There is no official word yet, but TitanInsider's sources and other contacts from around the league indicate the Tennessee Titans currently could be the tenuous leader in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.
The Titans met with Manning on Wednesday at Baptist Sports Park and watched him throw in Knoxville on Saturday. Owner Bud Adams publicly issued an edict through the media the previous Sunday to his workout, but indications are the Titans may have already done some homework on the what-ifs of Manning prior to that.
Manning is expected to make a decision early this week, perhaps within the next 24 to 48 hours, on where he will go as he chooses between the Titans, the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers. Only Manning and his inner circle seem to know for certain when a decision will be made and which way he is leaning.
However, since their entry into the mix, the Titans have been a strong contender, as Manning and head coach Mike Munchak, according to sources, quickly developed a good rapport at their initial meeting on Wednesday.
While the Titans may be the current leader, they are far from a lock in the Manning chase at this point. A development with the 49ers and their own free agent quarterback Alex Smith puts a potentially momentum-shifting move into play.
Sources and some reports indicate that the 49ers, and not the Broncos, may now be Tennessee's chief competition for Manning.
Smith, who appeared set to return to San Francisco before the Niners jumped into the fray for Manning, visited the Miami Dolphins on Sunday and, according to the Denver Post, is in talks with them on an $8 million a year deal. Further complicating the matter is that both Manning and Smith are represented by Tom Condon and CAA.
If the 49ers lose Smith, then they would likely have to make a strong push for Manning, who could potentially be enticed by a ready-made Super Bowl contender featuring a strong defense and offensive weapons like Frank Gore and Vernon Davis.
However, there are a number of things that appear to make the Titans the top option for Manning, including his ties to the state from his days at the University of Tennessee. There is no doubt Manning is revered in the state and a comfort level in Tennessee remains.
Also, Manning's wife Ashley is from Tennessee and her comfort level in whatever destination her husband chooses cannot be ignored nor underestimated.
The money offered to Manning from the three teams is said to be close, with the deal being reported to be around the $90 million mark in value. To try and lure Manning, Adams has even offered Manning the opportunity to move into the team's management and/or ownership structure once his playing days have concluded.
Moving into the front office for a club, the same way one of his pursuers – John Elway – has has always been rumored to be appealing to Manning, and probably has more intrigue than the rigorous hours of coaching or the outside-looking-in feel of broadcast analysis.
On the field, while the Titans need help rebuilding the defense, the offense should be set up for success. With the addition of Steve Hutchinson, a close Manning friend, at left guard, it helps to shore up an offensive line that, while suspect in the running game, was superb against the pass. After years of having rely on his quick release in Indianapolis, the thought of having bookend tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos protecting him has to be appealing.
There is no definitive answer as of yet on Manning's future, even if the Titans hold a slight edge in their efforts to land him. According to sources, while Manning could still choose the 49ers or the Broncos, it might go as a mild upset if his destination is somewhere other than back in Tennessee.