The network said Sunday Manning had narrowed his choices from 12 potential suitors down to the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos.
Miami and Seattle were described as still in the hunt but were further down on the pecking order for Manning's services.
ESPN said the Broncos had the advantages of being in the AFC and Manning's good relationship with Coach John Fox and Vice President John Elway. Manning would be in a position as well to mentor Tim Tebow, the sensational but still raw quarterback who took over the Denver offense last season.
Arizona, however, also has a coach who is tight with Manning and also boasts Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the huddle. A team source told ESPN the Cardinals ownership, led by team President Michael Bidwell, was also determined to bag Manning.
"This team missed on [Joe] Montana when he went to Kansas City," a Cardinals source said. "Michael will do what it takes."