As it becomes increasingly clear that Peyton Manning's tenure with the Indianapolis Colts is over, another fact is becoming clear as well -- the Tennessee Titans have to pursue Peyton Manning in the free agenct market.
Absolutely, positively must pursue him.
There have been many teams referenced as Manning pursuers -- most prominently east coast teams like the Jets, Dolphins, and Redskins -- and there will be more teams mentioned in the Manning sweepstakes before all is said and done. Basically, unless you employ one of the top 13 or so quarterbacks in the league -- Patriots, Giants, Falcons, Packers, Saints, Cowboys, Chargers, Panthers, Lions, Eagles, Bears, Steelers, and the Texans -- you should be at least interested in Peyton Manning.
Presently the Titans have an explosive set of offensive weapons. Seriously, they do. Beginning with Chris Johnson, the league's highest paid running back who is a few seasons removed from one of the greatest seasons in history, then Kenny Britt, who when healthy can be a top ten receiver in the league, Nate Washington, who just put up a 1,000 yard receiving season, Damien Williams, who had 45 catches last season, Jared Cook, a third year tight end with 49 catches for 759 yards, and two book end tackles who keep a quarterback upright.
All of these offensive weapons compare favorably to any other team that Manning could join in 2012.
All that's missing is an elite level quarterback to operate the offense at full tilt.
Toss in the fact that Tennessee is the place where Manning began his quarterbacking career and is a state where he already has a home, add to that the absence of a state income tax -- worth millions a year to a top player in income both on and off the field -- and the fact that the Titans are presently $30 million under the cap and it's a recipe for immediate success. The Titans have the resources to pay as much or more to Manning as any team in the NFL.
The question isn't can the Titans afford Manning, it's would the team be willing to aggressively pursue Manning.
Some aren't considering the Titans because they look at Matt Hasselbeck on the roster and see Jake Locker, the Titans first round pick from last season, waiting behind him. But Locker's salary is insubstantial -- he counted just $2.8 million in 2011 -- and Hasselbeck, at best the 14th or so top quarterback in the league, can be cut with minimal cost. Plus, Hasselbeck is already set to count around $7 million in 2012. So if you cut Hasselbeck you could make a run at Manning for an additional $10-12 million on top of the $7 million that you'd already budgeted for Hasselbeck.
If that sounds like a massive number for quarterback salaries, it isn't, it's just a few million more than the Titans were paying Vince Young and Kerry Collins combined in 2010.
Now, all of this comes provided that Manning is actually healthy.
If he isn't healthy then the Titans shouldn't take the risk.
But if he is healthy, Manning would vault the Titans to the front of the playoff line in the AFC South. Sign Manning to a big contract for the next two years and you could continue to groom Jake Locker for three total years just as the Green Bay Packers groomed Aaron Rodgers behind another aging legend, Bret Favre. It's possible that someone like Dan Snyder, who has made a career of overpaying athletes past their prime, could simply put too much money on the table. But absent ludicrous salary offers from other teams, the Titans absolutely have to be a finalist for Manning.
Plus, Manning, who is already as popular as a pro athlete can be in a state he has never played in, would end his career as a legend in a state the loves him.
Too often top players finish their careers as shadows of their former selves, hanging on until the last instant in a uniform that seems ill-fitting.
Manning in a Tennessee uniform just feels right.
The Titans should do everything possible to make it happen.
Also, y'all need to hear Bruce Pearl from yesterday's 3HL going off on Colts owner Jim Irsay for his comments about Peyton Manning yesterday. Love it.