INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CBSMiami) – As brain trusts from every NFL team gathers in Indianapolis for the annual NFL scouting combine; all eyes are on three players: Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin, III, and Andrew Luck.
And all of their futures are intertwined with each other.
Everything starts with current Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. The future Hall of Famer is still trying to recover from multiple neck surgeries and it's still not known if he will ever throw the football again like he used to in years past.
Complicating matters for the Colts is that Manning is due a $28 million roster bonus due March 8. That date comes before NFL free agency begins and long before the NFL Draft, meaning the Colts will have to make a decision on whether to pay Manning the full bonus or to cut him and let him become an unrestricted free agent.
If Manning is kept, he will count roughly $35 million against the salary cap in 2012. If he's released, the Colts will be able to wipe most of that off the salary cap and use it to invest in younger players at other positions.
But, the Colts hold all the cards in the decision making around Manning because they also hold the number one pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. That brings us back to the aforementioned Robert Griffin, III and Andrew Luck.
NFL experts have long said that Andrew Luck will be the number one overall pick in the draft. But, RGIII is not going down without a fight. Luck is considered a classic, drop back pocket-passer. RGIII is an athlete with a rifle for an arm and plenty of speed to burn.
Neither Luck nor RGIII, will throw the football at the NFL combine, which is typical for likely high-first round draft picks. So, the Colts will have to wait until the college days for both players to see them throw the football. But it's still almost a foregone conclusion that Luck is headed for Indianapolis.
Assuming Luck is the direction the Colts want to head, that means Peyton Manning will likely be released because keeping him would tie up more than $50 million of the salary cap for Manning and Luck.
Once Manning is released, there's likely to be a bidding war for his services, assuming he can show teams he is healing and can throw the football. The teams most in need of a quarterback outside of Indianapolis are the Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Cleveland Browns, and Washington Redskins.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is said to be enthralled with the possibility of landing Peyton Manning to be the Fins' new quarterback. Ross is willing to pay and Manning already has homes down here and is rehabbing in South Florida.
Still, according to SI.com's Peter King, it's believed Fins head coach Joe Philbin wants total control of his offense and he may not want to cede control to anyone, including Manning.
If the Dolphins can't land a deal with Manning, and the door was left open at the NFL Combine Friday when general manager Jeff Ireland said a short-term solution at quarterback could work, then the Redskins are the most likely suitors for his services.
But, Miami has a ready-made offensive line with an All-Pro left tackle, an All-Pro wide receiver, 1,000 yard rusher, and a top-ten defense. That could sway Manning's decision towards Miami if he receives multiple offers once he becomes a free agent.
The Arizona Cardinals may also make a play for Manning, if he becomes a free agent. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt took a washed-up Kurt Warner to the Super Bowl, so reclamation projects are his specialty. But the Cards offensive line is a mess and the defense isn't playoff ready just yet.
If Washington ends up with Manning, all is not lost for Miami, but a decision will have to be made about just what the organization is willing to sacrifice to land a quarterback of the future.
St. Louis Rams officials made it known that the number two overall pick in the draft is for sale and will go to the highest bidder. Several teams, including the Dolphins, have discussed acquiring the Rams' pick to draft RGIII.
If this is the path the Dolphins want to take, there could be some major pitfalls.
The Rams will command a king's ransom for the pick, which is likely to be at least two first round draft picks and probably more picks or players. So the Fins could get Griffin with the right package, but it would have to be able to beat every other team, which brings in the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have two first round draft picks this year, and even though the team has lots of holes on it, drafting RGIII may be too much to pass up on. The Browns can package both picks up and give up a number two pick next year and keep the rest of their 2012 draft picks.
So, Miami may end up in a bidding war for RGIII if that's the path they want to go down.
But there's one other quarterback out there who could throw a wrench in the whole system, Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn.
Flynn is expected to be franchised by the Packers. If he is it will cost a team a draft pick to acquire his services in a trade. If he's released, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Packers may not franchise him because it will cost $14 million against the salary cap and if no one makes a bid on him, the team will be stuck with that cost once Flynn signs the contract.
Flynn learned in the NFL under new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. If any coach in the league knows whether or not the former seventh-round pick is ready to take over an NFL franchise it's Philbin. So, the Fins have an expert leg up in this department.
But, the first domino that has to fall is for Manning to be released and teams that are interested will have to make a fast jump on him because free agency will begin roughly five days later and if you don't have him then, the team will have to make a decision on Manning, Flynn, or go after RGIII.
Needless to say, the Dolphins have some major decisions to make in the coming weeks as each of these quarterbacks gets poked and prodded through the draft process or by team doctors.
The right decision will set the Dolphins up for at least the next few years as a playoff contender. The wrong decision will push the Dolphins further into mediocrity and have fans once again clamoring for the time when a new Dan Marino-esque quarterback lands in Miami.
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