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March 19, 2012

AP Source: Peyton Manning chooses Broncos

DENVER — Peyton Manning wants to play for the Denver Broncos in Act II of his outstanding career.

A person briefed on negotiations said the NFL’s only four-time MVP called Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams and told him that he had picked the Broncos. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

Adams released a statement today confirming the Titans were out of the running and told The Tennessean: “He called me himself and told me he wasn’t coming, that he made his mind up to go with Denver.”

ESPN first reported Manning instructed his agent to negotiate the details of a deal with the Broncos, less than two weeks after the quarterback became a free agent when the Indianapolis Colts released him.

Manning sat out all of 2011 because of multiple neck surgeries, but his success in the past has made him this offseason’s most sought-after player.

He was wooed to Denver by Hall of Fame quarterback Elway, who led the Broncos to two Super Bowl championships and now serves as their vice president of football operations. Elway never sounded all that convinced that Tim Tebow was the right answer at the sport’s most important position and now could trade him, even though the popular QB energized the Broncos in leading them to the playoffs last season despite some erratic play.

The statement from Titans owner Adams said: “I want to thank the whole organization for their efforts in trying to sign Peyton and also to Peyton for the time he put into the process. 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.”

The San Francisco 49ers were the other team trying to land Manning.

He was cut loose March 7 by the Colts so they could avoid paying him a $28 million contract bonus. The move marked the end of an era, a 14-year alliance between the team that drafted Manning No. 1 overall and the QB who brought Indianapolis from football irrelevance to the 2007 Super Bowl title and a second appearance in the NFL championship game three years later.

But with Manning’s rehab continuing, the Colts decided it was time to rebuild from top to bottom, and they are expected to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick in April’s draft.

Two days after standing alongside Colts owner Jim Irsay during an emotional farewell news conference, Manning began his free agency tour in the place it appears to be ending: Denver. Manning landed on Tebow’s turf with all the trappings of star treatment — flown to town on a chartered plane, then spending the day with Elway, coach John Fox and general manager Brian Xanders.

From there, Manning crisscrossed the country in search of a new team, as various clubs courted a guy with more than 50,000 yards passing, nearly 400 touchdowns and 11 Pro Bowl selections. After Denver, next up was a meeting with the Arizona Cardinals, and he also spent time speaking with — or throwing for — the Titans, 49ers and Miami Dolphins, with TV cameras and even helicopters often on the trail.

Somehow, the 49ers managed to keep their audience with Manning a secret for days, until word emerged that they were in the running for him, too.

In the end, though, Manning decided he wanted to trade in his Colts horseshoe helmet for one adorned by a Bronco. The move would allow him to stay in the AFC, a conference he knows well and one considered weaker than the NFC at the moment, and would re-establish the tantalizing prospect of playing against his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli, in a Super Bowl. They already have three titles in the family.

As it happens, the next Super Bowl will be hosted by New Orleans, which also is the Mannings’ hometown; their father, Archie, used to play for the Saints. Think a Manning vs. Manning matchup for the championship in the Big Easy might garner attention?

Manning-to-Denver also creates a fascinating dynamic with Tebow, only months after the former Heisman Trophy winner was the focus of the NFL regular season and perhaps the most talked-about athlete in sports, a polarizing figure both because of his style of play — as far as possible from a classic, dropback passer — and his outspoken religious beliefs.

After taking over a struggling team, Tebow led the Broncos to comeback victory after comeback victory, struggling for three quarters before starring in the fourth quarter and overtime. With an offense transformed into a spread option attack built on Tebow’s running, and a strong defense that kept games close, the Broncos won the AFC West title.

Tebowmania reached its apex in the playoffs, when he threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the very first play of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The next week, though, Tebow was smothered by the New England Patriots, who easily eliminated the Broncos 45-10.

A little more than two months later, Tebow could be on the trading block.

That’s not the only domino which could fall now that the offseason’s biggest free agency question is seemingly settled.

San Francisco could decide to keep its own free-agent QB, Alex Smith, who went to Miami for a visit with the Dolphins after the 49ers’ flirtation with Manning became public. If Smith does go back to the Niners, perhaps Miami will look to trade for Tebow, who played in college at Florida. The Titans, meanwhile, probably will stick with grooming Jake Locker, who was a first-round draft pick a year ago.

Denver, meanwhile, could try to give Manning some new targets, because they still have millions of dollars in salary-cap space available. The Broncos did not exactly have a wealth of wideouts last season, other than Thomas, and they lost Eddie Royal to the San Diego Chargers as a free agent.

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