Brad Gagnon


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Peyton Manning is a free agent, everyone. And, somewhat predictably, there’s been a mad rush for his services. We’ve heard that as many as 12 teams have made contact and that Manning is supposedly aiming to make a decision within a week.

But’s Dan Graziano raises a good point. What’s the rush?

How is it even remotely possible that an NFL team could confidently commit real money to Peyton Manning by this time next week? How is it possible that there’s about to be a Manning bidding war among one-third of the teams in the NFL when no one knows how healthy his neck is or how strong his arm is? How can you even consider signing Peyton Manning without having a team of doctors who have had their hands on him swear up and down that he’s going to be fine — just as good as he was before the neck injury, don’t worry about it.

I understand why teams are naturally flocking to Manning. Once there’s word out that one team is interested, none of the other interested or semi-interested parties are going to risk losing out entirely by playing coy. But there’s a difference between contacting Manning’s people and offering him a contract, and you get the feeling the majority of teams involved will perform their due diligence before mortgaging the short- and long-term future on a 36-year-old quarterback with, um, vertebrae issues.

A theory exists that Manning will take his time for multiple reasons. First, he’s never been through this process before and doesn’t know what to expect. Second, the longer this drags on, the more Manning’s neck will (should) improve. And finally, there’s a chance that a delay will only drive up the price by intensifying the bidding war.

Then again, if Manning’s a smart business man (and he is) and his neck isn’t coming along perfectly, he’d be smart to grab whatever guaranteed money is on the table as soon as it’s thrown his way. Of course, he’d still have to pass a physical — but there is a way in which No. 18 could once again receive millions of dollars to stand on a sideline in 2012.

He’s likely not that unscrupulous, but it’s still something franchises need to be wary of before making a seismic investment.

Earlier this week, I made an attempt to warn Bills fans about the vastly overrated and soon-to-be overpaid Vincent Jackson, who will undoubtedly have his profile inflated by his status as an unrestricted free agent. And although I believe in Marques Colston’s ability to make big plays in big situations — which, also in my humble opinion, is one of the most important assets a receiver can bring to the table — there are some obvious doubts about what he’ll bring to a new table in 2012.

Colston is also slated to become an unrestricted free agent, and New Orleans doesn’t appear to have the cap flexibility to sign him long term. Since Drew Brees has hogged the franchise tag, the 28-year-old Colston is likely to leave the Bayou in free agency.

In his latest mailbag, Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune explains why teams might be leery of spending big bucks on a guy like Colston:

Some personnel men wonder if Colston would be as productive in another environment, however. He undoubtedly has benefited from playing in a domed stadium, in a spectacular offensive system, and with Brees. What’s more, Colston has been in the same system his whole career. It is not unreasonable to suspect he would not be as productive in, say Chicago, as he was in New Orleans.

Colston’s numbers are inflated by the aforementioned factors, and as Rotoworld points out, he’s rarely faced double coverage and has rarely been able to create consistent separation from defensive backs.

Is Colston worth the $8 million per year he’ll probably fetch on the open market? Of course not, but someone will pay it. They always do with perceived top-end receivers. Why? Probably because the poor saps either get caught up in the numbers or fall victim to pressure from fans who, in large part, value fantasy football success stories over those who excel at non-skill positions.

The bounty scandal is in somewhat of a holding pattern as we await word on punishment from commissioner Roger Goodell. Fortunately, Peyton Manning and the Colts have given us the filler required to bridge the gap between Bountygate and the start of free agency or Goodell’s sentencing — whichever comes first.

And since the initial shock pertaining to the Saints’ illegal pay-for-performance program has worn, we now have a chance to ponder the forthcoming punishments that the league will deliver to Gregg Williams, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and the defensive players involved in the shenanigans.

