Archie Manning was on ESPN Radio Tuesday talking about how Peyton Manning came to his decision to join the Broncos and how he canceled his meeting with the San Francisco 49ers. Archie said,
He had four (visits) immediately lined up. And the first one he decided to visit was Denver. I think that was comfort for him. I think it was comfort with John Fox. Everyone loves Foxie – I’m not going to have to visit with some stiff coach the first day. And then I think it was John Elway. And John being a quarterback. And then once he got there, I don’t think he decided that day ‘That’s where I’m going.’ He did go make a visit the next day to Arizona. And then he did cancel his next visits to San Francisco and Seattle. He just said, ‘I’m worn out and they’re going to have to come to me. I’m going to go home.’
The story we have been told by Jim Harbaugh was that he and Greg Roman were just “evaluating” Peyton and they planned to go with Alex Smith as their starter along. We all knew before Colin Kaepernick was promoted to starting quarterback that the Niners pursuit of Peyton was more than just an evaluation visit. Come on, Harbaugh and Roman traveled cross-country to North Carolina and kept the meeting a secret until someone leaked the information about the visit.
If Alex Smith didn’t believe Harbaugh trusted him to quarterback the 49ers this season after the Peyton visit and Kaepernick keeping the starting QB job after he was healthy, than he certainly knows now. I would trust Archie’s version of the events more than Harbaugh’s. I don’t believe Harbaugh was trying to be deceitful by saying it was just an evaluation, but that he was trying to protect Smith and his confidence. Another example of this is Harbaugh not officially naming Kaepernick the starter the rest of the season, when everyone else knows he will be unless he gets injured. By not naming a starter he is again protecting Smith for some reason.
Had Peyton chosen the 49ers, Harbaugh would have jumped at the opportunity to bring him aboard. Based on Archie’s account of how Peyton choose the Broncos and the instructions he gave to the 49ers, it is clear Harbaugh was hotly pursuing Peyton.