All Eyes on Peyton as Decision Nears


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- This year's top NFL free agent heard four teams' pitches in person. Owners squired him around the country on private jets. Politicians have weighed in. Fans are growing restless.

Now Peyton Manning needs to decide what happens next.

The Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans are awaiting word from Manning, and indications Thursday were that all believed they were still in the running to sign the quarterback who is the only four-time MVP in NFL history.

There's been no tangible sign of any of them dropping out of the Manning Sweepstakes - though the chances of the fourth team the star QB met with, the Miami Dolphins, reportedly were less certain.

ESPN and other media said Thursday that another free-agent QB, Matt Flynn, was planning to visit the Dolphins after his trip to see the Seattle Seahawks. That might mean the Dolphins know they won't get Manning or that team officials want to have options in case they fail to sign him.

Chad Henne, who began last season as Miami's starting QB but signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, made it sound as if the Dolphins' pursuit of Manning was serious. Henne said Thursday he had "some talks'' with the Dolphins before leaving, but added: "I think they are on the `Peyton Manning Street' right now, so they are going to wait a while. In my position, there wasn't much time to wait. I kind of wanted a new start, a fresh start, and find a team where I feel comfortable. I just want to be on a team that wants to win games.''

If there's no word from Manning by Friday, the Cardinals might wind up having to move on. That's because Arizona will decide by 4 p.m. EDT on Friday whether or not to release quarterback Kevin Kolb, who would be due $7 million if he is on the roster Saturday.

Kolb's not the only player whose future is being affected by Manning, who became a free agent March 7, when the Indianapolis Colts decided to cut him to avoid paying a $28 million bonus.

In a move that the Titans can only hope will help their efforts to attract Manning, they improved their offensive line by signing free-agent guard Steve Hutchinson on Thursday. He is a five-time All Pro who spent the past six seasons with Minnesota before being released Saturday.

It also wasn't clear whether a surprise suitor could emerge, the way it's happened in baseball recently, with Prince Fielder signing with the Detroit Tigers, Albert Pujols going to the Los Angeles Angels or Cliff Lee winding up with the Philadelphia Phillies.

If Manning wants to feel wanted, there is no shortage of wooing going on.

Set aside all of those face-to-face meetings that lasted six hours or more, and the cross-country trips, and look instead to the way government figures are getting involved.

"I'm the governor; I'm not supposed to be getting involved in sports issues. Although I did hear that my buddy (Tennessee Gov.) Bill Haslam was calling Manning, trying to call Manning, to encourage him to come to Tennessee,'' Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a telephone interview.

Asked whether he would make a similar attempt, Hickenlooper replied: "Oh, sure. If I could get his number.''

"He'd make a great mentor for a couple of years with Tim Tebow,'' Hickenlooper told The Associated Press. "I'm a big fan of Tim Tebow, and I'm not as skeptical as a lot of people are that he can't overcome the mechanics of his throwing.''

In Tennessee, meanwhile, state lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Manning to sign with the Titans.

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