By Barry Jackson, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — The Dolphins have made the list of finalists for coveted free agent Peyton Manning and expect to meet with him after he returns from his visits to Denver and Arizona.
The Broncos and Cardinals also have emerged as serious contenders, and it’s possible one or two additional teams might be considered from the initial list of 12 that expressed interest in signing him.
Manning also is likely still analyzing Kansas City, according to ESPN.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is expected to join general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin in a meeting with Manning in the next few days.
The Dolphins have prepared what they believe is a strong presentation.
Manning met with Broncos officials, including executive vice president John Elway, on Friday in Stillwater, Okla., where Denver management was attending Oklahoma State’s Pro Day.
Manning and Broncos officials then flew to Denver, where he was expected to meet with coaches and a few players.
Though Denver received the first visit, the Broncos should not be considered the front-runner and contract terms were not expected to be discussed, according to the ESPN report.
Though he has had four neck operations in the past 19 months, Manning reportedly was not expected to throw passes for the Broncos, and it’s undetermined if he will do so for any team.
The Dolphins would like to see him throw, according to an official in contact with the team.
But it’s unclear how much they would press the issue if Manning declines to throw for any team.
The Broncos have $50 million in cap space and reportedly feel no allegiance to Tim Tebow if they’re able to sign Manning. Tebow, due $1.6 million next season, could be traded or released if Manning signs with Denver.
Arizona is appealing to Manning because the Cardinals play in a dome and have a star receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. Manning also has a good relationship with Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The Cardinals are $13 million over the salary cap but could create space by releasing left tackle Levi Brown, among other moves.
If Manning eventually chooses Arizona, the Cardinals would dump Kevin Kolb before he is due a $7 million roster bonus on March 17.
Though Manning is said to prefer staying in the AFC, Arizona generally is viewed as a serious contender. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said the Cardinals “are the one NFC team I’m not ruling out.”
Seattle also has been trying to convince Manning to visit while he’s out West.
Among AFC teams beyond the Dolphins, Broncos and Chiefs, Mortensen reported that Houston would be the favorite if it enters the bidding, “but they’re not in it, from what we know.”
Mortensen also largely dismissed the Jets’ chances.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Friday that the Dolphins’ chances had declined somewhat because Manning was “rattled” when TV news trucks and a TV-owned helicopter followed him after he arrived at Opa-Locka Airport on Monday.
But Manning also was met by TV cameras and a TV camera-equipped helicopter in Denver on Friday.
And a Manning family associate reiterated that the Dolphins are still strongly in the mix.