It was a foregone conclusion.

At least, we all assumed that the release of Peyton Manning by the Colts was inevitable. I suppose there was some sliver of hope among the most ardent Manning fans that he and the Colts would find some common ground in terms of a reduced salary for a year or two. But, we’d seen the comments from Jim Irsay about Andrew Luck. We’ve heard all of the “best prospect since John Elway” evaluations time and again.

I just turn back the clock to early February. It didn’t matter which guest pulled on a headset during Super Bowl week in Indianapolis, the conversation shifted to Manning and his future. His image was everywhere, and you couldn’t walk more than five feet without getting jostled by somebody wearing a No. 18 jersey.

The time for action is at hand. New broke via ESPN on Tuesday afternoon that the Colts would hold a press conference with Peyton Manning to announce their separation. As a result, the PhotoShopping has begun. Images of Manning’s head are surely being fitted with new color schemes and logos in a manner equivalent to the famous Topps “paint job” cards of the 1970s by editors at websites throughout the nation. After all, the free agent frenzy is on the moment that his release is announced.

Where will he go to work?

Well, let’s look at some of the options. Remember, that just coming back to the NFL is not the MO here. This is about legacy. This is about titles. This is about being down 2-1 in the fourth quarter of your career.

So, where should he go?

Let’s roll it up.

Arizona – Does the team want to roll up a ton of cash for a quarterback after signing Kevin Kolb to a huge deal? Arizona quarterbacks also absorbed 54 sacks, good for second-most in the NFL. That’s not a selling point with Jim Harbaugh’s hard-hitting 49ers on the schedule twice.

I’ll like to team him with Larry Fitzgerald, but I don’t see it.

San Francisco – Harbaugh liked Alex Smith going into 2011 off of the shortened preseason, and his faith was rewarded with a deep playoff run. Of course, the defense deserved a ton of credit, but I can’t discount the big-time throws Smith made to Vernon Davis during the run. Still, the thought of putting Manning in this offense (young O-Line, Davis & Crabtree and Frank Gore) is mighty intriguing.

Is Smith the future, or was the success of 2011 an anomaly? The 49ers will need to pony up a big pile of cash to Smith this offseason. Might they go all-in and make a big push toward a New Orleans run?

New York Jets – You know that the O-Line is strong, so that’s a plus. But, would he go to the Big Apple and battle brother Eli for ink? Would Manning want to team up with Rex and Sparano? The team is strong and competitive, but this just doesn’t feel right.

(I do like the idea of a CGI or puppet-infused “Mannings Take Manhattan” film.)

Kansas City – The Chiefs franchised Dwayne Bowe and will have Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki returning from injury. As a result, you’re looking at fantastic skill options at his disposal. The offensive line surrendered 34 sacks (13 teams allowed fewer sacks). I wouldn’t rule it out entirely in a winnable division.

Miami – The Dolphins are one of the frontrunners for his services. He’s got the big receiver in Brandon Marshall, a dual threat out of the backfield in Reggie Bush and a good defense. The offensive line still needs tweaking, as this unit allowed the third-most sacks in the league (52).

The biggest issue is this. I have to assume that Joe Philbin reaches back to Green Bay and pays a huge pile of cash to Matt Flynn.

Seattle – The Seahawks re-upped Marshawn Lynch, but the rest of the skill positions are in need of upgrades. The O-Line surrendered 50 sacks (fourth in the NFL) and has that San Francisco defense on the slate twice.

Washington – Daniel Snyder likes to make big splashes. We know Mike Shanahan’s history well. Shanahan has spoken of his belief that the Redskins had a playoff offense in 2011. I’ll let you chew that one over.

Of course, Manning would be joining the NFC East … so there would be two matchups with brother Eli on tap. That alone makes this pairing a longshot.

Cleveland – The Browns are believed to be strong players in the RGIII conversation to shake things up. I personally talked to a Cleveland receiver about his desire for a big-time arm, and Manning would fit the bill. However, this isn’t a team on the cusp of greatness and has many holes to fill. Joe Thomas would have to do one hell of a sales job.

Denver – Tebow fans don’t want to hear it, but there’s an opportunity here. The Broncos have a good offensive line, a strong runner in Willis McGahee and a potential monster in Demaryius Thomas. The Denver defense was strong down the stretch, as we recall from the constant attention afforded the squad. The pieces are in place to take the division again.

This would be a huge statement from John Elway.
Houston – Go for the kill shot. The team just re-signed Arian Foster. He’s got a monster in the receiving corps with Andre Johnson. The offensive line is strong and that defense under Wade Phillips became a force in 2011. Matt Schaub’s been strong, but he’s been injured often. T.J. Yates is there as a security option. All of that is fantastic …. and he’d get a chance to dominate the Colts twice a year.

Jacksonville – Manning would have fun picking up those Pro Bowl conversations he’s had with Maurice Jones-Drew, but that’s about it. I don’t believe that we saw enough to truly evaluate Blaine Gabbert this past year. The Jaguars cut his presumed No. 1 wide receiver in-season. They’re not close to having the personnel for a title run, so this is a longshot. The ability to play the Colts only goes so far.