Denver Broncos head coach John Fox, facing camera, arrives at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Friday, March 16, 2012, in Raleigh, N.C. Elway and coach John Fox traveled to North Carolina to watch Peyton Manning work out at Duke, while the Miami Dolphins dropped out of the running to sign the NFL's only four-time MVP. (AP Photo/The News & Observer, Shawn Rocco)
RALEIGH, N.C. — The stealthy 49ers are in the chase for Peyton Manning. The Dolphins and Cardinals are out. And the Broncos and Titans want to make sure the four-time NFL MVP is healthy.
Got all that?
After a brief lull, the pursuit of Manning sure got interesting in a hurry Friday.
The year's top free agent, who has been rehabbing in North Carolina after a string of neck surgeries, threw the football at Duke's athletic facilities for Hall of Fame QB turned Broncos executive John Elway along with Denver coach John Fox.
The workout lasted a little under two hours, and when it was over Elway seemed convinced that Manning is still Manning.
"We enjoyed visiting with Peyton today in N.C.," he wrote on his Twitter account. "He threw the ball great and looked very comfortable out there."
A few minutes later, Elway posted: "Watching him throw today was the next step in this important process for our team and Peyton. It was a productive visit and went well."
Whether San Francisco executives and coaches feel the same way, they weren't saying. But they also have shown interest in the man who led Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory in 2007. A person familiar with the situation said that Manning worked out for 49ers' coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday night at Duke. ESPN first reported on the session.
Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe was Manning's offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee and the two remain friends.
As it became clear the 49ers were in the race, Miami and Arizona dropped out.
Another person confirmed to the AP that Manning phoned the Miami Dolphins on Thursday to advise them he'll sign elsewhere. The team has now turned its attention to free agent quarterback Matt Flynn.
The people who spoke to the AP did so on condition of anonymity because Manning's workouts have remained private and most teams involved have refused to comment on their free agency negotiations.
The Cardinals decided to pay quarterback Kevin Kolb the $7 million roster bonus he was due on Saturday, ending their pursuit of Manning. Arizona hosted Manning for about 6½ hours at the team's facility on Sunday, but the team's chances faded as the week progressed.
"Acquiring Peyton Manning is no longer an option for us," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
After he missed the entire 2011 season, Manning's uncertain health led the Colts to balk at the $28 million roster bonus they would have owed their 35-year-old leader on March 8. So they released him, ending his long and incredibly successful run with Indy.
Now the question is which club will land a quarterback who could make a team an instant Super Bowl contender.
Will it be San Francisco, which seemed to be out of the picture?
The 49ers had been working to re-sign quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 who made a comeback last year under first-year coach and former NFL QB Harbaugh.
Smith has acknowledged he was happy with the three-year offer. Both he and Manning are represented by Tom Condon and CAA Sports.
"Alex is trying to figure out what he wants to do," 49ers CEO Jed York said earlier this week. "There have been good conversations back and forth."
The NFC West champion 49ers on Monday signed wide receiver Randy Moss after he spent a year out of football, hoping he will be the dynamic wideout and deep threat he once was.
An email to Smith, multiple phone messages to his agency and to his father were not returned.
The 27-year-old Smith threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions as San Francisco went 13-3 and made the NFC title game last season after an eight-year playoff drought.
Neither running back Frank Gore nor tight end Vernon Davis had been told by the 49ers they were pursuing Manning. Both are big fans of Smith. Asked if Smith is still the man for San Francisco, Gore said, "I think he is."
Manning's whirlwind free agency tour officially kicked off soon after he bid farewell to the Colts in an emotional press conference.
The Broncos had the first crack at wooing him, rolling out the red carpet for his visit. Team officials flew him in and he spent the spent the day chatting with Elway and other Broncos brass. He also was escorted around the team's building by Fox and general manager Brian Xanders as he listened to their sales pitch.
After that, Manning journeyed to nearby Castle Rock, Colo., and spent the evening with good friend Brandon Stokley, who played catch with Manning the next morning and spoke highly of his former teammate in an interview on a local radio show.
Manning's next stop was Arizona and then, this week, it was Tennessee.
The QB has a big fan in 89-year-old Titans owner Bud Adams, and Manning, who spent his college days leading the Volunteers, talked for nearly eight hours with team executives on a plane and at the club's headquarters.
The NFL Network reported that Manning was expected to work out for the Titans, but there was no immediate confirmation from the team or word on when that would happen.