TEMPE, Ariz. >> The Arizona Cardinals, for decades the laughingstock of the NFL, find themselves in the running for the services of one of the game’s greatest quarterbacks.
Peyton Manning spent nearly 6½ hours at the Arizona Cardinals’ headquarters and training facility on Sunday in meetings designed to lure the superstar to the desert.
The session followed a meeting of nearly six hours Manning had at the Broncos’ facility in Denver on Friday night. The two sessions were evidence that, for the time being at least, Arizona and Denver appear to be the top two contenders.
After his Arizona visit, Manning headed home to Florida, where he may or may not meet with the Miami Dolphins and return to his workouts as he comes back from a series of neck surgeries.
Manning waved and smiled at cheering fans as he walked from the Cardinals’ facility to coach Ken Whisenhunt’s white SUV. With the coach at the wheel, Manning waved again as the SUV pulled through the security gate and past the loud supporters.
Titans owner Bud Adams told The Tennessean on Sunday that he has contacted Manning’s agent, Tom Condon, to express his interest and ask for the quarterback to visit the Titans. The 89-year-old Adams said he will be upset if he doesn’t land the former Indianapolis Colts star.
Multiple reports on Sunday had Manning declining visits to Seattle and Kansas City.
Cardinals President Michael Bidwill, son of owner Bill Bidwill, left immediately after Manning and Whisenhunt did. It has been under the younger Bidwill’s leadership that the franchise has shed its penny-pinching image and found success on the field.
Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game and considered a prime reason why Manning might choose Arizona, spent about three hours at the Manning sessions before leaving to make a flight to Australia for a vacation.
General manager Rod Graves and most members of Whisenhunt’s staff, including offensive line and assistant head coach Russ Grimm. Wide receiver Andre Roberts spent several hours there, as did Lisa Manning (no relation), the Cardinals’ vice president for marketing.
Bidwill arrived about an hour and a half after Manning did.
"Get it done, Michael," a fan yelled. "Come on, buddy."
Among the earliest of the few dozen fans who came to the facility to try to get a glimpse of Manning was 26-year-old Jarred Light, a Colts fan who moved to the Phoenix area 1½ years ago.
"I pretty much grew up around him," he said. "When I was 12 is when he came to Indy. Now I’m 26, so pretty much ever since I’ve been interested in football he was my favorite everything. I’ve seen him a couple of times in Indy from living there so many years, and now I just wanted to come out here and see if he will come to the Cardinals."
There were several other people there in Colts’ No. 18 jerseys.
A couple of fans wore Broncos jerseys and were loudly booed when they were interviewed by television crews.
Manning, who turns 36 on March 24, reportedly wants to make a decision in the next few days. Time is of the essence for the Cardinals, who are scheduled to pay quarterback Kevin Kolb $7 million if he is on the roster Thursday.
Manning was released by the Colts as the lead move in the team’s massive restructuring of its roster. With Manning out the entire season while undergoing a series of neck surgeries, Indianapolis had the worst record in the NFL and is expected to select quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Manning has reported good progress as he works to regenerate nerves in his neck and regain his throwing form.
In addition to having Fitzgerald to lure the quarterback, the Cardinals have a coach who reportedly has a long friendship with Manning.
In addition, Whisenhunt is flexible in his approach to the game. He built a team around Kurt Warner and gave the veteran quarterback free rein to change the plays at the line of scrimmage. As a result, the long-suffering Cardinals franchise made a surprise run to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season and captured the NFC West title again the next year.
Warner said on Saturday that it’s a measure of how far the Cardinals have come as a franchise that they have made such a full-court attempt to land Manning.
The Cardinals also have a state-of-the-art stadium with a retractable roof and a natural grass field. The addition of Manning might prompt the franchise to follow through on earlier plans to build a practice bubble so players can escape the stifling heat during summer mini-camps and early season practices.
A concern could be Arizona’s inconsistent offensive line that could lose left tackle Levi Brown, who is expected to be released because he is due a big payday and wouldn’t return unless he signed a new contract.
Less than a year ago, shortly after the lockout ended, Arizona traded cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to Philadelphia for Kolb, then signed the quarterback to a big contract. But Kolb had trouble adjusting to the new offense and missed eight starts with injuries. Second-year pro John Skelton wound up starting half the games and having more success than Kolb did.
If Manning doesn’t come to Arizona, the Cardinals will be faced with assuring Kolb that his services are still coveted, that the pursuit of the star was nothing personal.