Jim Harbaugh -- man with a plan? (Getty Images)
As the options dwindled down for Peyton Manning, many NFL insiders warned us to watch out for a "mystery team" to enter the sweepstakes. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, that has now officially happened. Mort reported via his Twitter account that Manning worked out for 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh this week, and took a physical for the team. According to the report by Mortensen and ESPN cohort Adam Schefter, Manning had a throwing session in North Carolina on Tuesday, with Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman in attendance. All accounts indicate that the session was "very impressive."
While it's believed that Manning would prefer to stay in the AFC for multiple reasons (the primary one being his supposed desire not to block brother Eli out of the Super Bowl), the opportunity to play for a team that went 13-3 in 2011 with Alex Smith as their quarterback might be too much to turn down for a man who has just a few years left and isn't coming back to do anything but win a Super Bowl. When the 49ers re-signed cornerback Carlos Rogers, they ensured that all 11 starters would return to one of the NFL's best defenses. The 49ers have taken a flyer on Randy Moss, and you can be sure that they'll be doing more to accentuate their receiver corps in the draft.
The 49ers have been negotiating with Smith, currently an unrestricted free agent, but no deal has been struck. Smith was very efficient in 2011, throwing just five interceptions all season, but San Francisco's passing offense was far from explosive -- by default, it reflected Harbaugh's coaching personality -- tightly controlled, methodical to a fault, and as mistake-proof as possible.
The most obvious question here would be how Manning and Harbaugh would co-exist. There are teams and coaches ready and willing to scrap their offensive game plans to get Manning and let him run the three-wide, single-back, check-with-me offense he did with great success for so many years in Indianapolis. Harbaugh is a very successful former quarterback himself - in fact, he's the starter Manning replaced when the Colts selected Manning with the first overall draft pick in 1998.
[ Elway: Manning 'threw great' at private workout for Broncos ]
Since then, Harbaugh has employed strict control over his schemes at the college and pro level, and the success he's enjoyed means that he doesn't have to defer to anyone. He turned Smith's career around, and he raised Andrew Luck, the man who will replace Manning, in a professional sense.
This is for sure -- if Manning and Harbaugh can come to terms on the offense that will be run, the 49ers field the same defense they did last year, and a few new targets are added, that team will be just about unbeatable on paper. And with all the complications that may arise, that's why a future in the Bay Area might make the most sense among Manning's current options.
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- Peyton Manning
- Jim Harbaugh
- Alex Smith