ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Now that No. 18 is officially coming back for an 18th season, Peyton Manning can focus on learning the West Coast offense.
And general manager John Elway can use the savings from his quarterback’s relatively modest pay cut to find some fixes in free agency.
Manning passed his physical and signed his revised contract Thursday that calls for him to make $15 million in 2015, a $4 million reduction in pay — every penny of which he’d get back if the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl.
“Well, we’re excited it’s over and glad we can move on and glad Peyton’s going to be a part of this team and hopefully win a championship next year,” general manager John Elway told the team’s website. “I think this time of the offseason is always tough for everybody. And it’s a tough part of the business but it’s the time of year that we’ve got to put the best football team together that we possibly can.”
Manning was non-committal about returning after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But he determined he still had the health and hunger to keep playing at age 39 for new coach Gary Kubiak.
Elway asked Manning to take a pay cut and it took nearly a month to hash out the new deal reached Wednesday that was contingent on Manning passing his annual physical. Every year, the Broncos medical staff checks on Manning’s surgically repaired neck to make sure there’s not any degeneration in the discs above and below the ones that were fused in 2011.
Manning, whose contract still calls for him to make $19 million in 2016 should he decide to play into his 40s, will return to Denver for the start of offseason workouts on April 13.
Manning had a terrific first half of last season but his play slipped dramatically over the second half, when he was hampered by a nagging thigh injury that affected his accuracy.
Pro Bowl running back C.J. Anderson said he expects to see more of the QB who appeared headed for a sixth MVP honor than the one who struggled down the stretch.
“If he said he’s mentally and physically ready to play that doesn’t mean it’s at a sub-par level. It means it’s at a high level,” Anderson said.
The $4 million savings won’t drastically change Denver’s free agency plans. It gives Elway about $18.6 million to work with, but much of that will go to his own restricted free agents and a large draft class.
It does, however, help the Broncos as they pay out $4 million in bonuses and put another $36.5 million into escrow over the next week because of guarantees in the contracts of Manning, Ryan Clady, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward.
Kubiak said he “had a good visit” with Manning on Thursday and “I know he’s as excited as anyone” to get started on the hybrid offense the coaches have been constructing for a month.
“We have a big challenge ahead of us, meshing a couple of systems. That’s something we needed to get a head-start on and we’ve done that,” Kubiak said.
Kubiak has designed mainly West Coast offenses throughout his career that often require the quarterback to line up under center and roll out. Mobility has never been Manning’s calling card; he’s been most comfortable making quick throws out of the shotgun in recent years.
Manning’s former coach, Tony Dungy, said he’s certain Manning can thrive under Kubiak. “He’ll tailor the offense to what Peyton does well,” Dungy said. “That’s what good coaches do.”
Elway said Kubiak’s offense reminds him of the system he ran during the final, Super Bowl-winning years of his career, when Kubiak was his offensive coordinator.
“Peyton can fit into this offense very easily,” Elway said. “It’s very dependent on balance. Peyton won’t have to throw the ball 50 or 55 times. That gets more helpful, the older you get.”
Manning is all in. Recently, he remarked, “Aside maybe from Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Blue Hen Wing-T offense, I feel pretty comfortable playing in any offense.”
Manning is 179-77 in the regular season but just 11-13 in the postseason. His nine one-and-out playoff performances are about the only blot on a career that features an unprecedented five MVP honors but half as many rings as brother Eli and three fewer than Tom Brady, this generation’s other premiere passer.
Manning owns most of the significant QB records and is 2,148 yards shy of breaking Brett Favre’s career yardage record of 71,838. He’s also nine victories short of breaking Favre’s record of 186 career wins.