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Wherever Manning goes, trusted receiver Wayne may follow

The latest in the Peyton Manning story involves a Manning-Reggie Wayne reunion, which I'm told at least two potential suitor teams would seriously consider in an attempt to lure the rehabbing Manning if the Colts cut him between now and the March 8 deadline Indianapolis has for exercising a $28 million option bonus to keep the legendary quarterback.

Such a pairing would not only be a plus for Manning, who would love to see it happen, according to one NFL source. But also it would allow him to go to his new team with one familiar receiving face, and if you can say one thing about Manning, it's that he loves familiarity, particularly in how his receivers anticipate throws and the precision of their route-running.

Wayne, who teamed with Manning for 10 of his 11 seasons with the Colts, would allow Manning to enter a new phase in his career with a receiver who could be the template for other receivers on the team to emulate. I'm told the 33-year-old Wayne, a looming free agent when the market opens March 13, is very interested in the combo platter also. Wayne caught 862 passes in his Colt career, including 397 in a four-year span with Manning.

Where would the best fit be? Let's examine Manning's most likely suitors to see where Wayne matches up with team needs:

• Miami. With Brandon Marshall at one outside receiver and Davone Bess a good slot player, Wayne could slide seamlessly into the other starting receiver spot, ahead of Brian Hartline.

New York Jets. Not so good a fit for Wayne, with Plaxico Burress (assuming he re-signs in free agency) and the pouty Santonio Holmes penciled in as starters. But you saw GM Mike Tannenbaum erase the reliable and well-respected Chad Pennington easily in 2008 for Brett Favre. If the Jets have to let one of the receivers go, even by taking Holmes' cap hit, don't be surprised to see them do so if it means getting Manning.

• Seattle. The injury-prone Sidney Rice makes this a tough call. But the Seahawks certainly have the cash to make this happen, and it's exceedingly logical to think they'd be interested in both. With Rice and Mike Williams the current projected starters, you'd think Pete Carroll would use Williams and Golden Tate as swing players and injury insurance, with the heady Doug Baldwin the kind of slot receiver Manning could use as his new Brandon Stokley.

• Washington. The 'Skins are crying out for a No. 1 receiver, with stopgap Jabar Gaffney and aging Santana Moss the two incumbents. Washington could use two receivers, not just one. Imagine the Redskins with Manning, Wayne and Mario Manningham next fall. Scary ... if Manning's healthy, of course.

• Arizona. Manning to Larry Fitzgerald. Dreamy. Manning to Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne. Dreamier.

• Kansas City. The Chiefs seem much more likely to build around Matt Cassel and a free-agent import to compete with him, and keep Jonathan Baldwin and Dwayne Bowe. But Peyton Manning can make teams do things they never foresaw.

The guess here? Manning's going to be in an incredible power seat if he and his rehabbing neck are healthy when he works out for teams in the near future -- assuming, of course, the Colts release him by the start of free agency. Miami's owner, Stephen Ross, will be drooling to get him. As will the Jets' triumvirate of Woody Johnson, Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan. Seattle, an upstart, would provide Manning the relative privacy he'd love in the remote Northwest, a superstar trying to win one more title with a smart staff and a rising defense. With Washington, Manning would be matched with a coach he greatly admires, Mike Shanahan, and a top-10 defense.

And one more note from potential free agency, according to a source close to another free-agent receiver: Pierre Garcon, another Colt soon to be free, turned down a five-year contract offer from Indianapolis last week. More than one general manager at the combine said that's a sign Garcon doesn't want to do anything until he knows what Manning is going to do. What if, say, Washington GM Bruce Allen, with $49 million in cap room before adding the earned-incentives from the 2011 salary-cap year, says to Manning: "We'll recreate your 2010 receiving corps, and you'll have a defense already strong enough to play at a Super Bowl level.'' Could be very tempting.

It all hinges, of course, on Manning being healthy enough to be Manning. It won't be long before we know if he is.


I know I said I would write about the Oscar-winning NFL alum, and the agent for Andrew Luck today. I felt the Manning-Wayne story, being newsier, trumped both today. I ask for your indulgence. Rather than plow through both in too short a forum, I'm going to write about them next Monday, where I'll be able to pay them the proper attention. My apologies for misleading you.


Now onto your email:

THE RAMS SHOULD DEAL BRADFORD AND TAKE RGIII. "With RGIII's stock rising so much, how come there isn't more talk about the Rams picking RGIII and trading Bradford? Bradford seems like he could be a very good QB. But RGIII is now looking like a star. I'd rather go for the star and get what I can for Bradford.''-- Mike Bell, of Arlington, Va.

Mike, you're the spokesman for scores of people who asked the same question this week. There are three reasons the Rams won't do this. One: Jeff Fisher and the new offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, really like Bradford and think they can win big with him. The logical question if you trade Bradford is what will you get for him, and my belief after last year's injury-related disaster, you probably would get the equivalent of a mid-first-round pick. Could you get Washington's sixth pick overall? Maybe, if the Redskins don't get Peyton Manning. But I'm dubious. Washington would claim Bradford is damaged goods. So the assumption that you'd get a premier package for Bradford is no sure thing.

Two: The financials. The Rams have a load of cap room, so they can do whatever they want. But mull this over. If Bradford is on the St. Louis roster this year, his cap number is $15.6 million. If he is traded, he counts $14.4 million against their cap. The projected cap number for the second pick in the draft this year is $3.9 million. So if they trade Bradford and draft Griffin, the cap hit would be $18.3 million. That's not horrible. In fact, it's downright do-able. But now let's get to ...

