Mailbag: All eyes on Peyton Manning

Filippo from Windsor, Canada, thinks Alex Smith, not Kyle Williams, was the 49ers' biggest problem in the NFC Championship Game. He wondered whether the team could trade for Peyton Manning this offseason.

Mike Sando: There will almost certainly be no trade for Manning. The Colts could not trade Manning without first paying a $28 million bonus to him. Failing to pay that bonus by March 8 would make Manning a free agent when the trading period opened five days later.

My early take on Manning was that the Colts would keep him as long as he were healthy. Sweeping changes in the organization have created the impression Indianapolis anticipates making a clean break at the position. Indianapolis appears increasingly likely to part with Manning unless the sides adjust that bonus to buy time. Manning will not want to do that, most likely, if he knows the Colts are going to draft his replacement, Andrew Luck.

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This has become a perfect storm. Manning's injury was worse than anticipated. He missed the entire season, longer than expected. The Colts were worse than anticipated without him, so bad they secured the top pick. Manning's health did not improve as anticipated. One of the brightest college quarterback prospects in years happened to be available in the next draft. And then Manning had that $28 million lever in his contract.

Those are all extreme circumstances. Throw them together and it's tough to envision the Colts keeping Manning. That $28 million price tag is too high amid questions about Manning's health.

We're in a holding pattern until the March 8 bonus date. Perceptions could change by then. If Manning does become a free agent, his health will remain the key variable. It's too early to know where he might land.

I suspect the 49ers will re-sign Alex Smith before or around the March 13 start to free agency. Arizona has until March 17 to pay a $7 million bonus to keep Kevin Kolb. The gap could give the Cardinals a chance to at least consider Manning. Lots of other teams would have interest as well.

Manning's recent comments to Bob Kravitz were illuminating. Manning said he felt as though sweeping changes in the Colts' organization had left people there "walking on eggshells." But Manning is the one with reason to feel that way. He's no longer in control of his immediate future.

Dan from Portland asks why few people seem to be connecting Manning to the Seattle Seahawks. He thinks Kolb should get another chance in Arizona. He thinks Alex Smith should be the starter in San Francisco. And he sees Sam Bradford as the quarterback in St. Louis. Doesn't that leave Seattle as the most logical destination among NFC West teams?

Mike Sando: Yeah, I've wondered why Arizona has been mentioned in so many of the reports. It is possible people close to Manning are pushing Arizona as a possible destination because, one, Manning might see that as an appealing place to land and, two, the Cardinals do have that $7 million decision to make on Kolb. I see no reason for the Cardinals to push the Manning angle in the news, unless they hope to pressure Kolb into an adjusted contract.

I agree with you on Seattle making the most sense from a quarterback-need perspective. The fit from a system standpoint would take some adjusting. I also wonder how much the Seahawks would want to commit financially to such a high-profile player with clear health concerns. Would they see this as a risky two-year rental, or as a chance to become a championship contender quickly?

Manning's health is the No. 1 variable. If he hits the market in good physical condition, lots of teams will be interested.

Jeremiah from Germany thinks 49ers fans should be clamoring for Dwayne Bowe, not Marques Colston, in free agency this offseason.

Mike Sando: It's tough for me to envision the Chiefs letting Bowe get away. Smart teams re-sign their best players, especially when those players are young. I would also favor Bowe over Colston, all else being equal. But I also think the 49ers would be more likely to address the position in the draft and with a lower-priced free agent. That is how they believe in putting their team together. They have been averse to overpaying for players other teams have let hit the market. That was the case last offseason when the 49ers showed no interest in Nnamdi Asomugha and other top free agents.

Scott from Epsom, N.H., thinks I've failed to pay the New York Giants their proper respects and have instead sought to diminish their victory by branding them as concussion-inflicting cheaters. "Grow up," he writes. "It's a game."

Mike Sando: The stories about the Giants trying to inflict a concussion upon Kyle Williams originated in the Newark Star-Ledger and New York Magazine. I simply linked to them, which was pretty much a no-brainer from an NFC West perspective. These were direct quotes from Giants players speaking on the record in well-established publications.

On the game itself, the 49ers blew a prime opportunity to reach the Super Bowl, giving up 10 points on uncharacteristic special-teams turnovers. That was my focus from a 49ers/NFC West standpoint coming out of the game. There's no shortage of favorable Giants coverage out there. I just thought the 49ers did more to lose the game than their opponent did to win it. This being the NFC West blog, the 49ers were going to be my focus.

Adam from El Paso noticed that the last quarterbacks drafted in first rounds tend to struggle. He pointed to Patrick Ramsey (2002), Rex Grossman (2003), J.P. Losman (2004), Jason Campbell (2005), Jay Cutler (2006) and Brady Quinn (2007) as examples. He pointed to Joe Flacco (2008) and possibly Cutler as exceptions, but wondered if there was something to it.

Mike Sando: Interesting observation. There is nothing dooming these players. Overall, though, the quarterbacks with the most obvious skills tend to get drafted earlier. If you've reached the late first round and are thinking about a quarterback, you're probably gambling more than teams selecting them earlier. Perhaps you're more apt to be reaching for a prospect because you need one and fear missing out.

Joe from Phoenix sees Jeff Fisher delivering credible coordinators and asks whether we should expect him to land top free agents as well. He points to Cortland Finnegan as a possibility and wants to know if there are others with ties to Fisher or the current Rams coordinators.

Mike Sando: Yes, we should expect the Rams to have interest in free-agent players Fisher and his coordinators coached in the past. Finnegan is one of them.

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer spent the last six seasons with New York, but the Jets do not have many potential offensive free agents of note. The list includes quarterback Mark Brunell, receiver Plaxico Burress, tight end Matthew Mulligan, quarterback Kevin O'Connell, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tackle Robert Turner.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spent the last three seasons with New Orleans.

The Saints' potential defensive free agents include linebacker Jonathan Casillas, defensive end Jeff Charleston, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, linebacker Ramon Humber, defensive end Turk McBride, cornerback Tracy Porter, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and cornerback Leigh Torrance.

Williams was also with 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers, another potential free agent, years ago in Washington.

Fisher's roots as head coach in Tennessee provide additional connections. The Titans' potential free agents include snapper Ken Amato, safety Jordan Babineaux, linebacker Patrick Bailey, defensive end Dave Ball, Finnegan, safety Michael Griffin, running back Ahmard Hall, receiver Lavelle Hawkins, defensive end William Hayes, safety Chris Hope, defensive end/tackle Jason Jones, tackle Mike Otto, guard Jake Scott, linebacker Tim Shaw and safety Anthony Smith.