Sunday, March 11, 2012
Updated: March 12, 10:42 AM ET
Peyton Manning visits Cardinals
By Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter
Peyton Manning on Sunday completed an exhaustive three-day road trip in which he is known to have visited with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals, the two teams that sources believe have emerged as the favorites for the free-agent quarterback.
Despite those sources' contention about the Broncos and Cardinals as favorites, Manning has not engaged either in contract negotiations or selected his next team and is highly unlikely to make that decision by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, when the new league year begins for other free agents.
Both the Broncos and Cardinals have the quarterbacks (Tim Tebow and John Skelton, respectively) who ended the 2011 season as the starter but the Cardinals do have to make a decision by Saturday on a $7 million option bonus due to Kevin Kolb, whom they traded for last year.
Manning has no firm visits planned with other teams but could talk independently with other coaches, such as Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins, sources said. However, after two physically and emotionally draining weeks that included extensive workouts, and his break-up with the Colts on Wednesday that commenced interaction with many of the 12 teams that have contacted him, the quarterback was anxious to get some rest and return to his rehab and throwing regimen. He also is overdue for his monthly medical exam related to his neck surgeries though he has had no setbacks, per sources.
Not all 12 teams that have engaged Manning in discussions have been made public and there have been clandestine talks with one or two of those franchises, according to sources.
One of those franchises became publicly revealed Sunday after Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams told The Tennessean that he wants Manning and has contacted the quarterback's agent, Tom Condon.
Manning played collegiately at the University of Tennessee. It is unknown whether Manning will reciprocate the interest from the Titans.
The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs have failed in their attempts to get Manning to visit their facilities and are no longer considered contenders for the quarterback, sources said.
Manning's visits to the Broncos and Cardinals were similar in nature and included visits to each team's training facility. His existing relationships with John Elway, the Broncos Hall of Fame quarterback who heads the football operations, and Denver coach John Fox, as well as that with Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt provided a comfort level for Manning to make his first visits to those franchises, according to sources.
Manning and Whisenhunt became familiar with each other during a Pro Bowl when Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a friendship grew from that experience.
Both sides engaged in extensive football discussions, including film study, an evaluation of the current roster, as well as organizational discussions related to the salary cap, sources said. Manning also had the opportunity to speak with both teams' owners and top executives and other select members of the coaching staffs. Cardinals All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald was present at a dinner Saturday night hosted at the home of Whisenhunt and during a portion of the meetings at the team's facility Sunday, per sources.
One non-Broncos member who spoke to Manning before he departed Denver said he believed the Broncos had gained an advantage during their meeting. However, the Cardinals felt similarly encouraged by their meeting with the 14-year veteran quarterback.
Manning did not work out for either team but he openly discussed his progress from neck surgeries that caused him to miss the 2011 season.
Manning has stated he has made considerable progress throwing while his nerves have regenerated and his right arm has strengthened to the point where sources say his velocity has increased, he is able to throw the NFL's traditional passing routes and his distances have routinely reached 50 yards.
He did say at his Colts farewell press conference that he still has progress to make with his throwing.
Two weeks ago Manning threw while wearing shoulder pads and a helmet over a five-day period at Duke University. Coaches and players who were present said Manning was impressive in his performance.
Manning has extensive quality video to show teams and is not believed to be opposed to working out for teams he identifies as finalists. However, he has acknowledged a willingness to financially protect any team that signs him in the event of a medical setback related to his previous neck injury and surgeries as he did last summer when he rejected a fully guaranteed five-year $100-million offer from Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst. Adam Schefter is ESPN's NFL Insider.