Three: The real question here in deciding whether to deal Bradford is not just about the cap hit. It's about improving your team. So let's project two trades, one where the Rams keep Bradford and one where they trade him. If they keep him, the Rams have Bradford at quarterback and, using my example, Cleveland's two first-round picks this year (Nos. 4 and 22 overall) and the Browns' second- and third-round picks next year. So let's call that Bradford plus, overall, the fourth, 22nd, 38th and 70th overall picks over two drafts, plus $2.7 million more in cap money to spend from not trading Bradford.

Let's say they trade Bradford for the 16th overall pick this year (clearly just a guess on my part). So you can have Bradford plus four extra picks in the top 70 of the next two drafts. Or you can have Griffin plus one extra pick in the top 20. Me? I love Griffin from what I know right now. I'd be tempted, but I'd do what the Rams are doing.

I AM A PRUDE, EVIDENTLY. "Your weekly harangues about the Red Sox and alcohol in the clubhouse cause me to ask you one question: How can you write about beer in your column every week and rip the Red Sox for having a beer in their clubhouse?''-- Jonathan Taylor, of Providence, R.I.

I'd never rip the Red Sox for having a beer in the clubhouse after the game. But they apparently were having them during games, and team executives turned a blind eye to it, and still do, just hoping it'll all go away. Imagine if John Lackey gets knocked out in the second inning one day, and two days later he's having three beers in the clubhouse, thinking he's not pitching that day, and the game goes into extra innings and the manager calls for a tipsy Lackey to warm up to go in the game. That's what bugs me about this -- that it apparently happened and the Red Sox, by ignoring it, are saying to their fans, "Let this be our dirty little secret. And don't bring it up again.''

HERE'S A BRAZILIAN WITH A QUESTION. "Hi, Peter! I very much enjoy your column and (before I get to my question) I hope you realize that many of us appreciate your work on the HOF committee. Do your job as honestly as you can -- you'll never make everyone happy unless you vote every good player in, and then it's not a the memorial of greatness that it's supposed to be. My question. You call it unlikely that a deal for the #2 pick is completed before free agency begins unless a slam-dunk offer is made. Rumor has it that my Redskins are floating this year's and next year's #1 picks and this year's #2 and #3. In your opinion, would that be a slam dunk?''-- Peter Klam, of Sao Paolo, Brazil

Thanks, Peter. Well, it will be a slam dunk if it's the best offer St. Louis gets. But understand that the Redskins will probably be in play for Peyton Manning, so it's hard to answer the question about a trade with St. Louis before we know who's going to win the Manning derby. I'd be surprised if the Browns didn't offer a package that good for the second pick in the draft, and if I'm the Rams, I'd take Cleveland's offer, because I believe Cleveland's picks would potentially be higher if we're talking a one in 2012 and another one in 2013.

NOT A BAD IDEA. "Why not change/add to the QB portion of the combine throws at targets? Eliminate the variability of judging the receiver's speed and route running, and find out if they can throw it to where they intended. It is done at high school recruiting showcases.''-- Mike Mooney, of Aurora, Ill.

I like the idea. The one negative is I think scouts and offensive coaches use the drills you see to judge how quarterbacks anticipate a receiver's cut and how to lead them -- and they use it to judge how receivers adjust to the ball too.

TROY WANTS TO FIX THE PLAYOFFS. "After watching the season end with the Giants winning the Super Bowl, I really have begun to question whether the NFL playoff system is somewhat broken. Bear in mind that I am a Detroit Lions fan who finally got to witness my luckless team make the playoffs for the first time in years, and that I despise the Green Bay Packers and cheered at their one-and-done performance. The problem, though, is that in three of the past four Super Bowls, a 10-6 or 9-7 "slacker" team has appeared, and two of the four have won it all.

At the end of a long season, what does a barely-made-it, wild card team winning really say about which team is really the best? In this way, the one-and-done scenario fails to really reward the teams that make it to the playoffs, as well as the fans who would love an 18-week season but understand that the physical toll on the players is just too much.

A potential answer? This is what I have been proposing amongst the football faithful in my (limited) social circles. Every team that makes the postseason plays three games. The top two seeds get a +1 auto-win to start. The two teams with the best postseason record play in the conference championship, followed by the Super Bowl. Any ties at the end of the first three games are decided by regular season record.

The end justifies all the work done by teams during the regular season, and fans of playoff teams get to watch their team rock it out for at least three games (as legit contenders or potential spoilers) instead of a one-and-done scenario. The Super Bowl will be even more Super than before, the season will be extended for more teams, and fans will be more invested in the actual playoff action.''-- Troy of Kalamazoo, Mich.

I think it's well-reasoned and obviously shows you spent a lot of time on it. My first problem with it would be giving an automatic win to four teams, particularly when very often one or more of those teams has gotten a top-two seed through a tiebreaker. I do like the emphasis on the regular season record, to be sure. But I also think it's a fair system when a fifth or sixth seed has to fight through three road games against teams (most often) with better records to get to the Super Bowl. I like your thinking, but I don't believe the system's broken.

THEY SHOULD BE. "Do you see the Patriots in the Mario Williams mix? I know Belichick generally stays away from big ticket guys, but his two big splashes in free agency have been edge guys (Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas, who was a bust). Williams has that versatility that Belichick loves, being able to play end in a 4-3 and OLB in a 3-4 and could effectively replace that 'elephant' spot that has been vacant since Willie McGinest left.''-- From Chris, of Nashua, N.H.

I've been saying the Patriots have the cap room and should have the defensive versatility that would fit Williams perfectly. If I were them, I'd have a three-man free-agency priority list, in this order: Wes Welker, Mario Williams, Brandon Lloyd.