Williams is expected to be slapped with the stiffest penalty, and one particular former player thinks it should reach “unprecedented” territory.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton calls bullshit on the theory that paid bounties for injuries are — or were — commonplace in professional football, and he claims that he and all of his former peers are dismayed and disgusted by the details of this case. For that, Tarkenton implies that Williams should get the Shoeless Joe treatment:

The NFL has to come down hard on this scandal because every team, coach and player needs to get the message that this is not ok. Gregg Williams should never be seen in the NFL again. Others in the Saints organization who knew about the bounties and did not stop them, including General Manager Mickey Loomis and Head Coach Sean Payton, both of whom I like and respect, must also be severely punished. Players who participated should face consequences, and the Saints 2009 Super Bowl championship will be forever tarnished.

I’m not convinced that Super Bowl victory will be tarnished, but at the very least, it’s something rival fans will use against the team till the end of time — just as Patriots haters do with Spygate. I’m not sure that is enough to constitute tarnishment, but it’ll still piss off Saints supporters.

As far as a ban goes, I think the league would be smarter to suspend Williams indefinitely — for at least one season — and see what happens beyond that. There’s a good chance no one chooses to touch Williams again, simply because of his toxic name in the professional football sphere. See if he’s blackballed himself. If he hasn’t, he surely won’t be a recidivist with a final lease on his career. If he has, then the NFL won’t take heat for going too far in an attempt to make an example of someone.

Essentially, the league should hand out an initial, substantial punishment, and then beyond that, it should let the football world decide Williams’ fate.

That’s courtesy of CBS 4 in Miami, and it’s not something you should read into. After all, Manning has a home in South Florida, and that’s where he flew into Indianapolis from last night. But this at least confirms that No. 18 isn’t making any immediate free-agent visits.

It’s exciting that Manning is now officially on the open market, but this process could linger for a while. When asked today about his timeline as a free agent, Manning said he didn’t know what came next. “I probably need to ask someone what these next steps are.”

Besides, with so many teams reportedly nibbling, it could take quite a while for the market to settle.

And now Marcus Trufant and Peyton Manning are forever linked.

It is now 4:00 p.m. ET, and thus Peyton Manning is now officially a free agent. At least 12 teams make some sense for Manning, and at least 10 have reportedly inquired about his services.

Manning, who is a free agent for the first time in his 14-year career, will undoubtedly cast a shadow over the entire market. The most notable victim might actually be Matt Flynn, who was supposed to set the free-agent quarterback market wherever he signed. Now, Flynn — who won’t become an unrestricted free agent until Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET — will likely become a consolation prize for one of the teams that misses out on Manning.

When assessing the shape of the star-studded 2012 quarterback carousel, there are four primary names to watch:

1. Manning

2. Flynn

3. Andrew Luck

4. Robert Griffin III

Of course, Luck and Griffin won’t be available until April’s draft, so there’s a staggered aspect to this process that could stretch things out.

There are a slew of darkhorses, but there are four major franchises to keep an eye on:

1. Miami Dolphins

2. Washington Redskins

3. Indianapolis Colts

4. Cleveland Browns

The left-over teams — Arizona, Denver, Seattle, the Jets, Kansas City and San Francisco — only really factor in as teams that might take a risk on Manning, but none are considered to be players in the sweepstakes for the other three superstar pivots mentioned.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point that Luck will be drafted by Indy and that either Cleveland or Washington will trade up with St. Louis to take Griffin. That would seemingly place Manning in Miami and Flynn in the city that doesn’t land Griffin, or vice versa.

Of course, it’s never that easy. And it’s completely possible that any of the honorable mentions listed above pull off a minor upset by making a move for any of the three quarterbacks not named Luck.

The speculation is already reaching unbearable levels. Get used to it.

(Picture via Andrew Brandt on Twitter)

Video: Joe Webb can jump

We take a break from wall-to-wall Peyton Manning coverage to pass on a video of Vikings quarterback Joe Webb leaping 54 inches onto soft blocks without a running start.

Pretty incredible, and enough to force you to wonder why the Vikings don’t try to get more out of their 6-4 super-athlete. Webb had a 42-inch vertical leap at the 2010 Combine and cleared five feet on the run in that same offseason. Here’s video of that:

(Via ESPN’s NFC North blog)

The star-studded Heat had no problem sharing the spotlight when they came together as Miami Thrice 20 months ago. And by the look of Dwyane Wade’s latest tweet, they may be willing to add another legend to the South Florida sports fray: