Manning’s Indy days could be numbered

Peyton Manning, the soon-to-be-former quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, is caught up in a media frenzy. His fight to return to the field is being challenged by Colts owner Jim Irsay, but his departure from the team where he made his legendary career seems imminent.

The last example of this was the Brett Favre saga starting five years ago, when the Green Bay Packers decided they wanted Aaron Rodgers to be their quarterback and would let the face of their franchise walk away. Favre eventually went to the New York Jets, where he appeared to prove the Packers right with his poor play, and then to the Minnesota Vikings, who, under his great play, came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Manning is now in a similar situation. He is coming off his fourth neck surgery, and any team he signs with is taking a risk that he will be able to perform near his old level — if he can play at all. There are currently four teams rumored to have interest in Manning: the Arizona Cardinals, the Miami Dolphins, the New York Jets, and the Colts. Each of these teams has strengths and weakness that can facilitate or hinder his success this season.

The Cardinals have a good supporting cast on both offense and defense, but since quarterback Kurt Warner’s retirement in the season following their 2009 Super Bowl bid, they have been desperately looking for a quarterback. They traded for former Philadelphia Eagle Kevin Kolb last year, but he has been a dud so far.

If Manning ends up in Arizona, he will be teamed up with perennial Pro-Bowler Larry Fitzgerald. That combination is a recipe for a high-octane offense. The problem is that the Cardinals may not want to acquire another quarterback after giving so much up for Kolb. Moreover, Manning is a risk.

The Dolphins have been looking for a quarterback since Hall of Famer Dan Marino retired over 10 years ago. Dolphins fans desperately want a new quarterback, and Manning is one possibility for them.

Their defense wasn’t at its best last season, but it is still one of the better defenses in the league. But their offense, even with all its weapons at running back and wide receiver, has stalled without good quarterback play. The question for the Dolphins is whether to sign Manning, the much older and injured talent, or a younger, up-and-coming quarterback.

For the Jets, it all comes down to their trust in their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez. After making strides in his play two years ago, he regressed last year and did not play at the level necessary for playoff contention. Playing in New York would give Manning a chance to play in the same city as his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Additionally, Manning would be playing in the biggest sports market in the country. But with the Jets comes their boisterous coach Rex Ryan. In Indianapolis, Manning was given a high degree of freedom with offensive play, but Ryan is much more controlling of his players.

It is possible the Colts may end up keeping their Hall of Fame quarterback. The Colts have the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, and will likely select the University of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Manning could come back and let Luck sit on the bench for a few years to gain some experience.

However, the Colts and Manning are not on such good terms: Irsay has fired many of the people Manning worked with, including former coach Jim Caldwell.

Wherever Manning ends up, he can turn that team into an instant contender. But what team is going to pull the trigger on this high-risk, but potentially high-reward quarterback?