- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Fans in several NFL markets are working themselves into a lather, becoming hot and bothered at the thought of Peyton Manning saying “I do” to their team. Manning’s departure from the Indianapolis Colts was expected, but that didn’t lessen the excitement anticipation once it became official.

The Washington Redskins are considered a leading suitor for Peyton’s services, which means D.C. sports fans will experience the emotional wringer for the second time this year. The Nationals were presumed to land prized slugger Prince Fielder a mere six weeks ago, before the Detroit Tigers swooped in unexpectedly.

I like the Miami Dolphins‘ chances in the Manning sweepstakes, which figures to be the most-scrutinized dating process since a certain NBA free agent took his talents to South Beach. While LeBron James‘ ill-fated TV special was a bad decision, the run-up was captivating as he visited with five teams and Cleveland held its breath.

Manning might jet from city to city — wining and dining with owners, coaches and general managers — but that seems unlikely. Considering the leverage he commands in the upcoming bidding war, don’t be surprised if a decision comes quickly with little advance notice.

Nonetheless, if there’s a chance to get footage of him debarking from a private jet, being whisked away from the tarmac or exiting a fancy restaurant, someone will have the shot. And if there’s a lack of news, no problem. We’ll hear numerous reports on the dearth, with rampant speculation thrown in as filler.

The information age has made free agency a sport unto itself. But unlike in actual competition, the winner is determined before games begin, not afterward.

Surely Nats fans and Heat fans followed the courtships of Fielder and James, respectively, as closely as daily box scores and standings. Manning has been the center of attention since the season ended, including Super Bowl week, when he was among the primary storylines.

Among ESPN, sports websites and Twitter updates, even the 24/7 news cycle can seem overwhelmed when big-fish free agents are up for grabs. And since Manning arguably is the NFL’s biggest free agent ever, expect the coverage to set new highs (lows?) until he finally picks his next team.

Would he come to D.C. and have to face his brother, Eli, twice a year? Would he go to the New York Jets and share the back pages with Eli? Is Denver really interested in adding him with Tim Tebow on the roster? Can Arizona give up on Kevin Kolb so soon after paying so much? Are Seattle and Kansas City even remotely possible as his eventual destination? Is Houston willing to upset Matt Schaub by going after Manning?

Watching this drama unfold can be as riveting as a two-minute drill with the game on the line. Except in this instance, we don’t know when the clock will hit 0:00.

James eliminated the mystery when he set the time for his TV special. We had the feeling that Fielder’s decision had entered overtime, with training camp a couple of weeks away, before Detroit’s last-second surprise. Reports indicate that Manning would like to settle matters within the next week, with a preference to remain in the AFC.

Redskins fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Free agent wideout Reggie Wayne, one of Manning’s favorite targets in Indy, went on Michael Irvin’s radio show in Miami this week and lobbied for the Dolphins, saying he’d sign as soon as Manning did. Besides already owning a home in South Florida, Manning would have the benefits of a tropical climate, no income tax and dynamic playmakers in place.

Whatever he decides, we’ll follow the developments minute-by-minute like stockbrokers once followed ticker-tape, until hopes crash in every market except one.