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49ers, Dolphins lose big when Manning picks Denver

With Peyton Manning reportedly deciding his next home will be in Denver, Miami and San Francisco have been left as the teams that will have to do without obvious upgrades to the quarterback position heading into 2012.

That might be less important for the Dolphins, who lost out not only on Manning, but on Matt Flynn, Robert Griffin III and even lesser potential upgrades like Kyle Orton before signing David Garrard Monday afternoon.

The Dolphins, despite their 6-3 finish, are not on the cusp of being a championship team. There is some talent on the roster, but they’ve got holes at several positions, now including safety, where the team chopped captain Yeremiah Bell today to create cap space. … Might have been a good idea to create that space back when they had a shot at Manning, if they ever really did, but who am I?

One must wonder what they were doing in their effort to attract a quarterback when they traded top wide receiver target Brandon Marshall for just a couple third round picks. Had they landed Manning, some free agents likely would have eagerly followed. But with the likelihood now being either Garrard, who is less than a year removed from back surgery, or another season of Matt Moore, Miami becomes somewhat less attractive to big name players looking to play with big name signal callers.

And Moore isn’t a terrible option, either, at least in the short-term. He’s got a career quarterback rating of 80.1 and posted an 87.1 rating last season. While nobody is going to be carving a bronzed bust of Moore for Canton anytime soon, he is more than just a serviceable stopgap for a team that has not had a true franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season. Maybe not the worst case scenario for the Dolphins would be what one Twitter user suggested: Modifying the 2011 “Suck For Luck” slogan into “Blow for Barkley,” roll with Moore for another season and hope for the worst.

Perhaps the biggest loser in all of these offseason quarterback derbies so far is San Francisco. Alex Smith likely would not have stuck around with the 49ers if not for the lockout in 2011, but he did stay and, with the support of a coach who believed in him (and Frank Gore and a stout defense), Smith had by far his most productive season. He was a likely returnee in 2012 too – until the 49ers got involved in the Manning sweepstakes.

When that happened, Smith understandably started looking for his own employer in 2012. Jed York indicates in a tweet that the 49ers have an offer on the table, but now who knows whether San Francisco can woo him back.

The 49ers have done a nice job of upgrading the talent at wide receiver during free agency, bringing in Mario Manningham from New York and luring Randy Moss out of retirement. But as a team attempting to take the next step after a 13-3 season – and as the team now employing a diva like Moss – do you want to put your fortunes in the hands of Colin Kaepernick or Scott Tolzien? Or possibly free agent Josh Johnson?
I’ve seen reports that the team is happy with the progress those two second-year guys have made throughout the last several months, but that’s pretty uninspiring for a team that was a couple bad bounces from making the Super Bowl. I don’t think they’re yet ready to take the helm of a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

And while I agree that signing Manning would have been a no-brainer if he’d said yes, the team now faces the downside of that failed courtship. And, at this point, if bringing back Smith fails, the 49ers will be left with a very strong supporting cast with no obvious candidate ready to step up and be a leader.

That could be the recipe for a huge and disappointing step back.

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