After nearly two weeks of being courted by a dozen teams and narrowing his list to three, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning has made his choice: He'll be taking his talents to Denver.
Manning informed the three finalists of his decision Monday morning, 12 days after he said farewell to the Colts, for whom he starred for 13 years before sitting out last season with a neck injury. He chose the Broncos over the Titans and 49ers in one of the most intense free-agent pursuits in NFL history.
The news first was reported by ESPN and confirmed by Titans owner Bud Adams, who released a statement congratulating Manning. The Broncos' acquisition of Manning could lead to a trade of quarterback Tim Tebow, who led Denver to the playoffs after he replaced an ineffective Kyle Orton early last season. Tebow became wildly popular with his late-game comebacks, setting off an athletic/cultural phenomenon known as "Tebowmania."
The Broncos have said they will not confirm the report until Manning signs a contract expected to be worth nearly $100 million over the next five seasons. But Adams confirmed that Manning had told him.
"Peyton called me this morning to inform me of his decision and obviously I am disappointed, because I thought we would be a perfect fit," Adams said in a statement released early Monday afternoon.
Manning worked out for the 49ers last Tuesday, then threw for Broncos officials Friday and for the Titans on Saturday. The workouts for the 49ers and Broncos were held at Duke University, where Manning has been rehabilitating his neck injury the last several weeks. He threw for the Titans in Knoxville, Tenn.
Manning has not commented on his status, but Broncos players are excited about his arrival. Running back Willis McGahee said Manning "can really take us to another level.''
"We were young, and I think those guys got the jitters out of them last year, even though we did go to the playoffs," McGahee told Sirius XM NFL Radio Monday.
"It was a certain something that we were missing. We were missing that general to take charge in tough situations, and I think he brings that to the table."
McGahee didn't mention Tebow by name when he spoke of missing "that general to take charge," but it was obvious whom he meant.
Tebow, who often struggled with his passing, still found ways to win enough games to lead Denver to the AFC West title. Now he will become the subject of trade talks.
There is no guarantee he will be dealt, and the Broncos still might use him at running back or at quarterback in scenarios that feature a "Wildcat" formation. But there could be a trade market for Tebow.
The Dolphins still were looking for a quarterback after being rebuffed by Manning and former Packers backup Matt Flynn, who signed with Seattle on Sunday. The Dolphins signed former Jaguars quarterback David Garrard Monday. They also hosted a visit from 49ers free agent Alex Smith, who may have been put off by the team's pursuit of Manning. The 49ers have offered Smith a three-year, $24-million deal.
Jacksonville is another possibility, although it's unclear if the Jaguars' decision-makers are sold on Tebow, who is wildly popular in his hometown. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner helped Florida capture two national championships before the Broncos drafted him in the first round in 2010. The Jaguars drafted quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first round last year and signed former Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne last week.
The Jets? New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano ran the "Wildcat'' in Miami, which would make Tebow a potential candidate. The Jets routinely investigate all possibilities, but an NFL source said Monday night the chances of the Jets acquiring Tebow are "very remote.''
The Jets made an inquiry into signing Manning a few days before agreeing on a three-year extension for Mark Sanchez, who is signed through 2016. It includes $20 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons.