The day has finally come.
After weeks of intense scrutiny and public jabbing, the Indianapolis Colts have released Peyton Manning, the quarterback they drafted number one overall back in 1998 and the man who led the team to a decade of prominence, including one Super Bowl win. Now, rumor has it Manning could be playing at least half of his games in the same stadium where he won that championship.
Ever since it became relatively clear that Manning and the Colts would part ways, the Miami Dolphins have been mentioned as one of the favorites to land Manning, because the Dolphins simply make sense. They have an owner in Stephen Ross who is enthusiastic about obtaining a franchise quarterback and may be willing to offer more guaranteed money than any other owner. Also, the Dolphins have revamped their coaching staff to favor a passing game and Manning has an offseason home in South Florida. Most importantly, Manning to the Dolphins makes sense because he would make the Dolphins an immediate Super Bowl contender.
That's right. The Dolphins, after over a decade of relative irrelevance in the NFL, would catapult back to contender status with this one signing. The pieces are all in place to make a run in the next couple of years for the Lombardi Trophy that has eluded this franchise for so long. The Dolphins have two dynamic weapons in Brandon Marshall and Reggie Bush, consistent receivers in Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, and potential threats in Charles Clay and Clyde Gates. Throw in Anthony Fasano in the role of underrated tight end, and you have several pairs of capable hands that Manning can find. The Dolphins also sported the 11th-ranked rushing attack in the NFL in 2011, a ranking that can improve in 2012 if defenses have to worry about a Manning-led passing attack.
The Dolphins defense allowed an average of 19.6 points per game, which was the 6th-fewest in the NFL. While the Dolphins may not enjoy the same defensive line depth in 2012 that they have the previous few years, most of the defensive mainstays are expected to return. If the Dolphins draft a pass rusher early in the draft, as they are expected to, and that pass rusher can at least replace the retired Jason Taylor's production, then the Dolphins can replicate last year's defensive success. If cornerbacks Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, and Jimmy Wilson can improve on their considerable talent, the defense may be even more formidable than a year ago.
Manning is the missing link between the Dolphins and a deep postseason run. A franchise quarterback opens up lanes for the running game, makes his receivers better, and can put the team on his back and win. Manning's Hall of Fame resume speaks for itself and his abilities are nearly beyond reproach.
But any discussion of Manning's abilities must be qualified now. He has had three neck procedures in the past 19 months. He just missed an entire season because of a lack of strength in his throwing arm. Only recently have reports emerged of his improvement, and those reports have come out suspiciously close to when Manning wants to sign another big-money deal.
Any teams' doctors will of course check Manning out and will have to give their stamp of approval. Teams will also likely require that Manning work out for them to prove that his arm is at a satisfactory strength before he signs a contract.
If Manning passes these tests, then he will surely be sought after by any number of teams. Yet, the Dolphins simply make the most sense for him. He won't overshadow or interfere with brother Eli, as he would in a Jets uniform, he'll have a better defense than he would with the Cardinals or Chiefs, and he has more offensive talent surrounding him than he would with the Browns, Redskins, or Seahawks. Miami gives him the best chance to secure his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time. The biggest knock against Manning is that he has won the Super Bowl only once. He can shut the doubters and naysayers up by winning another one and the Dolphins offer the best opportunity to make that happen.
A deal would also make the most sense for the Dolphins in regards to their quarterback situation. Some think that the best way to go would be to either sign free agent Matt Flynn or trade up in the draft with the Rams to select either Baylor QB Robert Griffin III or Stanford QB Andrew Luck second overall. But signing Manning would allow the Dolphins to keep the draft picks they would have to sacrifice in a trade, so they could continue to build through the draft. The Dolphins would also not have to wait for one of the rookie quarterbacks to develop, thereby missing the window of opportunity that is currently open. Signing Flynn to a lucrative deal is too much of a risk when compared to Manning, because Flynn has only two starts under his belt and although both were productive, they came against weak defenses. It doesn't make sense to tie up large amounts of salary cap space in such an unknown quantity.
A union between the Dolphins and Manning makes too much sense for both parties to pass up. The Dolphins provide Manning with the best chance at securing his place as the best quarterback of all time and Manning can deliver what neither Dolphins legend Dan Marino nor any of the litany of quarterbacks who followed him could- a Super Bowl championship to Miami.
It's time for one of Ross' high profile courtships to finally work.