NFL Nation: ManningWatch

Peter King has the play-by-play from Peyton Manning's wild tour through free agency.

I'll mix in some color commentary for portions reaching into the NFC West.

Manning
King notes that the teams Manning considered the strongest featured former NFL players as point men. That included John Elway in Denver, Mike Munchak in Tennessee, Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona.

Wait, Manning didn't know Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was an all-conference safety at University of the Pacific? He didn't know Seahawks GM John Schneider played a year at University of St. Thomas? Ha. Ha.

King says Manning was thrown off when Carroll and Schneider flew to Denver "unannounced" for a shot at meeting before Manning left for Arizona.

"Peyton Manning does not like surprises," King writes. "He said no thanks. Carroll flew home."

The decade Carroll spent away from the NFL made him even more of a Manning outsider. Neither was there sufficient connection between Seattle and Manning's former teammate, Brandon Stokley, for that relationship to work for Seattle. Stokley played for Carroll in 2010, but King pointed to Stokely's connections to Manning and Denver as helping make Manning more comfortable with the Broncos.

And so Manning was off to Arizona for a meeting with the Cardinals. What happened there? What did Manning think of Arizona? How serious was he about the Cardinals? Those questions remain unanswered.

Within a couple days, Harbaugh and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman were scouting a Manning workout in North Carolina.

"First they watched from a car by the side of the field, then, to get a better view, they came onto the field, hoodies pulled over their heads so as not to be recognized by some nosy iPhoner," King writes.

The 49ers' interest in Manning had not yet become known publicly. Still, the drama and secrecy seems silly. Manning and Stokley took similar precautions while throwing together in Denver.

Manning's tour was all about Manning and what made him comfortable. As Carroll found out, if you had to ask what made Manning comfortable, you didn't have a chance.
On the surface, Peyton Manning blew his best opportunity to win a Super Bowl quickly when he chose the Denver Broncos over the San Francisco 49ers.

His reasoning?

Peter King, citing a 49ers source, says unrealistic expectations in San Francisco might have been a turn-off.

[+] EnlargeManning
Jerry Lai/US PresswireExpectations will be high for the Broncos with Peyton Manning under center.
"SB-or-bust feel would have bugged PM," King tweeted.

There's no sense in criticizing Manning for what a 49ers source perceived the quarterback's motivations to be. We cannot say for certain whether Manning feels that way. Surely there were multiple reasons for his decision, some of which might never become known.

The reality, however, is that anything short of a Super Bowl appearance with Manning indeed would have qualified as a disappointment for the 49ers. And there were no guarantees the 49ers were going to advance that far, even with Manning.

Much was made of Manning's potential aversion to facing his brother, Eli, in the NFC playoffs. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford also carried deterrent factors relative to most of their AFC counterparts.

If the 49ers offered the best team situation for Manning, the Broncos or any AFC contender offered a clearer path to the Super Bowl.

New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati were the top six teams in the AFC last season. The NFC was much stronger with Green Bay, New Orleans, the Giants, Atlanta and Detroit standing in the 49ers' way.

Very good teams with very good quarterbacks fall short every year -- especially when faced with stiff competition within their conference.

Last season, Green Bay went from the cusp of 16-0 to one-and-done in the playoffs, losing at home to the Giants. The 49ers barely outlasted New Orleans in the divisional round with Alex Smith making plays even Manning could not duplicate, notably a signature 28-yard touchdown run deep in the fourth quarter.

San Francisco went 13-3 last season. Manning beat that record only twice during his 13 seasons as the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback.

The 49ers, 6-2 on the road last season, travel to face the Packers, Saints and Patriots outside the NFC West in 2012. They could have finished 12-4 with Manning and regressed. The Broncos can go 11-5 with him and point to a three-game improvement in the standings.

The blowout defeat Denver suffered to New England in the divisional round suggested the Broncos were championship pretenders.

From Manning's perspective, however, he's joining a team that won a playoff game without a consistent passing threat and in a conference without as many contending teams. If the job comes with lower expectations at the outset, all the better.

Video: Manning works out for Broncos

March, 16, 2012
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George Smith on Peyton Manning's work out for the Denver Broncos.
The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers showed interest in former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck last offseason.

What might happen if Hasselbeck hits the market again in 2012?

The question comes to mind while Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams makes a strong push for quarterback Peyton Manning.

