Peyton Manning's departure from Indianapolis was so graceful we might as well call it "The Anti-Decision."
That doesn't mean he still can't learn a thing or two from LeBron James. With some sacrifice, a little bit of luck and a lot of creative number-crunching, Manning could begin assembling his own, Heat-styled "superteam" in Miami in a hurry.
The Dolphins won't be the only team competing for Manning's services, though they might be the best fit. They're one of two NFL teams that could benefit most from the "Manning bump." The Titans are the other one, because of the quarterback's strong Tennessee ties. But the Dolphins are also about to say goodbye to starting quarterback Chad Henne, they're coming off a 6-10 season, they've got plenty of unsold seats and they're already a distant third in South Florida's increasingly glitzy sports landscape, behind the NBA title-contending Heat and baseball's suddenly rejuvenated Marlins. Plus, few NFL owners are more star-struck than Miami boss Stephen Ross, who knows that wherever Manning goes, more than a few free-agent stars will eventually follow.
The Colts hadn't even officially released Manning before Reggie Wayne, his former Indy sidekick and soon-to-be-free agent wide receiver, volunteered to take his talents to South Beach, too. And Wayne made it sound as though he wasn't the only one.
"I am totally available. ... It can truly be dangerous if they put us all together," he said during a radio interview Wednesday, then thought about that scenario for a moment. "But the league might not want that."
The league can't do anything about it, though, so long as Manning and all the other interested parties play by the rules.
Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd., is a shrewd observer of the league's business side. Asked to run some numbers, here's what he came up with:
The Dolphins are roughly $10 million under the salary cap, and considering how few players they have worth keeping, the team could probably dump another $10 million in salary with ease. If Manning is willing to take the same kind of deal he was discussing with the Colts — a back-loaded or incentive-laden contract — his salary-cap figure for the 2012 season could be as low as $5 million to $8 million. If Wayne was willing to be similarly creative, his figure would be in the same range. The Dolphins already have a top-flight receiver in Brandon Marshall, two good running backs and if you add another former Manning sidekick, Colts' tight end and soon-to-be-free agent Jacob Tamme, the offense is practically up and running. That leaves precious little, between $5 million and $7 million, to address the team's other pressing needs — help in the secondary and along both lines.
Fans, however, should remember the Colts weren't built in a day.
We ran the same scenario by an NFL general manager, who stopped laughing long enough to request anonymity.
"We're all trying to build 'dream teams,'" he said, "but bringing in Peyton means turning over almost everything else and short-term fixes are really dangerous. This isn't five guys on the floor like the NBA. I mean, Manning is not just your quarterback, he's your de facto offensive coordinator and how many years does he have left? What happens if he gets knocked out of a game? ... If you're a football guy, there's no way to describe it other than a real ... big ... risk. I don't know many guys who would want to try it.
"But that said," he added a moment later, "the owner can do anything he wants."
That's where Ross comes in.
The Dolphins have made just one trip to the playoffs in the last decade and Ross' plan to increase attendance was to put celebrities in the seats instead of on the field — Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Jimmy Buffett, Gloria Estefan, Fergie and Venus and Serena Williams are all part of the Dolphins' ownership group. He also just turned over his entire staff, hiring former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as head coach and giving him wide berth to bring in a handful of former co-workers to install a West Coast offense. The scheme is not exactly tailored to Manning's strengths, but Ross has made it clear he wants Manning, and the bottom line is whatever the owner wants.
Manning would have to want it, too, and while he's got a place in South Beach and has been working out nearby with Wayne, he might have to sacrifice some money to make it work. He would also need to be patient, and smart enough to any recruiting in private, since the collective bargaining agreement has several anti-collusion provisions tucked into it.
"And remember," Ganis said, "beyond the chance to play alongside one of the all-time greats, Florida has no state income tax. And when you make the kind of money these guys are bringing home, that can be a very, very persuasive selling point."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/Jim Litke.