Friday March 9th, 2012

Peyton Manning is the biggest fish available among QBs in free agency, but he's not necessarily the best option for every team in need of a signal-caller. (Getty Images)

Where Peyton Manning signs will have a major impact, and not just for the team he winds up choosing. Manning's decision could play a significant role in what St. Louis does with the No. 2 pick, where Matt Flynn winds up and a host of other issues.

A growing number of NFL teams are in the market for a quarterback upgrade this offseason, meaning the potential scenarios for how this all will play out are numerous. But what's the best course of action for the teams chasing a QB?

Here's a look at the decisions facing 10 franchises that could be in the market for a quarterback:

Nowhere to go but up: Cleveland Browns (No. 4 pick), Washington Redskins (No. 6), Miami Dolphins (No. 8)

The challenge for this trio of teams is balancing the scale. Would an elite QB like Peyton Manning be enough to overcome tons of other roster issues? Is it worth sacrificing multiple draft picks, when every one of those picks could be valuable, to move up for Robert Griffin III?

Browns: Cleveland has given the Colt McCoy experiment two years. It's not working. The one benefit of the McCoy gamble is that he was a third-round pick, meaning that they could bench him or cut ties with him for minimal cost.

Cleveland has two first-round picks in the draft -- No. 4 and No. 22, courtesy of Atlanta. Manning would be a fun addition for Browns fans, but this team is not one piece away. It needs a slow build. That means either jumping up and drafting Griffin or staying put, making a move for Matt Flynn and using those multiple first-rounders to find a couple more starters.

What Cleveland should do: Stand pat and push for Flynn. Trading up for Griffin would force the Browns to cough up too much, when they're in a position to upgrade at several spots. Worst-case scenario: Flynn doesn't sign in Cleveland, and the Browns think about Ryan Tannehill or a trade down at No. 4.

Redskins: The Redskins have put themselves in a very favorable financial situation heading into this offseason, which is part of what's stoking the Manning-to-D.C. fires. But let's put aside, for a second, the rumor that Manning does not want to play for the Redskins.

Is breaking the bank for Peyton the smartest move for Washington right now? Sure, it feels like a typical Redskins decision -- spend big bucks on an aging star. Since Washington can be big players in free agency and add other players with Manning, though, this could be the summer to get this thing permanently facing the right direction.

What Washington should do: Trade up for RGIII. Seriously, give the Rams whatever picks they want. Washington badly needs a franchise QB, and not a short-term solution like Manning. Getting Griffin in April and pounding the free-agent market between now and camp could finally put Washington in position to make some noise.

Dolphins: Of the three teams in the top 10 thought to be searching for a QB, you can easily make the case that Miami is closest to contending. That, plus a decent cap situation, gives the Dolphins the opportunity to chase either Manning or Flynn. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that Miami moves up for RGIII, but it's less likely than with Cleveland or Washington.

What Miami should do: Sign Matt Flynn. Manning's the big splash, no doubt, but Flynn could reunite with his former offensive coordinator, new Miami head coach Joe Philbin. Philbin knows better than most what Flynn is capable of, and picking up the ex-Packers backup quarterback plus finding a high-impact guy at another position at No. 8 might get the Dolphins to the playoffs.


Stuck in the middle: Kansas City Chiefs (No. 11), Seattle Seahawks (No. 12), Arizona Cardinals (No. 13)

As you can see, there's a very intriguing run of teams starting with the No. 11 pick. Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona all could use quarterback upgrades -- and all three teams should be in contention for a division crown next year. So what's the best option for each?

Chiefs: Injuries made a mess of the Chiefs' quarterback situation last season, and the big decision facing Romeo Crennel now is figuring out if Matt Cassel can be his guy going forward. Given the Chiefs' reported interest in Peyton Manning, it doesn't sound like Crennel is convinced.

Cassel's only due a relatively cheap $5.25 million in 2012, so theoretically, the Chiefs could bring in some solid competition in the form of a backup (say, Chad Henne at $4 million?). Of course, that $5.25 million hit might make moving Cassel to make way for Manning a very viable alternative.

What Kansas City should do: Pay up for Peyton. The Chiefs don't appear to be headed anywhere fast with Cassel at the helm, even if he rediscovers his 2008 or 2010 form. A healthy Manning instantly makes K.C. the team to beat in the AFC West.