Adams' interest, expressed emphatically over the weekend, initially seemed like bluster. But with Manning and the Titans meeting Wednesday, there's at least a chance. Manning would get to face his former team, Indianapolis, and the happy-with-Matt Schaub Houston Texans two times apiece per season.

If Manning lands in Tennessee, the Titans would proceed with 2011 first-round choice Jake Locker as their backup and projected future starter. Hasselbeck would be out.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
Jim Brown/US PresswireIf Matt Hasselbeck becomes available, he could be an intriguing option for several NFC West teams.
The Cardinals could make room for Hasselbeck by declining to pay a $7 million bonus due to Kevin Kolb by Friday. We're dealing in the hypothetical at this point, but so are the teams. As much as the Cardinals want Manning, they must prepare alternate strategies. They could have a choice between Kolb and Hasselbeck if Manning landed in Tennessee. Hasselbeck would upgrade the position on the field, in my view, while giving the Cardinals a veteran mentor for Skelton.

Hasselbeck ranked about the same as Kolb in NFL passer rating last season, but much higher in Total QBR. Hasselbeck suffered from losing top receiver Kenny Britt to a season-ending injury. The Cardinals would presumably welcome his ability to make quick decisions, a problem area for Arizona last season.

Quite a few NFC West watchers have also asked whether Kolb might land in Seattle if the Cardinals released him. My sense is that Seattle could be in the market for a range of quarterbacks at sub-starter prices. Matt Flynn and Chad Henne are visiting this week. Kolb would present another option if the Cardinals parted with him.

Manning would be the only available quarterback Seattle would pay starting money this offseason, in my view. Previous reports have suggested the Seahawks were not in contention. The latest news story from ESPN's Chris Mortensen offers at last some hope even though Seattle does not appear to be under consideration at this time.

"Manning has not eliminated any of the teams with which he has previously met -- the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals, or Miami Dolphins, nor has he closed the door on possibly meeting with other teams," the story says.

As for the 49ers, they appear most likely to re-sign Alex Smith. Hasselbeck would be an obvious alternative for them if he became available and Smith's situation with the 49ers changed.
The Miami Dolphins will finally get their meeting with free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning -- sort of. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Manning will meet with the head coaches of the Dolphins and Tennessee Titans away from the facilities in the next few days before making his final decision.

Here is my take on what this means:
  • In my opinion, this sounds like a courtesy meeting from Manning. I don't think the quarterback is seriously considering the Dolphins at this point. It's no secret the Dolphins want Manning badly, and Manning is a really nice guy, and probably doesn't want to hurt people's feelings in the process. He already shut down several teams, including the New York Jets and Washington Redskins, who called his representatives. Manning taking the full tour in Denver and Arizona, and not in Miami, should say all the Dolphins need to know.
  • This also doesn't help the league-wide perception that Miami has dysfunctional leadership. Miami's power pair of owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland do not have the best reputation around the league for various reasons. The most recent public handling this past year of former head coach Tony Sparano, particularly, drew ire around the league. Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher both turned down Ross and Ireland, and it appears Manning will be the third big name to do so in a year.
  • Finally, it's time for the Dolphins to resort to Plan B. The chances of Philbin, a rookie head coach, saying something magical to convince Manning to join Miami without even visiting the facilities are slim. The Dolphins appear all but out of the Manning sweepstakes. That means it's time for Miami to jump into the Flynn sweepstakes. Free agency starts in less than 24 hours. Miami must go back to the drawing board if it wants a new starting quarterback next season.
Mike Lombardi of the NFL Network said it first -- the Titans have a foot in the door with Peyton Manning.

Munchak
Munchak
Then our Chris Mortensen just tweeted:
“Peyton Manning will meet w Dolphins coach Joe Philbin & Titans coach Mike Munchak during next 3 days, scheduled away from team facilities.”

We’ve arrived, then, at Munchak’s biggest moment in his little over a year as coach of the Titans.

In 2010, he won over Matt Hasselbeck with relative ease.

Little did we know that he would be building off of that sales pitch to one less than a year later for an all-time great.

Munchak is a Hall of Fame player, an up-and-coming coach and an intelligent businessman. He can sell.

Can he outsell John Elway?

Munchak doesn’t have Elway’s personality or Super Bowls, but I think he’s got a shot.

