By MICHAEL MAROT, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Team officials and coaches have tried to avoid any discussion about Peyton Manning during this week's annual NFL scouting combine.
Good luck trying that in a town Manning put on the NFL radar and in a venue he helped build.
On Saturday, Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel let it slip that the Chiefs would be interested in pursuing the four-time league MVP — if the Colts let him leave as a free agent.
"I'm not supposed to talk about anybody else's players, and he's still a player with Indianapolis," Crennel said, referring to the league's tampering rules. "But with a talent like that, I would be crazy not to consider it if he were available. I'll leave it at that."
That's as close as anybody has gotten to speculating about Manning's future this week.
Clearly, though, Manning's future is the hot topic in Indy.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano were peppered with questions Thursday about Manning's fate. If Indianapolis does not pay a $28 million bonus by March 8, the longtime face of the Colts could wind up signing with another team.
There are indications Manning could be on the move after missing the entire 2011 season.
In September, the 35-year-old quarterback had surgery on his neck to repair a damaged nerve that was causing weakness in his throwing arm. It was the third known neck surgery in 19 months, and there have been questions about his arm strength. Indy holds the No. 1 overall pick in April, and team owner Jim Irsay already has said the Colts will use the pick to select their next franchise quarterback, perhaps making Manning expendable.
The speculation over Manning's health only has been superseded by rumors about potential landing spots for the yet-to-be released quarterback.
"We're looking for a great decision maker. We're looking for a leader. We're looking for an accurate passer. We're looking for a guy that has excellent game management skills, excellent decision maker, a guy that has pocket presence and awareness, the leadership skills," new Miami coach Joe Philbin said Thursday. "Obviously, the stronger the arm, the more velocity, the better, but we're looking for a guy that can manage a team, lead a team, make good decisions in critical times and make big plays when games are on the line."
Although that sounds like someone with Manning's pedigree, Philbin never mentioned the quarterback by name.
Jets coach Rex Ryan couldn't get away that easily. Some believe New York, where Manning's brother, Eli, already plays for the Giants, would be a perfect spot. The Jets, who have gone to the AFC title game twice in three years, may be just an upgrade at quarterback away from reaching the Super Bowl.
Ryan tried, creatively, to dodge the question.
"Are you talking about my son (Payton), or some other Peyton?" Ryan said, drawing laughter. "I think first off, Peyton is under contract to a different team, so I can't talk about him specifically. But with our organization, we will look at everybody. There is a list of 10 free agent quarterbacks that I've looked at. There's the draft guys I've looked at. In my opinion, we have the best corner in football, in the history of football, along with Deion Sanders and we are still looking at a million corners."
Even fans are becoming lobbyists.
In Miami and Nashville, Tenn., there are billboards trying to persuade team officials to sign Manning, but not everyone is listening.
"I understand it from a fan's perspective," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said. "But I'd tell them we like our guys, and you've got to be patient. We've got a good quarterback situation and it's improved a lot since last year."
Where else could Manning go?
Possibly Arizona, where coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves did nothing this week to dissuade speculation over their interest.
"I think we are happy with what we have (at quarterback), but as Coach Whisenhunt just said, we're about opportunities to get better," Graves said. "This is a competitive game, and we want to get better. If we can, so be it. But right now we believe we have an outstanding group of quarterbacks, and we're preparing to play with that group of quarterbacks."