The San Francisco 49ers had an amazing bounce-back season in 2011 and came just one win short of making it to Super Bowl XLVI. By all reasonable measures, the year was a rousing success. It was even a breakout year for Niners quarterback Alex Smith, with many analysts praising Jim Harbaugh for revitalizing Smith's career and viability in the NFL.
Still, throughout the season, especially after the loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, fans and professionals alike questioned the potency of the 49ers offense with Smith as the quarterback.
Combine this with the sudden presumed availability of Indianapolis Colts superstar quarterback Peyton Manning and you have a recipe for rampant media speculation that Manning would be an optimal target for the 49ers to acquire in 2012.
Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury and watched from the sidelines as the Colts played their way to the worst season in the NFL. At the same time, they were playing themselves into a No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. There's no evaluator in the country who doesn't believe the Colts won't use that pick to select Stanford Cardinal quarterback and two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck, who most believe is already NFL-ready. Following the season, the Colts front office underwent a sudden and radical overhaul, ousting several members of the Indianapolis brass with deep Manning ties. The writing appears to be on the wall that Peyton will soon be shown the door.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area ran down the options for the 49ers improving their QB situation in the coming year. He notes that a healthy Manning would be a huge upgrade for the Niners but would carry a huge financial risk that the San Francisco front office will likely shy away from. He does, however, include this interesting quote.
"We said that we'd get the best quarterbacks in here and throw out the balls," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said recently. "That's a position that's earned. It's never an anointed position."
Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk likewise agrees that the situation is a tricky one for the 49ers. He notes that the Colts don't need to make a decision on Manning until March 8, which Smith will become a free agent on March 13. Five days isn't much of a turnaround when you're trying to negotiate a trade to improve at quarterback while making sure you don't lose out on having a starting QB on your roster altogether.
Al Saracevic of the Chronicle runs down the pros and cons of Manning to the 49ers, arguing that the positives would not outweigh the negatives enough to justify bringing Manning to the Bay Area. The cons on his list include the uncertainty of the neck and the dangers that would bring, as well as the necessity to drop Smith if Peyton came to town.
Kevin Lynch of the SFGate blog is a bit more vocal in his opposition to any Manning deal, saying that in his estimation, the attractiveness of Peyton in 2012 is mostly built on bad assumptions.
It remains to be seen whether anything more than rumors will develop regarding Peyton Manning coming to San Francisco, but it appears to be a decision that is well worth discussing, at the very least.