Reports: Peyton Manning in Arizona

Updated: March 11, 2012, 10:07 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Peyton Manning's tour of potential NFL destinations is making a stop in the desert.

A person familiar with Manning's location told The Associated Press that the superstar free agent arrived in Arizona for meetings with the Cardinals.

The Arizona Republic was the first to report that the four-time MVP quarterback arrived in the desert Saturday night.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Manning is expected to meet with Cardinals coaches and team officials on Sunday.

The Cardinals, sources told ESPN.com senior NFL writer John Clayton, have lost confidence in quarterback Kevin Kolb and are desperate to get Manning. If the Cards do get Manning, they would let Kolb go, the sources said. However, if Manning eschews the desert, Arizona would hold on to Kolb and work on developing him, according to sources.

The team already has invested millions in Kolb and is scheduled to pay him $7 million if he is on the roster Thursday. The Cardinals, though, had more success with second-year quarterback John Skelton starting than with Kolb, who missed much of the season with turf toe and a concussion.

The Cardinals' facility was a beehive of activity as the setting for Kurt Warner's annual "Ultimate Football Experience," a fundraiser for his First Things First foundation that features current and past football stars. Among them was Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who said he knew nothing of any contact the team may have made with Manning.

Fitzgerald He's arguably the best quarterback to ever play football. He's a free agent. If he's healthy, I know he's somebody that can help any team that he goes to. I understand the interest. It makes sense.

-- Larry Fitzgerald on Cardinals' interest in Peyton Manning

"I haven't heard anything," he said. "I'd like to feel like if he was going to be here I would probably hear something from somebody."

The presence of Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game, is considered a major reason why Manning would consider the Cardinals, who won seven of nine after a 1-6 start to wind up 8-8 last season.

Fitzgerald, the Cardinals' career leading receiver, said he understood why Arizona would be interested in Manning.

"He's a four-time MVP. He's a Super Bowl champion," he said. "He's arguably the best quarterback to ever play football. He's a free agent. If he's healthy, I know he's somebody that can help any team that he goes to. I understand the interest. It makes sense."

Fitzgerald said he wasn't surprised Arizona is in the mix.

"After last year, Michael (team president Michael Bidwill) said he was going to continue staying aggressive," Fitzgerald said, "and he's going to do everything he can to make sure we're going to be able to compete for an NFC West championship every single year. He hasn't done anything to this point to make us believe anything different."

Besides Fitzgerald, the Cardinals can offer a state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof and natural grass field that slides out into the sunshine when not being used. Then there is the weather -- sunshine with the temperature in the high 70s on Saturday.

The Cardinals have a strong young defense but Manning might be concerned with an inconsistent offensive line that could lose left tackle Levi Brown, unless he restructures his contract. Other than Fitzgerald, the receivers are young.

Manning met with the Denver Broncos on Friday night at the team's headquarters. After Arizona, Manning reportedly is going to Florida to meet with the Miami Dolphins.

Manning met for nearly six hours Friday with Denver, then left the team's facility without speaking with reporters.

About 48 hours after being released by the Indianapolis Colts, Manning met with another Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway, and coach John Fox. The three chatted while taking a tour of the team's practice field, then heading to the weight room.

They spent several hours together before the four-time MVP departed.

According to The Denver Post, the Broncos sent a plane to pick up Manning in South Florida, where he has a condo. He had traveled there after Wednesday's emotional news conference in Indianapolis, where he said goodbye to the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998 and led to the 2007 Super Bowl championship.

As news of Manning's arrival spread -- with reporters and TV helicopters hovering over every inch of the Broncos' facility -- a handful of fans started making their way to the training facility.

"Let's do it, Peyton!" one of them yelled through a gate upon spotting the NFL's marquee free agent. Manning glanced over and gave a quick wave.

Across the parking lot, one fan with an Elway jersey, another with a Tim Tebow jersey and a few more with Manning's iconic Colts No. 18 showed up.

Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen the visit did not make the Broncos the favorite to land the four-time MVP. In fact, other teams are starting to be aggressive in expressing their interest in Manning.

No contract negotiations were expected to occur during the Denver visit, first reported by The Denver Post. Manning did not work out for the Broncos, but wanted to familiarize himself with the team's facilities, organization and geography.

Meeting with the Chiefs is also a possibility for Manning.

"He's one of the greatest players in the history of the league," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt told NBC Sports Network. "He's also an incredible person. We feel really good about the team we have in Kansas City going into the 2012 season, but we'll look for any opportunity to improve and, of course, that includes Peyton Manning."

At least 12 teams reportedly have reached out to Manning's representatives, but Hunt wouldn't characterize the Chiefs' interest.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk about discussions at this point, but he is somebody that we'll talk to," Hunt told NBC.

Two teams that are now likely out of the running for Manning are the Washington Redskins and New York Jets.

The Redskins agreed to a trade Friday with the St. Louis Rams in which Washington will receive the second overall pick in this year's draft for three first-round draft picks and a second-round pick. The Redskins are expected to draft the top quarterback available.

The Redskins, however, still intend to talk with Manning and try to sign him even if it is considered a long shot, a source told Schefter.

And the Jets announced a contract extension Friday night with quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The Chiefs, Redskins, Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Dolphins, Cardinals and Broncos were among teams to reach out at first, according to sources.

Sources told ESPN that the order in which Manning visits teams will not reflect an order of choice because, as one source said: "There is absolutely no preferred choice at this time. This is typical, (Manning) doing his own research because it's a first-time and only-time process from a free-agent vantage point. Physically seeing facilities and the geography of cities that he is not acquainted with is part of his own research."

Manning was released after 14 years and one Super Bowl win in Indianapolis. The Colts were faced with paying a $28 million bonus to a 35-year-old quarterback who has had at least three neck surgeries and missed all of last season.

Sources have said Manning would like to make a decision within a week on where he will play next year.

The Broncos would present an interesting landing spot because the nation was captivated by Tebow's exploits last season. He came from third on the depth chart in camp to lead the Broncos to the playoffs and an upset of the Steelers, but his throwing mechanics consistently have been questioned.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN. Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider. Information from The Associated Press and ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini was used in this report.

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