He’s got an offensive coordinator in Chris Palmer who worked with Manning’s brother, Eli, as quarterback coach for the Giants when they beat the Patriots the first time for a Lombardi Trophy.

He’s got a line that might be the best pass protection line Manning’s ever played behind.

He’s got Kenny Britt getting healthy. He’s got a No. 2 receiver in Nate Washington, who got way better when they upgraded to Hasselbeck.

He’s got a dynamic tight end in Jared Cook who finished strong.

He’s got Chris Johnson looking to rebound, who could really benefit from a leap from the passing game.

So long as Munchak can explain how GM Ruston Webster, who was disinclined to chase Manning, has come to terms with Bud Adams’ mandate to go get him, he’s got enough to make a compelling case.

Quick thoughts on news that Peyton Manning plans to meet with the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans:
  • The situation is fluid: Attempts to handicap this race have become futile. Either Manning does not have a concrete plan or Manning is not sharing his plan. I suspect he's finding his bearings following an emotional break from Indianapolis.
  • Other teams have hope: If Manning is going to meet with the Titans, a team scarcely mentioned as a candidate for his services until owner Bud Adams went public with his interest Sunday, other teams' chances would seem to be on the rise as well. The question for Seattle is simply whether Manning has categorically ruled out the Seahawks for reasons they could not address, such as geography. But the longer Manning remains without a team, the longer the window remains open, even if only a little.
  • Timetable out the window: It's looking like we can forget about Manning signing with another team before free agency opens Tuesday. Initial reports suggested that was his goal. That timetable appears impossible if Manning follows through on meetings with the Dolphins and Titans.
  • Cardinals on hold: Arizona made its pitch to Manning over the weekend and now must join the rest of us in waiting for a resolution.

Manning's situation isn't the only one of note in the division Monday. Randy Moss is meeting with the San Francisco 49ers. The St. Louis Rams are also beginning to trim their roster in preparation for the signing period Tuesday.
The Seattle Seahawks owned the NFC West for years because their owner, Paul Allen, was so clearly superior to his peers in the division.

It was Allen who pushed through a stadium referendum precipitating his purchase of the team in the late 1990s. It was Allen's ownership that enabled the team to hire Mike Holmgren in 1999, another watershed moment for the franchise.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bidwill
Kyle Terada/US PresswireLanding QB Peyton Manning would be a huge victory for Cardinals president Michael Bidwill, front, and coach Ken Whisenhunt.
Those two owner-driven events set up the team for seven division titles during a 12-year period, including five in a row beginning in 2003.

Visions of Allen's Seahawks squirming while Peyton Manning visited the Arizona Cardinals over the weekend might not mean much if Manning signs outside the NFC West or agrees to visit Seattle after all. But with Arizona holding a clear edge over the Seahawks at this point in the process, the shrinking ownership gap in the division is worth our attention.

Allen hasn't necessarily slipped even though his fortune, once estimated to exceed $30 billion, has reportedly shrunk to less than half that amount. He remains the wealthiest NFL owner by a wide margin. He helped finance a state-of-the-art waterfront facility that opened in 2008. He gives football decision makers wide latitude and ample resources.

But with the Cardinals' Michael Bidwill and the San Francisco 49ers' Jed York securing new stadiums and winning division titles recently, the Seahawks' competitors have gained ground. Stan Kroenke's ascent in St. Louis has brightened the Rams' outlook as well.

For Arizona, getting Manning to visit was nice. Getting him to sign with the team would more emphatically validate the the Cardinals' progress as an organization.

Bidwill, like York, has a familial reputation to live down.

"(Bidwill) is hugely aware of our fan base and how his dad is viewed," a team source told ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter over the weekend. "He came to work with this team to get the stadium built. It took him a long time to get that done, but he did. He is a driven young owner that wants to totally change this franchise's image."

Winning back-to-back division titles while making a Super Bowl appearance affirmed Bidwill's long-held stance that stadium revenue would change how the team could operate. But the Cardinals' 13-19 record over the past two seasons has lent credence to the idea that the team basically lucked into Kurt Warner's career revival.

Beating out John Elway and others for Manning would be another game-changer, comparable to the day Seattle landed Holmgren and, to an extent, when the 49ers secured Jim Harbaugh. Holmgren and Harbaugh were the hottest coaching candidates at the time. Manning, though coming off neck surgeries that might still threaten his career, outranks both in NFL history.

