The moment has arrived for Peyton Manning.
After more than a week of crisscrossing the country while visiting with five teams, the former Colts quarterback is about to make his decision. Manning worked out for three teams during the past week, most recently the Titans yesterday in Knoxville. He threw for the Broncos on Friday at Duke University, where he has spent several weeks training with coach David Cutcliffe, his former offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee. It also was revealed that Manning had a private workout for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday at Duke.
Now for the moment of truth. After Manning eliminated the Dolphins and Cardinals from his wish list, it is down to Denver, Tennessee and San Francisco.
Manning has said nothing publicly about his intentions, and we are essentially left to read tea leaves to figure out where he'll go next. The sense here is that the Broncos are slight favorites but that all three teams remain in the mix because each has unique qualities that attract Manning.
The Broncos have a terrific offensive line, an emerging defense and a Hall of Fame quarterback in John Elway calling the shots in the front office. The Titans have a great offensive line and a great running back in Chris Johnson. And the 49ers, only one win away from the Super Bowl last season, have one of the best defenses in the game, running back Frank Gore and Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis.
But given the difficult decision-making process, nothing will be a surprise when he makes his choice as early as tomorrow. Then Manning will begin the next and final stage of his career after a brilliant 14-year run with the Colts.
No matter where he ends up, this much is clear: As long as he's physically capable, Manning will make his next team a legitimate -- and immediate -- Super Bowl contender.
More Peyton fallout
Whenever Manning decides on his next team, it is likely to set off a domino effect for at least one quarterback on that team's roster. In Denver, it's Tim Tebow, who is expected to be traded if the Broncos get Manning. In Tennessee, incumbent starter Matt Hasselbeck will be released or traded and the team will hold on to Jake Locker, the Titans' 2011 first-round draft pick. And in San Francisco, the 49ers are not expected to re-sign starter Alex Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent.
Your move, Peyton
After Manning said Friday that he wasn't interested in signing with Arizona, the Cardinals gave quarterback Kevin Kolb a $7-million roster bonus that was due that day. But the hefty bonus doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the starter in 2012. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said last month, even before Manning was released by the Colts, that the team would have an open competition between Kolb and former Fordham star John Skelton in training camp. Skelton has started 11 games the past two seasons.
The open training camp competition still stands.
Gailey: Mario's no hero
The Bills pulled off a major coup by signing defensive end Mario Williams, the most prominent defensive player in this year's free-agent class. But Buffalo coach Chan Gailey doesn't want Williams to feel the pressure of having to live up to his $100- million deal.
"I told him not to feel the pressure of having to be some kind of unbelievable player, unbelievable leader and unbelievable entity of our football team," Gailey said. "He's a great player in his own right or he wouldn't be where he is. Just go do what you do and he'll make us better."
Good call, Coach. There's no question that Williams, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, can be a dominating player. But Gailey wants to make sure he plays within himself and doesn't carry the burden of expectation created by the huge salary.
Can Bucs buy a title?
Last year's case study in teams trying to spend their way to a Super Bowl title took place in Philadelphia, as the Eagles splurged in free agency and created what quarterback Vince Young called the "Dream Team." Didn't quite work out for the Eagles, who finished 8-8 and didn't make the playoffs. The Giants, meanwhile, who signed only a punter (Steve Weatherford) and a center (David Baas) in free agency, won the championship.
This year's team to watch: Tampa Bay.
The Bucs went wild in the first 24 hours of the free-agency period, signing three high-profile players to a combined $140.6 million. That's a high price to pay for three players, but the Bucs believe wide receiver Vincent Jackson (55.6 million), guard Carl Nicks ($47.5 million) and cornerback Eric Wright ($37.5) million will be worth it.
We'll see. History shows that the payoff for teams spending big in free agency isn't what they'd hoped it would be.