The Miami Dolphins have hired their new head coach, tapping former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin to be the tenth head coach of the franchise, and now, all eyes will turn to whomever the Dolphins can get to be the "franchise" quarterback. With the once great quarterback draft of 2012 suddenly becoming two guys, and a bunch of also-rans, the Dolphins may have to turn to free agency to find a replacement for the Chad Henne/Matt Moore led 2011 team.
As of now, there are two potential free agency targets - the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback Matt Flynn and the Indianapolis Colts' future Hall of Famer, Peyton Manning. Of course, both teams could keep either of these players, but it will be tough for either one.
With the hire of Philbin, the speculation is going to run rampant right now that the Dolphins' will go after Flynn as soon as free agency opens on March 13. With Philbin in place, that move is not as scary, given Philbin has worked with Flynn throughout the backup quarterback's career and knows him well, as it would be if any other team grabs the quarterback based on performances in two career starts. If Philbin aggressively pursues Flynn, hitching himself to Aaron Rodgers' understudy, you have to assume Philbin trusts Flynn.
But, what about that other name? If the Colts do release Manning, rather than pay him the $28 million option due to him on March 8, should the Dolphins make a play for him? It's a high risk move - but one that, for at least a couple years, could also be high reward.
After a dismal 2-14 season, the Colts currently are holding the number one overall pick, and in position to grab the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since...well, Peyton Manning. If the Colts do grab Stanford's Andrew Luck, they would be on the hook for approximately $15 million dollars this year. That's an awful lot to pay a backup quarterback. (Coincidentally, if the Packers' were to franchise tag Flynn to keep him from leaving Green Bay, they would owe him about the same $15 million to be a backup to Aaron Rodgers, who is only making about $11 million a year.)
With the bonus due to Manning, plus his base salary, and the $15 million to Luck, can the Colts afford to pay nearly $50 million dollars for two quarterbacks? That's a steep price for two players, only one of whom is on the field at a time.
So, assuming the Colts unload Manning, what should the Dolphins do? The first step would, obviously, be to see if the quarterback is healthy. Manning missed the entire 2011 season after having three neck surgeries in 18-months. Manning has had problems with a nerve in his neck, affecting his right (throwing) arm. If that nerve has not regenerated, he may have problems gripping or throwing the ball.
Back in December, reports stated that Manning had been cleared to start increasing his football activity. The bones that were fused in his neck had strengthened enough to begin throwing, and start working his way back to practicing. However, none of that explains where Manning is now - especially with the regeneration of the nerve.
Manning entering free agency - something unheard of just a couple of years ago - would add intrigue to a market starved for quarterback talent. Several teams, including the Washington Redskins, the New York Jets, and the Dolphins, could all be looking at bringing in Manning. If the Dolphins did grab Manning, the team would most likely still take a rookie quarterback in the draft, trying to hedge its bets with Manning, as well as letting someone develop behind the aging (Manning will be 36 years old at the start of next season) superstar quarterback.
The Dolphins could also use Manning to get other quarterback needy teams out of the way of drafting Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Some speculation has started placing Griffin ahead of Luck as the top quarterback in the draft - but don't expect the Colts to grab the Baylor QB. Meaning, if the Dolphins were able to trade up in the draft from their current eighth or ninth position, there could be less competition for the draft pick, if, say the Redskins, were content with landing Manning.
But, the idea of bringing in Manning will be tempting to many Dolphins fans. The team would be getting one of the best quarterbacks of all-time - assuming his health is not a problem. And, they would be doing it without spending the multiple draft picks it would require to move up to get Griffin. It really is a high risk-high reward move.
Whichever way the Dolphins go in this offseason - trading up to get Griffin, or signing Manning - it will be fascinating to watch as new coach Philbin looks to make his mark on a franchise - and a fan base - tired of losing seasons.