NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Titans coach Mike Munchak had a big smile on his face when he left the team headquarters Wednesday night after daylong meetings with Peyton Manning.
The quarterback waved to fans waiting for a glimpse of him and gave a thumbs’ up.
Maybe signs that Tennessee’s pitch to the four-time NFL MVP went well, though no deals were announced after Manning spent about eight hours with Titans executives on a plane and at the team’s headquarters.
Peyton Manning continues to meet with teams before deciding where to sign.
The next move is up to Manning.
Titans spokesman Robbie Bohren declined to comment. However, owner Bud Adams told Nashville station WSMV-TV late Wednesday night he thinks Manning was very pleased with what he saw from the Titans.
“He’s going to make his mind up fairly soon, hopefully we’d be in the running,” Adams said.
Manning walked out of the Titans’ building with Munchak at 10:05 p.m. EDT where about 50 fans who had gathered along the fence greeted him by yelling “Peyton, Peyton.” Manning acknowledged them with a wave before getting into Munchak’s SUV and the two driving away through a back gate.
It was unclear if Manning was on the team plane that returned Wednesday night to the Raleigh-Durham airport, where the Titans had picked him up earlier. Manning’s friend and Duke coach David Cutcliffe lives in the area. Cutcliffe was Manning’s offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee and the quarterback has worked out several times over the past six weeks at the Blue Devils’ facilities.
Fans of Denver, Arizona, Miami and now Tennessee all are looking for clues on which team Manning will pick.
One sign Titans fans should possibly pay close attention to was a visit by the team doctor Burton Elrod to the facility during Manning’s visit. Elrod arrived and spent 90 minutes inside before leaving. Offensive line coach Bruce Matthews, a Hall of Fame lineman like Munchak, also was seen leaving the facility not long after Elrod.
The Titans did just what Adams said: The 89-year old Adams instructed team executives to spend the day with Manning.
Tennessee pulled out all the stops.
Munchak, general manager Ruston Webster and chief operating officer Mike Reinfeldt landed in North Carolina just before 1:30 p.m. EDT to pick Manning up.
The quarterback, wearing a Tennessee orange shirt, arrived at the Raleigh-Durham airport riding in the backseat of black Escalade about 20 minutes later, boarded the plane and the group headed back to the Volunteer state.
The owner got plenty of help from fans of Manning and the Titans, flocking to the street in front of the team complex throughout the afternoon. They broke out in cheers at times, while Rob Shuler of Nashville brought two friends with him. They drew up posters begging Manning to sign with Tennessee.
Cars and trucks slowed to watch, honking in response to a sign asking them to let Manning know how much he’s wanted.
Even Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam called Manning during his visit, Adams told WSMV-TV.
A local radio station set up briefly and blared “Rocky Top” over speakers alongside TV reporters busy broadcasting live during afternoon newscasts, adding to the circus atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the Titans were going about their business.
Reinfeldt left around 6 p.m. EDT talking on a cell phone, followed shortly by dinner being brought in from a nearby Italian restaurant.
Fans came and went during the day. People stayed near the fence despite a storm that had lightning slicing the sky nearby followed by a rainbow. Then a shooting star was seen, prompting two fans to instantly make a wish that Manning sign with Tennessee.
Adams has said he will do whatever it takes to sign Manning in his chase for a championship. He sees the quarterback as the missing piece. The owner remained in Houston Tuesday, which why Reinfeldt joined Webster and Munchak for this trip.
The owner promoted Reinfeldt from general manager in January to senior executive vice president and COO to act as his point man with the team in Tennessee while he lives 650 miles away.
The Titans already have veteran Matt Hasselbeck with two years left on a deal signed last July, and drafted Jake Locker with the eighth pick overall in the 2011 draft.
When he hasn’t been working out at Duke, the quarterback visited Denver and Arizona in person, while reportedly visiting with the Dolphins in Indianapolis on Monday night.
His friend and Duke coach declined to answer any questions about Manning earlier Wednesday following the Blue Devils spring practice. However, when asked how his players were handling the distraction with the new faces around, Cutcliffe laughed and said, “you found a way, didn’t you” to get in a question about Manning.
He said having Manning at the team’s facilities has not been a problem.
“That’s always, for them (the Duke players), encouraging and fun. That’s the honest truth,” Cutcliffe said of Manning working out at Duke’s facilities. “But they’ve done a great job of letting anybody that’s in here work and do what they’ve got to do, and they work around them.