The Cardinals need him. They bet big on Kevin Kolb last offseason, and are running a fat deficit on the investment, with few promising signs. John Clayton's recent report about the team losing confidence in Kolb sounded ominous. Coach Ken Whisenhunt might still need to win the bet on Kolb, but the cost of losing it would disappear if Manning signed with the team.

Finding a quarterback requires taking chances. Manning would be the safest bet in NFL history without the neck surgeries. He still appears to be a safer gamble than putting down another $7 million to continue the relationship with Kolb, a payment that comes due at week's end. Paying Kolb in the absence of Manning would not necessarily prevent John Skelton from winning the starting job.

A year ago, the Kolb experiment gave the Cardinals an opportunity to find out whether Whisenhunt could identify and develop quarterbacks. To what degree had he shaped Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and, later, Warner in Arizona? That question becomes far less relevant if the Cardinals can close a deal with Manning.

Bidwill's father made a run at Joe Montana in 1993. This time, the Cardinals appear to have a legitimate chance. Times have changed, but by how much? Manning's decision will provide one measure.
Peyton Manning is expected to visit with the Arizona Cardinals after leaving the Denver Broncos.

That visit could begin Saturday night if suspicions are correct and Manning boarded this flight from Denver, as friend of the NFC West blog Dustin Holmes suspected.

That's as close to the NFC West as some would like Manning to come.

St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis, speaking recently with Bernie Miklasz on 101ESPN St. Louis, called Manning "a nightmare to play against" and said he'd prefer to keep the free-agent quarterback out of the division. Laurinaitis also offered insight into one way a healthy Manning can give a defense problems.

"I was unfortunately a rookie trying to audible at the line of scrimmage," Laurinaitis said. "He will let that play clock run down to one second before he snaps it, three plays in a row, and you think the next play he's going to do the same thing, so you go up there try to disguise and he snaps it with 24 seconds left on the play clock. He just messes with you the whole, entire game."

The chart shows how Manning fared against the NFC West when Indianapolis faced the division in 2009. The San Francisco 49ers held Manning without a touchdown pass that year. They took a 14-12 lead into the fourth quarter before the Colts scored the game-winning touchdown on a pass from running back Joseph Addai to receiver Reggie Wayne.

There are no indications Manning plans to sign with a team in the immediate future. We also do not know whether he plans to visit teams beyond Denver, Arizona and Miami.

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Tracking NFL free agency has sometimes meant tracking aircraft.

A flight enthusiast once helped me follow the plane Kurt Warner took from Arizona to San Francisco for a 2009 free-agent meeting with the 49ers.

Peyton Manning is the big story this week. News helicopters showed him arriving in Miami, where he has a home, following his release from the Indianapolis Colts. On Thursday night, a local Arizona sportscaster suggested a plane associated with Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill might have visited Miami, but others suggested that was improbable.

All of this led me to check out online flight records for planes associated with NFL owners.

An aircraft enthusiasts have linked to Denver's Pat Bowlen traveled Thursday from Denver to Stillwater, Okla., site of the Oklahoma State pro day. The Broncos' John Elway and other NFL talent evaluators were expected to attend that workout.

Here's where things get interesting. That same plane left Stillwater for Miami at 7:01 a.m. ET on Friday. The plane spent 72 minutes on the ground before heading back to Stillwater, where it was scheduled to land at 2:11 p.m. ET.

What does it mean? Hard to tell. We cannot prove even whether that plane was transporting Broncos personnel, let alone picking up Manning or another passenger. But an FAA search referencing the tail number lists the owner's address on "Broncos Parkway" in Englewood, Colo. This is very likely a Broncos plane.

With Elway spotted in Stillwater and the plane spending so little time in Miami, it's natural to wonder whether that aircraft was picking up Manning, then stopping in Stillwater to pick up Elway and the Broncos' brass before heading to Denver.

That would certainly match up with Peter King's tweet suggesting the Broncos "desperately" want to sign Manning.

All things to consider as the search for clues on Manning's future shifts from ground to air.

Update: The Denver Post is now reporting Manning will visit the Broncos, and ESPN has a story on the site now. The Post's report also suggests Manning could visit with Arizona and Miami.
Rest assured, Romeo Crennel is not crazy.

As expected, the Kansas City Chiefs have joined the scrum for newly free Peyton Manning. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Chiefs are one of 12 teams that have reached out to Manning’s representatives since he was released by the Colts on Wednesday. Denver is also among the teams to contact Manning’s folks. The Broncos did so soon after Manning was cut.

