INDIANAPOLIS — Asked who he thinks Denver’s quarterback will be next season, John Elway left no doubt: Peyton Manning.
Asked about how Manning’s contract might read if he does return, Elway was less clear: "The bottom line is, I don’t like to get into anyone’s contract."
Elway’s deflection of the contract question Thursday left open the possibility that negotiations over dollars could be holding up a final decision as Manning considers returning for a fourth season in Denver. Manning is scheduled to make $19 million next season, and the Broncos could use some extra cap room as they prepare to sign free agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and shore up their offensive and defensive lines.
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Manning and Elway met last week in Denver. Several outlets reported that Manning told the Broncos he wanted to return. But the visit came and went without an announcement. Elway confirmed reports that Manning is feeling better than he did when the Broncos lost in the divisional playoffs nearly six weeks ago, when a thigh injury kept him at less than 100 percent.
"Physically, he said he felt much better," Elway said.
And so, in Elway’s mind, the ball remains in Manning’s court, and the Broncos are moving on as if he’ll be the quarterback.
Elway said new coach Gary Kubiak’s offense reminds him of the system he ran during the final, Super Bowl-winning years of his career. Makes sense, considering Kubiak was the offensive coordinator back then.
"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."
Would Manning be willing to shoulder less of the load?
That’s yet another question lingering, as the Manning Watch nears its seventh week in Denver.
Manning, who will be 39 when next season starts, would need to pass a physical before the start of the next league year, which begins March 10.
That seems like a deadline of sorts for Manning and the Broncos, because Manning’s $19 million would become guaranteed at that time. But Elway wouldn’t even agree with that assumption.
"There’s no rush," he said. "I told Peyton … Think about what you want to do. He’s got all the time he wants."