In a very small way, Peyton manning gave the people of Tennessee what they wanted Monday.
Chances are the fact that he wore an orange shirt to his visit with the Tennessee Titans. More likely, the most high-profile free agent in NFL history — fully aware that his every movement would be filmed and photographed — donned the zip-up as an homage to those who cheered him so vigorously during his four years at the University of Tennessee.
Those fans — and a lot of others — would like nothing more than to see Manning in the Titans’ two tones of blue this fall and beyond.
Of course, whether or not that happens hinges upon what Manning wants. The general feeling among NFL observers is that each time the four-time NFL most valuable player meets with a team, he is the one with the majority of questions. He wants to know what teams have to offer in terms of personnel, philosophy and competitiveness before he decides where to play out the final years of his career.
Tennessee was the fourth franchise he vetted. He also had lengthy discussions with Arizona, Denver and Miami. With that in mind, we look at what the Titans have to offer relative to those teams in areas that figure to factor into his decision.
• Wide receivers: Wherever he ends up, Manning is going to throw the ball. Presumably, therefore, he wants people who can get open and catch the ball.
Kenny Britt is the type of young, explosive receiver that is becoming more and more common throughout the league, provided he can stay healthy. Nate Washington is a reliable veteran and the rest of the group is young and largely unproven. Miami just traded away a top-of-the-line option in Brandon Marshall. Arizona has Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the best and most-polished pass catcher in the league. Advantage: Arizona.
• Running back: Manning has operated in front of a player like Edgerrin James, who led the league in rushing, and later had Joseph Addai, a much more pedestrian option. Both were productive as defenses looked to shut down the passing game first.
Chris Johnson is not far removed from a 2,000-yard season but more recently looked timid and lacked explosiveness. The Dolphins have Reggie Bush, whose ability as a runner looks to be on the rise after years as primarily a receiving/return threat. In 2011 he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and topped 1,000 yards for the first time. Both Johnson and Bush are quality receivers. Neither Arizona’s Beanie Wells nor Denver’s Willis McGahee are big-play threats. Advantage: Miami (slightly).
• Offensive line: Coming off a series of neck surgeries, it seems obvious that Manning wants to take as little punishment as possible.
Titans left tackle Michael Roos is at or near elite status and right tackle David Stewart figures to be better than in 2011, when he battled injuries for much of the time. However, the Titans started the free agency signing period by talking to veteran guard Steve Hutchinson and center Scott Wells, which suggests the interior of the line is in flux and the continuity of that unit will be dramatically reduced coming into this season. Arizona, with Levi Brown (fifth overall in 2007), Miami with Jake Long (first overall, 2008), and Denver with Ryan Clady (12th overall, 2008) all have premier left tackles. The Broncos led the league in rushing last season. Advantage: Denver.
• Philosophy: Manning is 35 years old and has been in the league for 14 seasons. He probably is not looking to learn an entirely new system.
Mike Munchak is a Hall of Famer who is certain to command a level of respect. Tennessee’s offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has coached Eli Manning, so he probably has some insight into what Peyton likes. Denver coach Jon Fox and his staff proved last season with Tim Tebow that they are willing and able to tailor their approach to a quarterback’s specific strengths, and Fox has shown he can take a team to the Super Bowl (Carolina). Miami’s Joe Philbin is new to the job after having been Green Bay’s offensive coordinator, so he is not likely to stray too far from what he knows. Advantage: Denver.
• Mother Nature: Manning has played his entire professional career in Indianapolis with one of two domes as his homefield.
How much that factors into his thinking is unclear, but Arizona is the only one of the four that plays in a dome. Plus, it plays at St. Louis (a dome) every year, which means at least nine games indoors each season. Miami and Denver are both prone to extreme conditions, albeit on opposite ends of the spectrum. LP Field rarely has experienced rain during games, but it can get cold late in the season. Advantage: Arizona.
• Geography: Anywhere Manning goes, he’ll live in posh surroundings and will find means of community involvement.
His ties to this area are obvious, though, given that his wife is a Tennessean and they own a residence not far away in Chattanooga. The couple also has a place in Miami. Advantage: Tennessee.
• Revenge: Manning said all the right things at his farewell press conference with the Colts.
He is a hyper-competitive individual, though, and just maybe he wants the opportunity to stick it to Indianapolis. The Titans play the Colts twice a year every year. Denver and Miami are guaranteed to be on the schedule once every three years with the possibility of more encounters. The Cardinals and Colts play once every four-year period. Advantage: Tennessee.