Peyton Manning’s free agent status has already had an unbelievable effect on the free agent market this year. Teams interested held off on signing anyone else. Some signed players to entice Manning to their team, while others traded players away that he wouldn’t get along with and they put out their own incumbent starting quarterbacks to pursue him. As of about noon eastern time on Monday, Peyton Manning has decided to sign with the Denver Broncos. After everything that occurred before this decision, there’s going to be an even bigger effect around the league after.
Denver (John Elway) now has the quarterback they want after a shaky PR ride with Tim Tebow last year. The problem now lies in what to do with Tebowmania. As soon as the Manning signing was announced, it was simultaneously released that Tebow was being put on the trade block. Denver and Manning don’t need the distraction like Orton had and the sooner fans come to grips that Tebow is not the answer, the better. Other upgrades will need to be made as well. Jeff Saturday is still a free agent and I expect that he’s been planning on following Peyton to wherever he signs. Dallas Clark is also a free agent, along with Daniel Fells (the Broncos former starting tight end) who just signed with the Patriots, leaving a void at the position. Look for the Broncos to give Peyton some comfort in familiar faces right before they hand him the keys to the offense.
Now there are teams that missed out on Manning in Arizona, Miami, Tennessee, and San Fransisco. Miami did not lose anything in this case, outside of some dignity. Arizona is not bad off because Kolb and Skelton had no reason to be upset about their club trying to go after the biggest free agent quarterback in history. Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck is a pro and this should not affect him as he knew he was in competition with Jake Locker this year anyway. The team that was really put out by all of this is San Francisco. There was a reason they tried to keep their Manning pursuit quiet as Alex Smith is already crying liking a schoolgirl who’s boyfriend was seen talking to another girl. He immediately proceeded to run off and flirt with the Dolphins in spite.
Now let’s discuss the Dolphins and the QB market throughout the rest of the league. Matt Flynn signed with the Seahawks, so the remaining free agent class of quarterbacks primarily consist of back-ups. Alex Smith will likely re-sign with the 49ers (with a broken heart), but Harbaugh will remind him that he could have avoided all of that if he had signed his contract before Manning became a free agent, instead of forcing the 49ers to explore other options. The only starting caliber quarterback left is David Garrard (fresh back from surgery), with experienced back-up options: Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, and Jake Delhomme. Miami (practically the only team in the NFL without a starting quarterback) will likely sign David Garrard and look to draft Ryan Tannehill 8th overall.
Outside from the quarterback carousel that has been the Peyton Manning effect, there is the power struggle in the AFC West where it was assumed that all teams were to be equal competitors. The signing of Peyton Manning has caused that power to shift dramatically to the Broncos. If Denver could win the division with Tebow shot-putting at quarterback, then they are obviously the clear favorites to win the division with Manning actually throwing the ball. This makes it more difficult for first year coaches Romeo Crennel (Chiefs) and Dennis Allen (Raiders), but most importantly for Norv Turner (Chargers) who is likely to be in his last year as a head coach if he does not win the division this time around. The Chargers are going to be the team most likely to win the division if the Broncos do not. Remember, the Chargers were a fumbled snap away from winning the division last year. The problem is that a healthy Peyton Manning is hard to beat.
Not only does this signing make a change within the AFC west, but it also affects the AFC as a whole. The Patriots, Ravens, Texans, and Broncos are last year’s division champions and the favorites to win again this year. The wildcard Steelers and Bengals could be the odd men out. In a league where 5 of 12 play-off teams were not in the post-season the year before, the Bengals could be taking a step back. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is losing a lot of key components with Mike Wallace still a restricted free agent. Look for the Jets, Titans, Chargers, and possibly even the Bills to try and go after those two wildcard spots. The Titans could even push the Texans for the AFC South.
Let’s also not forget that the infamous Tim Tebow is still out there as a wildcard trade and the NFL draft is yet to come. The NFL is a league of parody and conventional wisdom that doesn’t always play out (Tebow proved that this last year), but this we know for certain; the quarterback deck throughout the league has been shuffled. The power structure in the AFC may be shifting, and it is clear to everyone that the biggest free agent to hit the market since Reggie White has created waves throughout the NFL that may be felt for years to come. How many of you are already picking Denver to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII?