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Peyton Manning finalizing contract with Broncos

By ARNIE STAPLETON - AP Pro Football Writer
    2012-03-20 02:25

DENVER (AP) - All that's needed is Peyton Manning's autograph.

After being pursued by teams around the NFL, the QB with four MVP awards is headed to the land of John Elway and Tim Tebow, agreeing to a contract with Denver that could make the Broncos an instant Super Bowl contender. It could also send one of the NFL's most intriguing young players packing.

So much for Tebowmania.

Manning called Elway on Monday morning and told the Broncos executive that he had chosen Denver over the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers in the wildest free-agent chase of the offseason.

The Broncos and Manning's agent then hashed out details of a deal that's expected to be worth about $95 million over five years.

If they can reach an agreement, Manning could sign the deal and be introduced at a news conference as early as Tuesday.

Manning was wooed to Denver by Elway, the former QB 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 Tebow was the answer at the sport's most important position, and now could trade the hugely popular QB who energized the Broncos in a run to the playoffs last season but was plagued by erratic play.

Manning turns 36 on Saturday and missed the 2011 season because of multiple neck surgeries, which made him expendable to the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts. They cut him March 7 rather than pay a $28 million bonus.

But Manning's success in the past made him a prize that teams from San Francisco to Miami felt they couldn't pass up.

``There's a lot to be excited about,'' Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers, a fellow Tennessee alum, said outside the team's complex Monday. ``Just being on his team is going to make you want to play better.''

By luring the elite QB to Denver, Elway has delivered his biggest victory for the Broncos since he led them to their second straight Super Bowl title in 1999. He retired shortly after that 34-19 win over Atlanta and the Broncos have won just two playoff games since.

Manning won an NFL championship in 2007. And although no starting QB has ever earned a Super Bowl ring for two different teams, when he arrives at the Broncos' headquarters to sign his new deal, Manning at least can see the two Lombardi Trophies in the lobby that Elway won when he was 37 and 38.

Elway returned to the Broncos last year after the franchise hit rock bottom with an embarrassing scandal - the team was caught videotaping a 49ers practice - and a 4-12 season that cost coach Josh McDaniels his job.

It was McDaniels who drafted Tebow with the 25th pick of the 2010 draft.

The big question now facing Elway now is what to do about Tebow, who has three years left on his contract.

Tebow took over a 1-4 team from Kyle Orton last year and led the Broncos to an 8-8 finish and the AFC West crown with a series of stirring comebacks that captured the attention of the football world and beyond.

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.

Afterward, Elway declared Tebow was the Broncos' starting quarterback heading into training camp this summer but said the southpaw would have to improve his flawed mechanics and footwork to win the job heading into the season.

He also said he'd spent time tutoring Tebow himself and would add more quarterback competition through the draft and free agency.

Did he ever, landing maybe the most sought-after free agent in NFL history.

Several Broncos predicted the free agency floodgates will swing wide open once Manning officially joins the team.

``I think we'll sign some guys, probably a few guys, like Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, guys waiting to see what Peyton was going to do,'' Ayers said. ``Defensive guys want to play with a lead, and I'm pretty sure guys are going to assume Peyton will put up points in this offense, we have some weapons.''

Linebacker Joe Mays, who re-upped with Denver for three years and $12 million, said, ``I can't wait to see the finished product and get a chance to go out there and hit the field.''

The whirlwind courtship began two days after Manning stood alongside Colts owner Jim Irsay at an emotional farewell news conference. The Broncos flew Manning into town on a chartered plane and he then spent 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 chased 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.

Last week, Manning worked out for Elway and company in North Carolina at Duke's athletic facilities. Elway said afterward that Manning ``looked comfortable'' throwing the ball.

A few days later, Manning decided he wanted to trade in his Colts horseshoe helmet for one adorned by a Bronco.

The move allows 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 - Eli with two. Now the older brother has a chance to even the score.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper chimed in Monday, saying he hoped Tebow wasn't going anywhere and could serve an apprenticeship under Manning.

``He's a young man, right? And a year or two of working under John Elway and Peyton Manning, you know, I'm not sure any other quarterbacks around the country get that opportunity,'' Hickenlooper said.

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who was Manning's backup at Tennessee, said he never tried to talk Manning into coming to Colorado but was impressed by the zip on Manning's passes when he worked out with him at Duke earlier this year.

``He was fine. I kept telling him how impressed I was, how far he'd come since he came out after he had surgery,'' Helton said. ``I'm an untrained eye, but I knew it hurt when I caught it.''

With Manning joining the Broncos, oddsmakers in Las Vegas immediately made Denver one of the top choices to win the Super Bowl next season, which will be played in Manning's hometown of New Orleans.

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Facebook and http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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