Manning
The Chiefs’ foray into the Manning sweepstakes is not unexpected. The Chiefs have been linked to Manning for weeks. At the scouting combine last month, Crennel, the Chiefs’ head coach, said he’d be “crazy” not to show interest in Manning if the quarterback became available. Manning is available, and Crennel is not crazy. Here are my thoughts why Manning would be a nice fit in Kansas City.

There is reason to believe Denver and Kansas City can be in this race for the long haul. Schefter reports that Manning, who wants to sign with a new team within in a week, would prefer to stay in the AFC. In addition to the Broncos and the Chiefs, among the reported teams that are interested in Manning that reside in the AFC are Miami and the Jets, and there could be others.

In addition to finances, Manning is likely going to base his decision on supporting cast, and the chance to win immediately. Both Denver and Kansas City could be attractive to Manning. Here are my reasons why Manning would be interested in Denver.

Folks, this deal can get very interesting if the Broncos and the Chiefs are serious about their interest. Stay tuned. I have a feeling news will develop quickly in this process.
The courtship is on, and according to ESPN’s reports, Peyton Manning could have a new team within a week.

Manning
A dozen teams contacted Manning’s representatives Wednesday after his release by the Colts became official.

As he got to Miami, where he has a home, he reiterated he hadn’t yet considered where he’d like to play next.

Manning has supreme focus, and I believe he’s been working out hard and trying to sort through a lot in his head with regard to a parting with the Colts. But even as strong-willed as he is, it’s human nature to think about what’s next when you know something is coming to an end, no?

"I literally have not had one conversation with anyone about these teams,” he said in South Florida. “It's been so hard for me trying to figure out some closure with my situation with the Colts. I haven't thought about teams, and I don't know who is interested. I really don't.””

If that’s the case, he’s done a great job insulating himself from a lot of talk, and his friends have done a great job resisting starting that conversation.

It sounds like Manning will have “significant dialogue” with suitors, consider a list, whittle it and then make some visits to investigate opportunities and show people his arm.

What a whirlwind week of speculation we’re about to face. It should be pretty fun.

ManningWatch: Myths vs. motivators

March, 7, 2012
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For years we've made assumptions and educated guesses about what matters most to Peyton Manning.

We might think Manning likes playing in domes, that he prefers a small market or must have full control of the offensive playbook.

But now, with the longtime Indianapolis Colts quarterback headed toward free agency for the first time, we're about to find out how those assumptions fare in the market.

A quick look at some of them:
  • Wants to play indoors. The fact that Manning has called an indoor stadium home for his entire career could lead us to think he'll want to continue playing in one. And he might. Quarterbacks benefit from controlled conditions. But Manning won a Super Bowl in a rainstorm. Do we really know where stadium type ranks on his list of priorities?
  • Seeks an easy division. This one drew a swift reaction from AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky when we spoke Wednesday morning. To think that Manning would avoid, say, the AFC East for fear of New England? Manning, afraid? Those other teams should fear him, right? And for those casting the NFC West as a soft landing spot, it's time to reconsider. Did anyone see the San Francisco 49ers' defense last season? Seattle and Arizona also put the hurt on opposing offenses at times. And the worst team in the NFC West just hired a coordinator under fire for issuing bounties on quarterbacks.
  • Reggie Wayne as a package deal: This one has been making the rounds quite a bit. As the theory goes, an NFL team could entice Manning by guaranteeing to land his longtime favorite target. But we might be overlooking one small detail, that Wayne will have something to say about where he plays next. We shouldn't just assume Manning and Wayne as a package deal. Kuharsky isn't buying this one, either. For all we know, Manning might really want to play with, say, Pierre Garcon.
  • Manning prefers a small market: Manning played in one for years and flourished there, and we all know he loves to focus on football without distractions. But perhaps no player in NFL history has sought the spotlight as a pitchman as effectively as Manning in recent years. Manning has also embraced opportunities to appear on Saturday Night Live. The evidence suggests he could handle a big market easily and might even prefer one, for all we know.
  • Offensive line important: Every quarterback would benefit from a strong line, but Manning made his offensive line look good, not the other way around. His ability to distribute the ball quickly allowed the Colts to dominate in the passing game without great offensive linemen.
  • Fit matters more than money: This is a fair assumption, but money issues hastened Manning's departure from the Colts. We can assume Manning's next team will pay him handsomely. Manning didn't do all those commercials for free, either. Any NFL team will have to pay Manning. As a side note, every team has enough financial wherewithal to pay him, regardless of an owner's net worth.
  • Control of the offense is key: I'm buying this one as a true motivator, not just a myth. It's tougher to envision Manning adapting his game for a system-oriented offensive coach such as Washington's Mike Shanahan. Manning did control the offense in Indianapolis. Going to a team with a flexible offensive staff would seem to make the most sense.
  • Will not want to face his brother: We have no way of knowing whether Manning would want to avoid the NFC East simply because his brother, Eli, plays for the New York Giants. Tony Dungy has promoted this line of thinking, lending credence to it.

