The Dolphins have made the cut.
Now it's up to owner Stephen Ross, General Manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin to persuade Peyton Manning not to head west.
According to multiple reports today, Manning has narrowed his list to three suitors - the Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals - and hopes to make a decision by Tuesday, the first day of NFL free agency.
Manning met with the Broncos today in Stillwater, Okla., where team executives were attending a Pro Day at Oklahoma State. He is expected to meet next with the Cardinals and then with Miami.
It is unclear if Manning, who sat out all of last season and has had four neck surgeries in the past 19 months, will work out or be examined by doctors during any of his visits.
Miami still is considered by many analysts to be the favorite to land Manning, who has a condo on Miami Beach and would give the Dolphins the franchise quarterback they have been seeking since Dan Marino retired.
ESPN's Adam Schefter said today that the Dolphins' chances might be "dwindling." He said the media circus surrounding Manning's arrival in South Florida on Wednesday night - he was pursued by TV trucks and helicopters before pulling over on the side of the road and giving an interview - was a major turn-off .
Manning, who was released by Indianapolis on Wednesday, gave the Broncos first crack at him.
Broncos President John Elway and coach John Fox picked up Manning this morning in South Florida and returned with him to Stillwater to interview him. Later today, Elway flew to Denver to meet with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Manning did not work out with Denver or negotiate a contract, according to ESPN.
The Broncos were initially considered longshots to sign Manning because of the presence of Tim Tebow, who became wildly popular in Denver last season by leading the Broncos from 1-4 to a playoff berth.
But Elway and Fox - who were not with Denver when Tebow was drafted in 2010 - have always had mixed feelings about Tebow.
Their comments at the recent NFL Scouting Combine did little to change the feeling in NFL circles that they would prefer a more traditional passer. Fox said "we're very comfortable with Tim" and Elway said, "We're hoping that (Tebow's) going to be the guy for a long, long time."
Manning, a Super Bowl champion and 11-time Pro Bowler, would be one of the few quarterbacks who could replace Tebow without too many objections from Denver fans. The Broncos also have the money - more than $50 million in cap space - to sign Manning and some of his former Colts teammates.
Signing Manning would be more complicated for the Cardinals, and not just because owner Bill Bidwill would have to beat Ross in a bidding war.
The Cardinals would have to rework or shed some contracts to create room under the salary cap to sign Manning. After signing their restricted free agents today, the Cardinals are $13 million over the projected cap of $120 million.
The Cardinals could get under the limit by releasing left tackle Levi Brown ($17 million cap number) and signing franchise player Calais Campbell, a pass-rusher, to a long-term deal.
The Cardinals also likely would have to dump quarterback Kevin Kolb, whom the team signed to a three-year contract before last season.
Kolb, who received $12 million in his first season and is due a $7 million roster bonus March 17, would count $8 million against the Cardinals' salary cap this year if he is cut, and $10 million if he is on the roster.
The Dolphins, like the Broncos, have room to sign Manning and a couple of former teammates, such as 33-year-old receiver Reggie Wayne and 36-year-old center Jeff Saturday, both free agents. The Dolphins are about $18 million under the cap.
The Dolphins also appear to have many elements that would be attractive to Manning: the sixth-stingiest defense in the NFL in points allowed, a 1,000-yard receiver (Brandon Marshall) and rusher (Reggie Bush), an elite left tackle (Jake Long), good weather and proximity to his off-season home.
Ross, who flew from New York City to South Florida today, has made it clear to his associates that Manning is the Dolphins' first - and only - priority right now.
Reported by: Ben Volin Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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