The reality is we're just getting started.
Welcome to judgment week for Manning and the Colts. Manning's $28 million option is due Thursday. Expect more media maneuvering in the days to come, then expect Manning to get released and become a free agent. That's when the real fun starts.
Manning will own the period between the minute he's cut and when free agency officially starts on March 13. There will be players in other cities getting released, and long-term deals worked out. They will all be background noise compared to one of the game's all-time greats finding a new team.
The recent YouTube video that surfaced of Manning throwing helped answer one of my biggest questions about this process. When can Manning sign?
I feared he wouldn't want to sign or teams wouldn't pay full-market value until everyone was sure he was going to play in 2012. It appears Manning can show enough right now to get teams to jump on board. Here are the teams I believe are waiting to talk to him.
1. Miami: Manning might not "fit" coach Joe Philbin's offense, but that doesn't matter when the owner wants to sign Manning badly. There were unconfirmed rumors at the scouting combine that Manning already was zeroed in on the Dolphins as his destination if the Colts cut him.
2. Arizona: The Cardinals deliberately left the door open to go after Manning during interviews at the Combine. They strongly appear to have interest. Kevin Kolb is due a large bonus on March 17, so the Cardinals have to make a deal happen quickly. Manning's health makes that easier.
With Larry Fitzgerald, a strong running game, and a history of success with cerebral quarterbacks, Arizona may be the best fantasy football fit out there.
3. Seattle: The Seahawks have been my sleeper suitor for Manning all along. They have an aggressive front office, ownership that will get out of the way, and they can transform their attack for Manning. What they don't have: a great receiver group.
4. Kansas City: It's not just about Romeo Crennel's comment at the combine. The team has tons of salary cap and a strong foundation to win right now. Matt Cassel only costs $5 million this year, so the team could conceivably keep him as a backup if they got Manning to sign.
6. Washington: The Redskins sound like a fit on paper, but the connection doesn't hold up under examination. It wouldn't be an attractive place for Manning to go, and Mike Shanahan seems more likely to build around a young quarterback.
I've talked to some folks that believe Manning will quickly sign (with Miami the strongest possibility) soon after he's cut. My guess is that things won't turn out that simple.
Manning's agent Tom Condon is a master at creating leverage and the contract for Manning is going to be complicated, considering the health risks.
It's judgment week for the Colts, but Peyton Manning season should last longer.