The Miami Dolphins' much-discussed, long-awaited pursuit of Peyton Manning can finally begin this week.
The Indianapolis Colts are expected to release the four-time league MVP on Wednesday, according to ESPN, thus paving the way for Miami, Arizona, Washington, Kansas City, Seattle, the Jets and potentially others to pursue him.
Several national reporters, including NBC's Peter King and ESPN's Adam Schefter, have made the Dolphins the slight favorite to acquire him. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross privately has made clear to associates that he very much covets Manning.
The Colts will release Manning, who was under contract for four more years, instead of paying him a $28 million roster bonus that is due by Thursday. The announcement will be made at a news conference on Wednesday, according to ESPN.
Manning, who will turn 36 on March 24, missed the 2011 season after undergoing neck surgery for the third and fourth time in 19 months. Last month, he was cleared by doctors to resume playing. His arm strength has significantly improved in recent weeks as the nerves continue to regenerate in his right arm, according to multiple sources.
Manning, who owns a condo on South Beach, threw to Colts free agent receiver Reggie Wayne in South Florida two weeks ago, and spent much of last week conducting an aggressive throwing session at Duke University, where his former University of Tennessee offensive coordinator, David Cutcliffe, is now the head coach. Manning could be seen making several strong throws on a video clip posted on YouTube last Saturday.
"From what I've seen, he certainly looks fine as far as throwing and velocity on the ball," his father, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, said last week. "I did see him a couple weeks ago. I saw him throw and he looks like Peyton. He hasn't had any setbacks throwing. He's been throwing for two months and there are four or five months to go before the season starts. He will be ready to play."
Manning respects Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and is aware that Joe Philbin is a good coach to play for, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. A Manning associate said he believes that if Manning chooses the Dolphins, he would be willing to work with the Dolphins on running the offense he's comfortable with, while also weaving in elements of Sherman's West Coast-style offense.
The Dolphins have about $15 million in cap space and could prorate a large signing bonus for Manning over several years to somewhat soften the cap hit.
Manning had never missed a start before last season. He has taken the Colts to the playoffs 10 times in 14 years, won seven AFC South titles in eight years, won one Super Bowl and two AFC championships and also captured a Super Bowl MVP award.
In 2010, Manning finished second in the league in touchdown passes (33) and completion percentage (66.3). He closed that season with 17 interceptions, 4,700 yards passing, a 91.9 rating and was sacked just 16 times in 16 games. In 2009, Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated named him NFL Player of the Decade. Manning was named MVP in 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009 and was first-team All-Pro five times, mostly recently in 2009.
Manning holds more than three dozen NFL records. Among them: most seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards (11), most consecutive seasons with at least 20 and 25 touchdown passes (13 apiece for both), most games with a perfect passer rating (four), most consecutive games started to open a career (208), most regular season and postseason games with at least 300 passing yards (71), largest touchdown-interception career differential (201), and most seasons with 10-plus regular season wins (11) .
His departure from Indianapolis paves the way for Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 overall draft pick, to start for the Colts next season.
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