, they may pursue Green Bay’s Matt Flynn or try to trade up and draft a quarterback in the first round.
NEW YORK JETS:
Ryan has repeatedly expressed his admiration and respect for Manning, and the Jets aren’t far removed from winning. They went to consecutive AFC championship games before in-fighting contributed to the team finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs.
Sanchez has been the face of the franchise since they traded up to draft him fifth overall in 2009, but the Jets — who made a huge splash by acquiring Brett Favre four years ago — have said they will look at every position if they can improve. They also had Tom Moore, Manning’s former offensive coordinator, as a consultant last season, although it’s unclear if he’ll be back.
Despite the Jets’ recent success under Ryan, the locker-room discord might be a deterrent for Manning. He also might be unwilling to play in the circus atmosphere of New York, a town in which Eli has become a huge star. Think the city’s media would play up the sibling rivalry?
Salary cap issues also might prevent the Jets from being a true contender.
Seattle has its franchise running back in Marshawn Lynch, and seems to be solid on the outside with receivers Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller. The offensive line is young and improved, but the remaining question for Seattle’s offense is at quarterback.
Tarvaris Jackson toughed his way through a painful pectoral injury for more than half of last season, but was never overly impressive. Manning could be the answer.
Still, Jackson has never been given much of a chance as a starter and played fairly well while battling his injury and was respected in the locker room.
Fans have already started a “Come Back, Peyton” campaign, with billboards and radio ads pushing for Manning to return to Tennessee, where he starred in college for the Vols.
The Titans drafted Jake Locker with the No. 8 pick last April and signed Matt Hasselbeck to a three-year deal last July, but they went 9-7. They have around $30 million in cap space they need to use on finding a pass rush.
While a happy homecoming would make for a nice story, general manager Ruston Webster has said twice in the past month — to season-ticket holders and at the NFL combine — that the team is happy with its quarterbacks.
Owner Dan Snyder always seems to be in play when it comes to signing big-name free agents, and the Redskins are in major need of a quarterback.
Mike Shanahan has whiffed on three (Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck) in his two years in Washington, and the Redskins are expected to pursue Manning if they can determine he’s healthy. They have plenty of cap space, and the Redskins can lobby Manning by saying they’ll use that room to be aggressive in free agency.
But that also could make them less appealing to Manning, since they’re lacking at so many positions.
AP Sports Writers Bob Baum, Tim Booth, Mike Marot, Tim Reynolds, Dave Skretta, Arnie Stapleton, Teresa M. Walker, Joseph White and Steven Wine contributed to this story.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.