“I think it’s always good to have examples and see the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed in football.”
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Durham, N.C., contributed to this report.
Manning update: Broncos, Titans and 49ers are left
By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer 3 hours, 34 minutes ago
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—The stealthy 49ers are in the chase for Peyton Manning. The Dolphins and Cardinals are out. And the Broncos and Titans want to make sure the four-time NFL MVP is healthy.
Got all that?
After a brief lull, the pursuit of Manning sure got interesting in a hurry Friday.
Peyton Manning continues to meet with teams before deciding where to sign.
The year’s top free agent, who has been rehabbing in North Carolina after a string of neck surgeries, threw the football at Duke’s athletic facilities for Hall of Fame QB turned Broncos executive John Elway along with Denver coach John Fox.
The workout lasted a little under two hours, and when it was over Elway seemed convinced that Manning is still Manning.
“We enjoyed visiting with Peyton today in N.C.,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “He threw the ball great and looked very comfortable out there.”
A few minutes later, Elway posted: “Watching him throw today was the next step in this important process for our team and Peyton. It was a productive visit and went well.”
Whether San Francisco executives and coaches feel the same way, they weren’t saying. But they also have shown interest in the man who led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
A person familiar with the situation said that Manning worked out for 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday night at Duke. ESPN first reported on the session.
Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe was Manning’s offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee and the two remain friends.
As it became clear the 49ers were in the race, Miami and Arizona dropped out.
Another person confirmed to the AP that Manning phoned the Miami Dolphins on Thursday to advise them he’ll sign elsewhere. The team has now turned its attention to free agent quarterback Matt Flynn.
The people who spoke to the AP did so on condition of anonymity because Manning’s workouts have remained private and most teams involved have refused to comment on their free agency negotiations.
The Cardinals decided to pay quarterback Kevin Kolb the $7 million roster bonus he was due on Saturday, ending their pursuit of Manning. Arizona hosted Manning for about 6 1/2 hours at the team’s facility on Sunday, but the team’s chances faded as the week progressed.
“Acquiring Peyton Manning is no longer an option for us,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
After he missed the entire 2011 season, Manning’s uncertain health led the Colts to balk at the $28 million roster bonus they would have owed their 35-year-old leader on March 8. So they released him, ending his long and incredibly successful run with Indy.
Now the question is which club will land a quarterback who could make a team an instant Super Bowl contender.
Will it be San Francisco, which seemed to be out of the picture?
The 49ers had been working to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 who made a comeback last year under first-year coach and former NFL QB Harbaugh.
Smith has acknowledged he was happy with the three-year offer. Both he and Manning are represented by Tom Condon and CAA Sports.
“Alex is trying to figure out what he wants to do,” 49ers CEO Jed York said earlier this week. “There have been good conversations back and forth.”
The NFC West champion 49ers on Monday signed wide receiver Randy Moss after he spent a year out of football, hoping he will be the dynamic wideout and deep threat he once was.
An email to Smith, multiple phone messages to his agency and to his father were not returned.
The 27-year-old Smith threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions as San Francisco went 13-3 and made the NFC title game last season after an eight-year playoff drought.
Neither running back Frank Gore nor tight end Vernon Davis had been told by the 49ers they were pursuing Manning. Both are big fans of Smith. Asked if Smith is still the man for San Francisco, Gore said, “I think he is.”
Manning’s whirlwind free agency tour officially kicked off soon after he bid farewell to the Colts in an emotional press conference.
The Broncos had the first crack at wooing him, rolling out the red carpet for his visit. Team officials flew him in and he spent the spent the day chatting with Elway and other Broncos brass. He also was escorted around the team’s building by Fox and general manager Brian Xanders as he listened to their sales pitch.
After that, Manning journeyed to nearby Castle Rock, Colo., and spent the evening with good friend Brandon Stokley, who played catch with Manning the next morning and spoke highly of his former teammate in an interview on a local radio show.
Manning’s next stop was Arizona and then, this week, it was Tennessee.
The QB has a big fan in 89-year-old Titans owner Bud Adams, and Manning, who spent his college days leading the Volunteers, talked for nearly eight hours with team executives on a plane and at the club’s headquarters.
The NFL Network reported that Manning was expected to work out for the Titans, but there was no immediate confirmation from the team or word on when that would happen.
