|The queue for Manning's services starts ... now. (Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
There's still one game left in the 2011 season, but for the 30 NFL teams who have now moved into the 2012 offseason, the wheels of change are already in motion. Earlier this week, Peyton Manning told the Indianapolis Star that while he has no intentions of retiring he also doesn't know if the Colts will bring him back. It was a shocking admission from the man responsible for two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl title and a 141-67 record (.678 winning percentage) in 13 seasons, including a 3-13 effort as a rookie in 1998.
The queue for Manning's services is already forming. Two weeks ago, CBS Sports' Charley Casserly said the Cardinals could be interested (although it would require some logistical gymnastics). On Wednesday, the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero wrote that the Dolphins will be all-in on Manning, too.
"A team source e-mailed me this afternoon that the priority is Manning. This coincides with news out of Mobile, Ala., where the Senior Bowl is going to be played Saturday. A league source there tells The Herald's Barry Jackson that the Dolphins have shown no interest in Flynn as of yet -- not even informal interest.
"Now, teams are not allowed to show formal interest in soon-to-be free agents at this time. But at those Senior Bowl practices, where agents and team personnel departments mingle on the sideline, it's common for preliminary signs of future interest to be displayed. In fact, it's almost expected."
After the Dolphins hired former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin last week, conventional wisdom was that Miami would immediately be in the Matt Flynn sweepstakes. Unless the Dolphins front office shares a fantastic poker face, that doesn't appear to be the case.
As Salguero notes, "The club believes a healthy Peyton Manning is simply a better gamble than an unproven Matt Flynn. Flynn is younger and will be cheaper (although not by a lot) but clearly the Dolphins are more drawn to the idea of a proven NFL performer -- despite his advancing age and greater risk of his neck injury resurfacing."
In general, betting that a quarterback in his mid-30s, still recovering from serious injury, and likely on the downside of a Hall of Fame career can resurrect a rudderless franchise is a fool's errand. But the Cardinals caught lightning in a bottle with Kurt Warner and he led them to a Super Bowl. It's not unreasonable to think that Manning could have similar success in the right system. Of course, the tough part is finding where that might be.
But one thing seems more likely with each passing day: the Manning era in Indy could be over. A ridiculous notion six months ago, much less so just six weeks out from when the organization is set to give Manning a $28 million roster bonus.
Whatever happens this spring, one thing is certain: should Manning become available, there will be plenty of quarterback-needy teams lining up for his services.
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