Seahawks: Seattle has to be reaching the end of the line with Tarvaris Jackson, one way or another. And current GM John Schneider was with the Packers as director of football operations when they drafted Matt Flynn.

Seattle may be a dark-horse candidate to trade up to No. 2 as well, but it would require an awful lot given where the Seahawks are in the draft.

What Seattle should do: Go after Flynn right now. Miami seems to be determined to make a pitch for Manning, so the market has temporarily cooled on Flynn. Seattle could take advantage by making him its top priority. The No. 12 spot could put the Seahawks in position for Tannehill as a fallback option too, either by staying put or trading up.

Cardinals: Imagine Larry Fitzgerald streaking downfield, running under a pass from Manning. That's the dream in Arizona -- and it might be a logical one too, given that the Cardinals can offer a comfortable dome environment, a top-flight receiver and an improving defense.

The Cardinals have some flexibility with Kevin Kolb's contract -- they can cut him before March 17 and avoid paying out a $7 million roster bonus or they reportedly can utilize a cap exception to carry over the resulting cap hit to 2013.

What Arizona should do: Get in the mix for Manning. Like with Kansas City, the Cardinals have very little to lose. Either they score Manning and take a serious run at the NFC West title or they fail and turn back to Kolb, whom they had enough faith in to trade for last summer.


Crashing the party: New York Jets (No. 16), Denver Broncos (No. 25), Houston Texans (No. 26), San Francisco 49ers (No. 30)

Each one of these teams currently employs a QB who led a playoff run ... and each wouldn't mind upgrading, should the right opportunity arise.

Jets: It should come as no surprise, but the Jets are on the verge of making a mess of their current situation, as they flirt with idea of courting Manning while Mark Sanchez is still around. The odds are extremely low that Manning makes the jump to share NYC with his little brother, so it's best that the Jets just stick it out with Sanchez and find someone who can compete as his backup.

What New York should do: Sign Chad Henne or draft Brandon Weeden. Henne's nothing to write home about, but he at least would give New York a legitimate backup -- no offense to Mark Brunell, who enjoyed a long NFL career, but he hardly forced Sanchez to look over his shoulder. Weeden could be the wild card here as a second-round option. He's already 28, so any team that takes him should do so with the intention of getting him on the field soon. He could come in and pressure Sanchez.

Broncos: Denver management keeps saying it's behind Tim Tebow, but not enough to at least pursue other QBs. The latest news has the Broncos making a serious push to pick up Manning. There are holes on this Denver roster, but a healthy Manning would give the Broncos the edge in the AFC West.

Signing him, though, would also probably signal the end of Tebow's time in Denver.

What Denver should do: Draft Weeden. That's back-to-back teams I've suggested that scenario for, so obviously, someone would miss out. As mentioned earlier at Audibles, Manning-to-Denver poses way too many problems. Selecting Weeden would allow Denver to enter camp with Tebow as its No. 1, but with a mature, capable second option.

Texans: Of all the teams linked, even briefly, to Manning, the Texans might give him the best opportunity to win a Super Bowl. Heck, Houston might have won it this year had Matt Schaub stayed healthy. But Schaub's healthy return is exactly why going after Manning might be overkill.

What Houston should do: Keep the status quo. Would you take Manning, at 100 percent, over Schaub? Sure. Having Schaub, Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates, however, has the Texans in a terrific position at quarterback. There's no need to rock the boat -- either on the depth chart or financially -- to gamble on Manning.

49ers: San Francisco should be the favorite in the NFC West next season, and that may be true even if Manning lands in Arizona or Seattle. The problem for the 49ers right now is that they technically don't have a starting quarterback -- Alex Smith is a free agent. Similar to the Schaub comparison, you'd take Manning over Smith any day of the week.

On the other hand, bringing in Manning would force Jim Harbaugh to drastically alter his current offensive style, as well as require San Francisco to add multiple wide receivers. What San Francisco should do: Re-sign Smith. Look, the guy still has his warts, but he led the 49ers to 13 wins and an NFC title game appearance last season. That playoff run even included a dramatic, gutsy drive effort late against New Orleans. Why mess with what's working?

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