AP Sports Writers Steve Wine in Miami and Pat Graham in Denver and Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.
John Elway and Peyton Manning leave Manning's Friday afternoon workout. (AP)
On Friday afternoon at Duke University, Peyton Manning got one step closer (or perhaps quite a few steps closer) to his ultimate destination. Manning welcomed all the key players from the Denver Broncos front office, including VP of Operations John Elway, head coach John Fox, and general manager Brian Xanders, to a workout in which he threw about 65 passes in a controlled indoor environment.
After the workout, Elway (perhaps the most social-media-friendly football exec this side of Jim Irsay) posted an update for fans on his Twitter account: John Elway, getting the word out.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who was Manning's offensive coordinator at Tennessee, had nothing but good to say about his longtime friend's development.
"It's incredible how much progress he's made in throwing the football," Cutcliffe told the Tennessean newspaper. "He's gotten his arm strength back and his accuracy is there. I'm not an NFL coach, of course, but I think I know what it takes to complete passes in the NFL, and it's clear that Peyton can make all those throws. From what I've seen, he's right on target for [a return to the NFL in 2012]. Everybody knows what a hard worker he is, and he's dedicated himself to getting ready for the season."
Since the workout was private, the NFL Network turned to expert analyst Mike Mayock to get a sense of what teams look to see in these types of auditions.
"If I'm the Denver Broncos and I'm going to put a significant financial investment into Peyton Manning, what I'd want to see is pretty much what I usually see at the college workouts for the top level college players," Mayock said on Friday. "At a pro day you're going to see 60-70 throws — three-step, five, five with a hitch, seven, seven with a hitch and play-action. We all know Peyton has made all of those throws in his heyday, but the important thing to me is that when we got to throws 55-70 — in other words, when he's had a pretty good workout, I want to see if he still has the same arm strength that he did in the first 20 throws.
"Can he throw an 18-yard comeback far hash on the 65th throw? Can he throw a go route 60 yards on the 70th throw? I've talked to some people that have seen him throw the football live and everybody has been highly impressed with what he's been able to do. My only question is, does he have the arm strength, the muscle strength and the ability to drive it when he's tired? If he had all of those things, I'd feel pretty comfortable."
So far, so good. Mayock also opined that if the Broncos do win the rights to Manning's services, that should not be the end of their offseason acquisitions.
"If I get Peyton Manning and it's a healthy Peyton Manning, I'm thinking Super Bowl," he said. "From my perspective, the first thing I would do is I would try to make Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers a very wealthy young man. He's a restricted free agent so I would have to give up my first round pick, but my first round pick is only number 25. I would be happy to give up No. 25 and then I would get after Mike Wallace, try to put together a deal with him.
"After that, remember that [tight end] Dallas Clark — Peyton's old teammate — is out there as a free agent; it wouldn't cost me anything. I would be trying to augment my offensive firepower because Peyton is used to dealing with an average defense; Denver's defense is fine. I'd be really just getting everybody I could get on the offensive side of the ball and say, 'OK Peyton, it's up to you to win a Super Bowl. Let's go.'"
According to Breer, the starting point for determining Manning’s next contract will be the five-year, $90 deal he signed with Indianapolis last August. However, whichever team signs him is expected to get some protection in the event that Manning’s neck problems resurface.
Peyton to Moss sounds like a deadly combo. No matter if they're both 35 yr olds, they're two of the best to ever do it. The whole NFC should be shaking in their boots should they get the chance to hook up every Sunday.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—Jim Harbaugh coaching Peyton Manning. In the Bay Area, they’re beginning to think about the possibility and believe it truly might happen.
A former NFL quarterback, Harbaugh worked wonders with Alex Smith in a matter of months for the NFC West champions, and now all signs point to the 49ers being a serious player in the Manning sweepstakes. Smith, who had a three-year offer on the table to return, traveled to Miami on Sunday to meet with the Dolphins.
“It’s crazy,” said 49ers running back Frank Gore, who has long been a big supporter of Smith. “I’m going to sit back and let them do their job. I’m sitting back and waiting for it to happen.”
Peyton Manning continues to meet with teams before deciding where to sign.
Everybody is eagerly anticipating decision day, likely this week.
