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Broncos' serious interest changes the Peyton Manning derby

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Associated Press
Matt Flynn (left) and Tim Tebow (right) both could be affected when Peyton Manning picks his new team.

Less than 48 hours into the most ballyhooed quarterback derby of all-time, the pieces to this puzzle still are strewn about the floor with teams scrambling to put them together.

They could come together quickly. If they don't? It could put some teams in the lurch.

What we do know -- for now, at least -- is that Peyton Manning holds all the cards. His next move will affect Matt Flynn's future. It also could change what the Rams are able to cop for the second pick in the draft.

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What does this mean for Tim Tebow?

Sounds like a joke, right? It isn't. John Elway and the Broncos are set to meet with Manning on Friday night in Denver, according to a league source. The meeting legitimizes the palpable buzz among those involved in the quarterback derby that Denver is serious in its interest, and this isn't a cursory "let's see what happens" run. One executive implored Thursday night, "Watch Denver." Another involved person said it's anyone's game after the Dolphins, and the Broncos are very much in the mix.

The Broncos have an offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy who is nothing if not flexible with his scheme. They have a head coach in John Fox who is revered by veterans. They have a chief executive in John Elway who not only understands what a late-30s quarterback needs to win, but actually has been that quarterback before. And they have an owner in Pat Bowlen who has said the team is in a win-now mode.

Now, some high-ranking Broncos officials have downplayed the Manning idea to others around the league, so clearly there are some mixed messages here. That behavior also makes sense considering the guy who happens to be the Broncos' current starter, Tebow, is so wildly popular. But with all of the above, plus nearly $50 million in cap space to go get Peyton help on a roster that won an AFC West title last year, Denver is making its pitch.

How much will Peyton prove between now and his signing?

It's a great question, and there's a prevailing feeling that he shouldn't do much of anything. There's said to be enough interest without him going out and throwing. "Why would you?" said the above executive. "I wouldn't. If at the end of the day, you say to Miami, 'We'll sign with you today, here's the deal,' they're not gonna say no."

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That, of course, isn't an optimal scenario. "I wouldn't sign him unless (he throws)," said an AFC personnel director. "The arm strength and nerve are the issues. Everyone knows he's outstanding when healthy. But the investment is going to be substantial, so the background work needs to be thorough."

Pressed on what he'd do if he were Manning, the personnel director relented. "If he can get away with not throwing, then I wouldn't. But how can you make a $20-30 million investment without seeing the goods?"

An NFC personnel executive agreed with the initial assessment: "It would have be the whole package: The physical, of course, and he's gotta prove that he can throw. And not just 10 throws, but 20-30 throws, to see how quickly he loses velocity."

That Manning might not have to do any of that is an illustration of his power over this situation. Another example: Normally, a free agent has to take a physical before visiting a team. Here? Manning could say he'll only do that after he reaches a deal.

"If they tell you, 'We'll take a physical after the deal is done,' " the first executive said, "then you're either in or you're out."

Is there a wild card in all of this?

Yes, and it could bring other teams into the mix, as well. I'm told that at least one team that hasn't shown interest yet, and doesn't plan to, could be swayed if Manning were to bypass the football people, and express his interest directly to the owner. The likelihood of that happening isn't great, since there's no lack of interest in Manning, but it does add another card for the quarterback's camp to play.

What these factors also tells you is that ownership will play a role in wherever Manning goes, and it's a big reason why Miami remains the favorite. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross understands winning is paramount, but he also knows what Manning could do to revive an apathetic fan base (just look what the prospect of him coming has done), and he's been convinced his team is a quarterback away.

After Manning was released, the next question always was going to be whether or not a team would sign him while he was rehabbing, particularly after his own admission that he's still working his way back. To take that kind of leap of faith, and any associated risk, you need the owner to sign off on the deal. And things move to the next level when the owner is driving the bus -- a situation that exists in Miami -- and could exist elsewhere if Manning were to push the envelope.

How about timing?

It's vital here. The Rams are willing to deal the second pick of April's draft before free agency kicks off Tuesday, and there's some belief they might get a better deal if they pull the trigger sooner rather than later, with more teams in the market for Robert Griffin III and his stock sky-high. Likewise, Flynn's watching this situation carefully -- his ability to find a new team Tuesday or soon thereafter is partly linked to Manning's fate.

The fact that Manning's free now, Flynn won't be until Tuesday, and the Rams could either deal the pick now or wait until late April has created a high-stakes game of poker among quarterback-needy teams. It's fascinating for all of us. And challenging for the teams involved.

Everyone involved here has plenty to gain, and plenty to lose. But at this point, it sure looks a lot like it's Manning who's holding all the cards.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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