That makes eight potential myths or genuine motivators. I'm guessing you've got one or two more. Manning is about to speak at the Colts' news conference. Perhaps he'll shed some light on what matters most to him.
Peyton ManningJason O. Watson/US PresswireThe biggest unknowns are whether Peyton Manning is healthy and where he'll play next season.
A quick look at the immediate questions that come to mind or will be popular now that we know there will be an official announcement by the Colts Wednesday that they are releasing Peyton Manning.

How will it come down?

Sources tell ESPN that both owner Jim Irsay and Manning will be at a news conference Wednesday at the team's headquarters.

Should general manager Ryan Grigson or coach Chuck Pagano be part of the news conference?

Seems doubtful. They are saying goodbye to them, and it seems to make sense that the goodbye comes from Irsay and Irsay alone, since he's the only person at the top who worked with Manning. Though you can also say no matter how much this amounts to a fond and sentimental look back, it’s also the first event of the post-Manning Colts. And in that, a GM and coach must be involved.

What’s Manning’s health status?

We don’t know, but indications are he’s making progress with the one remaining issue -- nerve regeneration that will give him back his arm strength. Grainy YouTube video surfaced recently that showed him throwing a couple passes at Duke. It’s awfully difficult for me to interpret that as anything significant.

When will we hear about suitors?

Teams should wait until the release is official. That doesn’t happen with the announcement. That happens when Manning’s name is on the league’s daily transaction wire. It would seem that would happen Wednesday. If it does, then at the close of business Wednesday, executives who have attempted to dance around the subject will be free to talk about the former Colt, who will be a free agent.

Who will those suitors be?

We’ve heard the same several teams listed: Miami, Washington, Arizona, the Jets, Kansas City. Others could surface now that Manning as a free agent will become a reality. Some will stay on the fringe, awaiting indication on his health.

What’s the timetable?

Manning’s camp has indicated he will be willing to sign an incentive-laden deal that will mean much of his pay is based on participation and performance. That means his new team will be somewhat protected if he’s not able to return to sufficient form.

It’s hard to imagine anyone would move forward contract-wise without seeing him throw. So this question is all about when he’s ready to throw for people.

Manning will be free ahead of players with expiring contracts. For them, free agency opens the afternoon of March 13.

Is Andrew Luck a lock?

If the Colts go another direction with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft on April 26, it will be a monumental surprise.
Get the helicopter warmed up, Miami Dolphins.

The moment has arrived. It's time for the Dolphins' organization to make their best pitch to soon-to-be free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning.

ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Indianapolis Colts will release Manning and hold a news conference on Wednesday. The deadline to pay Manning a $28 million roster bonus is Thursday, and there was zero chance the Colts would fork over that kind of money for a quarterback who missed the entire 2011 season.

But that won't stop the Dolphins and several other teams for knocking down Manning's door any day now. Miami is projected as one of the favorites. Other teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins and New York Jets also are rumored to have interest.

The Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross want to make a splash this offseason. They tried everything from helicopter rides to offering big money to head coach Jeff Fisher, who spurned Miami to join the St. Louis Rams. Ross and Co. will try to put their best foot forward again with Manning.

The timing is perfect for Miami. Free agency doesn't start until next Tuesday, which gives the Dolphins time to gauge whether Manning is legitimately interested in coming to Miami. We listed all the reasons why the Dolphins are a great fit here. But if it doesn't work out, Miami still has enough time to transition to Plan B and go after former Green Bay Packers quarterback Matt Flynn in free agency.

Manning, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, is one of the biggest names ever to reach free agency. Business is about to pick up.

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