If San Francisco doesn’t sign Manning, the 49ers will have some serious relationship-building to do with Smith even after he developed a close relationship with Harbaugh. The Niners might even need to bump him up from the $24 million he has reportedly been offered.
And there could be similar fallout in Tennessee and Denver if those teams don’t land Manning, who turns 36 on Saturday. The four-time NFL MVP sat out the 2011 season and is trying to come back after he was released by Indianapolis following a string of neck surgeries.
For Smith, his visit to South Florida also could be a move by the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick to protect himself with a possible backup plan. He and Manning are both represented by agent Tom Condon of CAA Sports.
“This is the NFL. I guess nothing surprises me anymore,” Smith told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel upon arriving at the airport Sunday. “I never thought a year ago (Peyton) Manning would be a free agent either. I’m never surprised by anything.”
Harbaugh watched Manning work out last Tuesday at Duke, and now the former Colts star has held sessions for all three of the franchises believed to be the finalists to sign the biggest free agent of 2012. Only the 49ers are yet to publicly acknowledge their interest.
Manning worked out for Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville, one day after he showed his skills to Hall of Famer John Elway and the Broncos at Duke.
While Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman saw Manning last week and San Francisco emerged as a surprise contender to sign the 2007 Super Bowl-winning quarterback, it seems 49ers CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke certainly would want to make their pitch to Manning in person, too.
Pulling off this one would be the second major splash by the 49ers’ brass in as many offseasons.
In January 2011, York and Baalke wooed Harbaugh away from nearby Stanford on a $25 million, five-year deal. And what a job Harbaugh did: San Francisco went 13-3 and ended an eight-year stretch without a playoff berth or winning record, losing 20-17 in overtime of the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
If Smith leaves and Manning doesn’t sign or were to get hurt, the 49ers would be left with unproven second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, but this is a team that isn’t afraid to take chances when the reward could be huge. Just look at a two-day span for San Francisco last week. The 49ers signed Randy Moss on Monday and a day later cornerback Perrish Cox, who was acquitted earlier this month on sexual assault charges in Colorado.
Harbaugh has a knack for coaching anybody into a winner with his “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!” chants and other unorthodox motivational tactics— some of which he learned from his coaching father, Jack, and big brother and Baltimore Ravens coach John.
The NFL coach of the year last season, Harbaugh has to believe he’ll have no problem coaching a veteran quarterback like Manning. The former Colt is among the greatest ever to play with 54,828 yards passing, 4,682 completions and 399 touchdown passes.
“He’s a Hall of Famer, first ballot, that’s all I got to say,” Gore said of Manning. “He’s one of the best ever to play the game. I’m going to sit back and let them do what they think is best.”
If winning is more of a priority for Manning than a big payday, the 49ers have put things in place over the past week. They signed Moss to a one-year deal, then brought back Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers on a $31.3 million, four-year contract to give San Francisco 11 returning starters on Vic Fangio’s talented defense. The 49ers then agreed to terms on a two-year contract with former Giants wideout Mario Manningham late Saturday.
“I know coach Harbaugh and Trent Baalke feel good about what they’re doing,” Gore said. “They know what they’re doing.”
Perhaps all of that is enough to attract Manning, despite the thought he would prefer to stay in the AFC and not have to regularly face off with his younger brother, Eli.
This year marks Manning’s 15th in the NFL—the same number of seasons Harbaugh spent in the league with the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. A first-round draft pick taken 26th overall by Chicago in 1987, Harbaugh completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 career yards and 129 touchdowns in the NFL. He also ran for 18 TDs.
Elway, of course, also has quite the pedigree.
Perhaps Elway’s pursuit of Manning might mean he doesn’t have faith in Tim Tebow as the Broncos’ QB for the future. Denver squeaked into the playoffs as AFC West champions on the final day of the regular season last year.
Titans owner Bud Adams declared earlier this month he wanted Manning and considers him the missing piece to a championship team. That might not sit too well with Matt Hasselbeck, who signed to a three-year contract last July with Tennessee.
The pursuit of Manning has kept the Titans from addressing their defensive line early in free agency, one of their top needs. Mario Williams signed with Buffalo, John Abraham re-signed with Atlanta and Jason Jones left Tennessee for Seattle.
Other teams also might be behind in building their rosters because of the chase for No. 18.
The Dolphins and Arizona fell out of the running, and the Cardinals are moving ahead with quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Gore, who spends his offseason in Miami each year, isn’t going to begin to guess what might happen next in the Manning story—and what it might mean for him next season.
