Manning begins free-agency tour by meeting Broncos

March 10, 2012 - 1:56 PM
Colts Manning Football

FILE - In a Dec. 22, 2011 file photo Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning is seen on the sidelines in Indianapolis before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans. Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a damaged nerve that caused weakness in his right arm and required multiple neck surgeries, including a single-level fusion. (AP Photo/AJ Mast, File)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Peyton Manning's whirlwind free-agency tour kicked off in grand fashion, complete with a chartered plane coming to pick him up and a helicopter hovering overhead as he met with the Denver Broncos.

And this was only Day 1 of his adventure.

Manning spent Friday in Tim Tebow's neighborhood, chatting with the Broncos for nearly six hours.

Speculation was that Arizona was next up, and television crews were staking out the Cardinals' headquarters in Tempe on Saturday. But there was no sight of the superstar.

Not that the facility was quiet. The Manning frenzy coincided with Kurt Warner's "Ultimate Football Experience," a fundraiser for his foundation.

Manning is the NFL's marquee free agent after being released by the Indianapolis Colts two days ago. The Broncos rolled out the red carpet for visit by the four-time MVP.

Brought in from Miami on a plane sent down to swoop him up, Manning spent the day with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, who also serves as Denver's vice president of football operations. Manning was escorted around the building, with coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders along as well.

When his marathon day was over, Manning hopped into the same silver SUV he arrived in and was whisked away without talking to reporters.

His next stop? There are more than a half-dozen other suitors, with Arizona and Miami among those expressing interest.

But spending the first day in Denver certainly made for some interesting conversation. After all, this is a city still engulfed in Tebowmania, especially after the unorthodox quarterback led the Broncos to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

But having Manning in for a visit raised anew the question that has hovered over the team: Is Tebow a long-term solution or just a feel-good story for a season?

As news spread of Manning's arrival — with reporters and TV helicopters covering every inch of the Broncos facility — a handful of curious fans started making their way over.

"Let's do it, Peyton," one of them yelled through a gate upon spotting Manning walking out of the weight room. He glanced over and gave a quick wave.

Across the parking lot, one fan with an Elway jersey, another with a Tebow jersey and a few more with Manning's iconic Colts No. 18 showed up.

"Peyton Manning is a terrific leader. He has amazing aim and seems to have a sixth sense of what's going to happen on the field. He's phenomenal to watch," said Graham Millar, a lifelong Colts fan who lives in Aurora, Colo. "You feel like you're watching a psychic. But it's preparation. He knows exactly what to expect from every single player on that field."

According to The Denver Post, the Broncos sent a plane to pick up Manning in South Florida, where he has a condo. He had traveled there after an emotional news conference in Indianapolis on Wednesday, when he said goodbye to the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 1998 and he led to the 2007 Super Bowl championship.

The plane then stopped in Stillwater, Okla., where Elway, Fox and Xanders were watching Oklahoma State's pro day. The Broncos management met up with Manning, and everyone flew back to Denver.

ESPNews carried live coverage of the flight arriving at an airport in Denver, then also followed Manning's car ride to Broncos headquarters. And while Manning met with Elway & Co., inside the building, a blue helicopter hovered overhead.

This was only the beginning.

Arizona, Miami, Kansas City, Seattle, Tennessee and Washington are among the other possible destinations, as Manning becomes one of the most coveted free agents in league history, even though he turns 36 later this month and is coming off a series of neck operations. He missed all of last season, and the Colts decided to cut ties rather than pay a $28 million bonus that was due this week.

It's not often that teams get a chance to sign a quarterback who has thrown for more than 50,000 yards and nearly 400 touchdowns, been picked for 11 Pro Bowls, and been a Super Bowl MVP. Manning's importance to the Colts' success was never more apparent than last season, when their record plummeted to 2-14 without him.

Because he was released and went on the waiver wire Wednesday, Manning is allowed to negotiate and sign with any club immediately; he does not need to wait until the free-agent period that begins Tuesday.

Chiefs owner Clark Hunt confirmed in an interview with NBC Sports Network that his team is pursuing Manning.

"I don't know how important money will be to him, but I'm sure it will be part of the equation," Hunt said. "He's going to be looking for an environment that he's comfortable in."

He declined to say whether the Chiefs already have offered Manning a contract.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk about discussions at this point," Hunt said, "but he is somebody that we'll want to talk to."

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AP National Writer Eddie Pells and Phoenix sports writer Bob Baum contributed to this report.