Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts announced Wednesday that the veteran quarterback would be leaving the franchise. As Cindy Boren reported:

Peyton Manning was emotional as he spoke of the only NFL team he has played for, his life in Indianapolis and Colts fans in a press conference at which it was announced that he will be released by the team.

Manning has played for the Colts since he was drafted in 1998 and both he and owner Jim Irsay struggled with their composure as they discussed their decision to part in a 20-minute press conference at Colts headquarters.

The most touching moment — and there were plenty of them — came when Manning, choking up, said he had “a few words I want to address to Colts fans everywhere. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. I truly have enjoyed being your quarterback. Thank you.”

Manning stressed that he is not about to retire, that his recovery from neck surgery is continuing. Manning also has not considered which NFL team will be the second he plays for. “I haven’t thought about where I’ll play, but I have thought about where I’ve been. I’ve been blessed to be here.”

Among the teams that will attempt to secure Manning’s services next season are the Washington Redskins, and the franchise might be ready to make a big offer to sweeten the deal. As Mark Maske explained:

The Washington Redskins are poised to make an aggressive effort in coming days to sign quarterback Peyton Manning, who became perhaps the highest-profile free agent in NFL history with the announcement of his release by the Indianapolis Colts Wednesday.

Several people familiar with the Redskins’ plans said the team is comfortable with the risks associated with signing Manning, who missed all of last season with the Colts after undergoing a series of neck surgeries. The team will pursue him intently, they said. Redskins officials declined to comment.

But it’s not clear how seriously Manning, who turns 36 this month, would consider an offer from the Redskins. Opinion around the league is mixed on that subject.

It also is unclear whether the possible addition of Manning would keep the team from pursuing a trade with the St. Louis Rams for the second overall selection in April’s NFL draft. The Redskins, who have the sixth overall pick in the draft, have appeared interested in trading up to use the Rams’ choice on Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor.

Another team that might be interested in Manning are the San Francisco 49ers, who fell just short of a Super Bowl appearance last season. As Cindy Boren reported:

Peyton Manning and the San Francisco 49ers? His former coach with the Indianapolis Colts raised that possibility Wednesday, but then possibilities are being raised all over the place now that Manning is becoming a free agent.

“I can't speak for Peyton. There's a number of teams out there,” Dungy said in an NFL Network interview. “San Francisco, I look at what they did and whether they've made that commitment to Alex Smith yet, I don't know. I don't know where they stand, but that's a team that's got great defense, it has some young receivers, a very good tight end and a good back, that, you put Peyton Manning in that offense and people are going to be scared to play them.”

Reports by, among others, the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora and CSN Bay Area’s Ray Ratto, discount that scenario, but that isn’t going to stop the talk until the ink dries on a contract with a new team. Manning, who said in a press conference announcing his release that he’s healing and feeling increasingly comfortable again at quarterback, will have plenty of employment options.

“[Peyton] definitely feels like his arm strength is back and in terms of physically throwing the ball, he feels like he's good there, and he definitely wants to play,” Dungy said. “And the last conversation I had with him, he feels like doctors have given him the total okay to move forward, that he's not going to be in any health risk, and he really wants to get back out on the field.

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