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Free agency timing could affect Flynn-Manning decision

Do you have a calendar?

If you don't, you're in for a sobering experience. If you have one, you probably already understand that what I'm about to share is truth.

The calendar says March 8th is precisely 17 days away and falls on a Thursday. That is the deadline by which time the Indianapolis Colts must either pay Peyton Manning his $28 million bonus or allow him to become a free agent.

Five days later, on Tuesday March 13th, unrestricted free agency will begin. That is ostensibly the first day Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn is expected to hit the open market.

Now that we've established those two facts, you might begin understanding where we're going ...

The facts are that barring a sudden and unexpected return to health in the next 17 days, Manning may quite possibly become available and no one will have any certainty he will be 100 percent recovered from his multiple neck surgeries and nerve problems when the deal is done. In fact, it's likely that no one will be able to even predict with certainty by March 8 that Manning will be 100 percent by the start of the NFL season.

Nerve regeneration is simply next to impossible to predict.

Teams will be able to look at the nerve response and strength charts and predict Manning will continue to get better, but know for sure? No way.

So get used to the idea that certainty is not something any team chasing Peyton Manning is likely to enjoy, assuming he's available.

And because of the timing of it all, it will be practically impossible for any team to go through a logical progression of decisions on Manning and Flynn. In other words, it will be impossible for one team to say, "We'll sign Peyton Manning if he's available and healthy and if he's not, we'll sign Matt Flynn."

That progression of decisions will probably not exist, again, because Manning will probably not be 100 percent in three weeks while he is on the market at the same time as a healthy and avaliable Flynn.

In cases where teams are dealing with two healthy free agents, they can bring both to town, check both out physically, and then make a decision on which best fits. But with Manning and Flynn, the team might bring both to town, and only one of the players will be healthy.

It's like shopping for a quarterback but comparing apples to oranges -- a healthy unproven young quarterback versus a veteran unhealthy proven quarterback.

Some teams won't chase Manning as a result, while others will pass on Flynn and gamble Manning return to his old form. The two play the same position. They will be available at pretty much the same time. But they are vastly different in what situation they must be signed under.

Either way, you're taking a gamble. Both require teams to project. Neither quarterback comes with the luxury of certainty.

The team signing Flynn won't know for sure he's a starting-caliber player until he does it for much longer than his two games worth of experience. The team signing Manning won't know for sure he'll be back to 100 percent -- until the season gets going and he proves it one way or the other on the field. It's all a million-dollar guessing game.

And here's another wrinkle: Because Manning isn't likely to be 100 percent, he might decide not to expose himself to visits and exams right away. He might decide to wait until he gets better.

So what does a team do then?

Do you wait on Manning and likely lose out on Flynn, who will sign with the a more aggressive team? Or do you pass on the possibility of Manning regaining his greatness for the chance to sign an unproven, young, but healthy an readily available Matt Flynn?

Flynn certainly isn't going to wait for Manning to be signed for him to sign. Someone will chase him and he will sign. That will leave the team waiting on Manning at risk because, well, what if Manning never gets better? What if Manning retires? What if he requires another surgery as Sports Illustrated speculated?

There is nothing that will keep teams from chasing both Manning and Flynn at the same time. I imagine you can bring both in and give both the once over and then pick based on which projection discussed above you're most comfortable with.

But the idea that anyone will have the luxury of knowing that Manning is definitely healthy or not before moving on to Flynn is not realistic based on the timing of things.

And even if Manning decides to wait to sign, a team must decide whether to jump at Flynn or not early because, again, he won't wait for Manning to decide where he's going. Flynn will simply go to the combination earliest/highest bidder who has obviously eliminated Manning as a possibility.

So this won't be an "If not A, then B" scenario." This will be more a scenario where a team makes priorities and then moves on those priorities accordingly based on an educated guess.

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