“I don’t know, man,” he said. “I don’t know.”
AP Sports Writers Steven Wine in Miami, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., and Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this story.
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Updated 1 hour, 42 minutes ago
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Peyton Manning is about to face his first pass rush in 579 days.
The four-time MVP makes his Denver Broncos debut in the preseason opener at Chicago on Thursday. If he has an extra pep in his step or anticipates a larger than usual adrenaline rush against the Bears, he's not showing it.
He insists it's simply the next steppingstone in his comeback in Denver (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) after missing all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his throwing arm and led to his tearful farewell from the Indianapolis Colts.
He'd like to face some challenging situations during his cameo appearance at Soldier Field, and if he happens to get hit, he's certain he can bounce right back up.
Broncos boss John Elway and Denver's coaches will certainly cringe whenever that first big blast comes, but durability is really the only question mark left with Manning. His arm strength and pinpoint accuracy are back.
Manning's comeback is the biggest story line in the league heading into the 2012 season.
''It's great for him and he's great for the NFL,'' Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said. ''With the things he's done, he's one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the game. I'll just be happy he's in the AFC, still.''
This will be Manning's first game since the Pro Bowl following the 2010 season and his first with a pass rush to contend with since the Colts lost to the New York Jets in the AFC wild-card round on Jan. 8, 2011.
Bears coach Lovie Smith isn't going to have his guys go easy on Manning.
''You don't play the game to hurt anybody at any time, but it's a physical football game,'' Smith said. ''Our pass rushers want to get to the quarterback, whoever he is. I started with Peyton Manning his first year at Tennessee; we've known each other for a long time. I'm happy to see him back out there on the football field, but we need to play well against them.''
Manning wouldn't want it any other way, and neither would his coach, John Fox.
''For the record, we're not going to hold back on them, either,'' Fox said.
The Broncos-Bears game is the highlight of the first full slate of exhibitions spread out over five days. It also marks the reunion of Bears stars Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, who haven't played together since spending their first three pro seasons in Denver.
Meanwhile, Caleb Hanie returns to Chicago (No. 11, AP Pro32), where he was Cutler's backup for three years.
All eyes are on Manning, though - even Cutler's.
''I think everyone is'' eager to see Manning, Cutler said. ''Caleb's out there, and he says everything looks great, that Peyton looks great. It will be interesting to see how much carry-over offensively they brought over from Indy, how the new receivers are doing. There are a lot of question marks over there, but Peyton's Peyton. He's going to be on top of things, and I'm sure he's going to look fine.''
Manning, who figures to get fewer than six quarters of work in the preseason, revealed no emotion over his much-anticipated return to action this week.
''I've always said you love to get a bit of everything in the preseason if you can,'' Manning said. ''You love to get some short-yardage work, some third-down conversions. You'd love to get some red zone, goal line.''
Rookie quarterback Brock Osweiler said he doesn't detect any anxiousness in Manning behind the scenes, either.
''He's been around a long time and he's played in a lot of football games,'' Osweiler said. ''He'll be ready to go. He understands what kind of mentality you have to go into a game with and how you need to prepare for that, and I think he's done a tremendous job.
''I'm sure No. 18 will be ready to roll.''
One Chicago player who's particularly eager to see Manning is cornerback Tim Jennings, who used to play in Indianapolis.
''When I first got in the league, I thought I wasn't that good, when I was there. He just makes you feel that way,'' Jennings said. ''He had a lot of guys around him: Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, Brandon Stokley. And I came in there and it just kind of made me feel smaller than what I was. But I just had to realize I was going against a lot of Hall of Famers for the future.''
Manning's pocket awareness and quick release make him hard to hit. He's averaged just 13 takedowns over his last three seasons, whereas his predecessor, Tim Tebow, was sacked 33 times in just 11 starts last year.
So, the Bears will have their work cut out for them even though Manning's pocket of protection is unlikely to include right-side starters Chris Kuper, coming off knee surgery, and Orlando Franklin, recently cleared from a concussion.
''I know a lot of guys want to be able to get their hands on him,'' Jennings said. ''Hopefully we can get to him quicker than anybody else can. But we don't want to put him in any danger or anything like that. It's preseason. We just want to go out there and compete, and hopefully if their line protects well, then they shouldn't have a problem.''
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