The Peyton Manning era in Indianapolis is about to end.
The future Hall of Fame quarterback, who was drafted first overall by the Colts in 1998 and led them to the Super Bowl title after the 2006 season, is expected to be released from his contract Wednesday.
The Colts have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday afternoon to announce the move, according to a person familiar with the team's situation. Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay are expected to attend after both traveled from Florida, where Irsay was attending an owners' meeting.
ESPN first reported that the Colts would release Manning Wednesday, the day before he was due a $28-million roster bonus. He missed the 2011 season because of neck problems that required four surgeries in the past two years, including three in 2011.
Manning, who will turn 36 March 24, will be one of the most highly sought-after free agents in NFL history. He is expected to draw interest from the Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Seahawks, Cardinals and Chiefs and possibly the 49ers, Cowboys and Jaguars.
It's uncertain whether the Jets will be able to sign him, but two people familiar with the situation said the Jets are prepared to make a serious run. Coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said last month they are happy with Mark Sanchez as their starter, but both said they would not rule out upgrading at any position.
That was a softening of their previous stance on Sanchez. When asked by Newsday in early December about their potential interest in Manning if he were available, Ryan said he stood by Sanchez.
Teams will be free to sign Manning as soon as he is released. He does not need to wait until the start of unrestricted free agency next Tuesday to sign with another club.
The Dolphins, Redskins, Cardinals and Chiefs are known to covet him as long as he is healthy enough to play. He has been working out in Indianapolis, Florida and North Carolina in recent weeks in an effort to further rehabilitate his arm.
Manning signed a five-year, $90-million contract extension last February, then had surgery in May to alleviate neck pain and arm weakness. He had a follow-up procedure in June and had cervical fusion surgery in September. He was cleared to resume practicing in December, but he did not play for the rest of the season.
The Jets reportedly also are intrigued by the possibility of adding Colts free-agent wide receiver Reggie Wayne; Sports Illustrated reported last week that the two would be inclined to play for the same team if Manning were available on the open market.
But if the Jets do go after Manning, they'll have plenty of competition. Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said any team would be "crazy" not to consider Manning if he became available.
That time has come, so let the bidding war begin.