Manning was scheduled to count $17 million against the Colts' salary cap if the team paid the $28 million option bonus. Had he received the bonus and then had to retire before or after the 2012 season, the Colts would have been stuck with a $28.6 million cap hit in 2013, which would have been paralyzing to their football operations.
Now that Manning is free, though, he can structure a contract that fits any interested team's cap. While teams wait to find out Manning's health coming off neck surgery, let's look at the cap health of the teams that might be interested in signing him, rating them from the healthiest to the tightest fit.
1. Washington Redskins: Redskins owner Dan Snyder planned to have salary-cap flexibility in 2012. Thanks to good cap management, he has $36.5 million of room to do anything he wants. (That doesn't count the $5.4 million franchise tag on tight end Fred Davis.) Little did he know in those planning sessions that Manning would become available. After going back and forth on trade talks with the St. Louis Rams to move up to the No. 2 pick in order to draft Robert Griffin III, the Redskins will switch their attention to Manning.
2. Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks entered the week with $36.025 million of room, then signed running back Marshawn Lynch to a four-year, $31 million contract. Signing Manning wouldn't be a problem. Because of their cap room, the Seahawks are candidates to go after the most expensive defender in free agency, Texans defensive end Mario Williams, but they could switch priorities and upgrade the quarterback position. They currently have Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. Upgrading to Manning wouldn't challenge their cap.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: After moving $19.8 million of remaining cap dollars over from 2011, the Chiefs have $34.1 million of room. Subtract about $9.4 million for the franchise tag given to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs already have said they have interest in bringing in a quarterback to compete against Matt Cassel. Signing Manning would end any competition, but it would excite the Chiefs' season-ticket holders and bring a buzz to the franchise.
4. Cleveland Browns: Maybe it's a long shot to throw the Browns into the mix because they may not be interested in Manning. Still, they have the room to get into the action. They have $17 million of room after placing the franchise tag on kicker Phil Dawson. The Browns have options at quarterback. They could stay with Colt McCoy. They could trade up for Griffin. They could go after Manning if they wish.
5. Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins didn't franchise anyone, so they have $10.2 million of cap money available. To get Manning, though, they could restructure the contracts of tackle Jake Long, Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby, whose base salaries total $29.3 million. Owner Stephen Ross wants Manning. He can make it work.
6. Arizona Cardinals: It's going to be a tight squeeze. They have $3.1 million of cap room, but cutting tackle Levi Brown could free up more than $16 million of cap room. Of course, that would weaken the offensive line, which may affect Manning's decisions. The Cardinals will kick the tires on the chances of getting Manning. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is pushing for the Cardinals to get Manning. The team would have to decide if it wants to keep Kevin Kolb if it signs Manning.
7. Denver Broncos: I'm just throwing in the Broncos because they have the room to do something with Manning. They have $43.3 million of cap room after giving the franchise tag to kicker Matt Prater. For cap purposes, the Broncos have the best ability to go for Manning, but I put them at the bottom because it's Tim Tebow's team now.