Peyton Manning leaves the Arizona Cardinals' training facility… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)
Free agency starts Tuesday, and Commissioner Roger Goodell is due to hand down punishments for the Saints' bounty scandal, but the biggest story in the NFL this week -- and this off-season -- is the future of Peyton Manning.
The four-time most valuable player had a busy weekend, spending Friday and part of Saturday meeting in Denver with Broncos brass, then flying to Arizona on Saturday night and meeting with the Cardinals for 6½ hours on Sunday.
He then flew back to Miami, where he has a condominium, and didn't meet with Seattle or Kansas City, a strong indication that those suitors are either out of the sweepstakes or facing fourth-and-long.
Now, he's got to make a decision, and according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Manning does not plan to meet with any other teams -- and that includes the Dolphins, who want him badly.
My sources say Denver is in the lead, and they say that John Elway will do whatever he can to land him because the Broncos VP has serious doubts that the team can win a championship with Tim Tebow (unless the charismatic star improves dramatically as a passer.)
Arizona is very much in the mix, of course, because Manning would have All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald and a roster with real potential, would be playing in a dome and living in a warm-weather city, and would be in what has been a very winnable division. The recent surge of the 49ers has shifted the landscape of late, of course.
But remember, these situations can change quickly and dramatically, and Manning could wind up going in a different direction. That's what happened when Brett Favre, who looked to be heading to Tampa Bay, chose the Jets instead. Or last year, when the Eagles surprisingly intercepted Nnamdi Asomugha.
How quickly could the Manning decision come down? He'd like to make the choice as soon as possible, because with free agency starting he wants the ability to help reshape a roster. Also, he's been in the same offensive system his entire career. He wants to get started ASAP getting to know the personnel around him, and getting comfortable with a new team (although he'll have a huge imprint on his new team's offense, wherever he goes.)
This drama is likely to have some unexpected twists and turns before it's over.
Where will Peyton Manning play
Peyton Manning is proof that nothing lasts forever
Peyton Manning-Colts breakup may be best for both sides