He got away.
Peyton Manning won't return to Tennessee after all. The veteran quarterback has begun negotiations on a contract with the Denver Broncos.
Manning worked out for the Broncos on Friday, one day before he did the same for Titans officials.
The news ends a process that began nearly two weeks ago when the Indianapolis Colts waived the league’s only four-time most valuable player rather than pay him a $28 million roster bonus.
Manning is known to have interviewed with five different teams — the Broncos, Titans, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. His interview with the Titans at their practice facility lasted nearly seven hours last Wednesday.
He worked out for the Broncos, Titans and 49ers late last week and, apparently, made his decision Sunday. His workout for Titans officials took place at Knoxville.
"I want to thank the whole organization for their efforts in trying to sign Peyton and also to Peyton for the time he put into the process," owner K.S "Bud" Adams, said. "Peyton called me [Monday] morning to inform me of his decision and obviously I am disappointed, because I thought we would be a perfect fit."
Of the teams involved in the process, Tennessee seemingly had the best situation at quarterback with veteran Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, under contract for multiple seasons.
Hasselbeck’s first season with the Titans was his best in four years and one of the most productive of his career. He started every game for the first time since 2007 and completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 3,571 yards with 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He was sacked just 19 times.
In 13 seasons as the Colts quarterback (he missed all of 2011 due to injury issues) Manning averaged 4,218 yards and 31 touchdown passes per season. He threw for a career-high 4,700 yards in 2010.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster said multiple times in February that he felt good about the combination of Hasselbeck and Locker and planned to address other areas of the roster through the draft and free agency. That thinking apparently was altered a little more than a week ago when Adams publicly proclaimed his strong desire to add Manning, the former University of Tennessee star who remains one of the state’s most beloved sports figures.
"I ... want to commend Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker," Adams said. "They were thrown into a very difficult situation. Matt was very good for us last year; and at some point, we expect Jake to be our future franchise quarterback.”
The franchise’s efforts to land Manning became something of a statewide pursuit that involved local businesses and state government. Governor Bill Haslam was involved in the interview process last Wednesday, and the state legislature passed a resolution endorsing the attempt to sign Manning. Shoney’s and Nissan both unveiled promotions tied to the issue.
"Now that we move forward, I want our fans to know that our expectations haven’t changed – winning a championship is still the goal," Adams said. "I like our quarterback situation moving forward and we will continue to build the team through free agency and the draft with that goal in mind."
The pursuit of Manning has been the dominant story during the current free agency signing period, which began last Tuesday.
It now creates a new one; What, if anything, will Denver do with quarterback Tim Tebow, who led that franchise to the playoffs last season.