Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have agreed on a new contract for the 2015 season in which the five-time NFL MVP will take a $4 million pay cut to provide more cash for the team to do business on the free-agent market, which opens with the new league year Tuesday.
Manning will make $15 million in base salary in 2015, league and team sources said, down from the $19 million he was scheduled to earn.
All that remains is for Manning to pass a physical exam, which he is expected to take Thursday, sources said. After that, he will sign the contract. The contract includes incentives that could take it back to $19 million -- $2 million for winning the AFC Championship Game and $2 million for winning the Super Bowl.
When the deal is finalized and signed, it will be Manning's 18th year in the NFL since the Indianapolis Colts selected him as the first pick in the 1998 NFL draft. He missed the 2011 season with a neck injury.
"I don't talk about my contract. I never have in 18 years and I'm not going to start now," Manning told the Denver Post Wednesday afternoon. "I've been working real hard and I'm excited to be back with the Denver Broncos. Can't wait for April 13 to get here when the team can finally come together. I'm excited to get to work and get to know the new coaches and looking forward to trying to make 2015 a special year."
Manning informed Broncos general manager John Elway on Feb. 12 that he was physically and mentally prepared to play the 2015 season after undergoing a comprehensive workout regimen and evaluation with noted performance trainer Mackie Shilstone.
In Phoenix, two days before the Super Bowl, Manning had outlined what he hoped the discussions with Elway and the Broncos would be, as he hoped to get "a good evaluation of the changes that have been made, you know, how I fit into the changes, how does coach [Gary] Kubiak see me possibly fitting in with him and his team. Like I said, you want to get a good feel for them and what's comfortable to them as well."
It was during the Feb. 12 meeting that Elway informed Manning that the team wanted to restructure the quarterback's contract to create cap space to further improve the roster. The team is budgeting $12.823 million to account for the franchise tag designated Monday for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, but the Broncos also have some restricted free agents to offer contract tenders. Elway has plans to bolster an offensive line that has been spotty the previous two seasons as well.
Negotiations began between the Broncos and Manning after the Elway-Manning meeting and moved at a deliberate pace. The only hard deadline they were facing was March 9, when Manning's $19 million salary would have become fully guaranteed. Manning also is under contract for $19 million in 2016, the final year of the five-year contract he signed with the Broncos in 2012. Manning will turn 39 on March 24.
The Broncos have several contracts, in addition to Manning's, with guaranteed money that kicks in during the first week of free agency. The bonuses triggered must be paid at that time, and the Broncos, by league rule, must put money into escrow to cover the base salaries that are soon to be guaranteed.
Cornerback Aqib Talib has $5.5 million guaranteed on March 10. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware has $3.5 million remaining of his $7 million base salary guaranteed on March 14, the same day safety T.J. Ward is slated to receive a $2.5 million roster bonus as his $4 million salary is guaranteed.
Elway had said after the 2014 season that he wanted Manning to return. The Broncos had just parted ways with coach John Fox, and Elway proceeded to hire Kubiak as the new coach. Kubiak also had expressed that he wanted Manning as his quarterback. During the NFL scouting combine, Elway said he was awaiting a definitive answer from Manning on whether he would return to Denver this year, but Elway added that the team wanted to give Manning time to make a decision.
"I think with Peyton, obviously there is not much he can add to his legacy," Elway said in Indianapolis. "I do think that the one thing he can add is another Super Bowl championship. I think with where Peyton is, as I told him in our meeting, I said, 'You don't have to throw for another yard and you don't need to throw for another touchdown pass because your legacy is going to be one of the all-time greats as it is as we sit here now.' Where he can really add to his legacy is to win a Super Bowl. I think that's our goal, as it is for 31 other teams, but we feel like we've got a real good football team and Peyton Manning is the best player for us."
Manning will continue to take the latter stages of his career on a year-to-year basis. He has no plans to announce that 2015 will be his final season.
"We're just excited to have him back,'' Pro Bowl running back C.J. Anderson told the AP. "Of course, he just wants to go out there and win that ring. And we're just trying to go out there and help him win it. ... If he said he's mentally and physically ready to play, that doesn't mean it's at a subpar level. It means it's at a high level.''
Under terms of the original contract Manning signed as a free agent with Denver in 2012, the quarterback will have a physical exam to ensure the neck that has undergone four surgeries remains stable. He has said he does not anticipate any issues with the physical.
"[I] don't see it being that significant. I feel pretty confident ... that my neck is in good shape," Manning said in Phoenix.
The only ailment that plagued Manning during the final four weeks of the 2014 season was a quad injury that never fully healed until early February. Doctors attributed the injury to severe dehydration when Manning had a stomach virus on the eve of the team's Dec. 14 game against the San Diego Chargers that required four intravenous fluid replacements.
Even before that injury, Manning's passing production dipped when the Broncos played opponents with superior defensive fronts, as the offensive line was exposed in protection. Thanks in part to some personnel changes and Kubiak's zone-blocking running scheme, Elway is hopeful of providing Manning with more support.
Nevertheless, Manning was among the league leaders with 4,727 yards passing, 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The Broncos have averaged 12.7 wins in Manning's three seasons, capturing the AFC West title each year. They advanced to the Super Bowl in 2013 only to lose to the Seattle Seahawks. Manning has been voted to 14 Pro Bowls, and his five league MVP awards are the most by any player in NFL history.
Manning surpassed Brett Favre's career record for passing touchdowns during the 2014 season when he threw his 509th scoring pass on Oct. 20. He finished the season with 530 career TD passes. Manning's 69,691 career passing yards are within striking distance of Favre's all-time mark of 71,838. Manning (179) needs eight wins to pass Favre (186) for most regular-season wins by a quarterback. His teams are 1-2 in Super Bowls.
Although Manning is well aware of history, he has maintained that his desire to play is primarily based on whether he feels he can still play at a high level to contribute to a winning team and whether he still has the drive to physically and mentally prepare for the grind of a long NFL season.
"It's one thing to play and have a uniform and be on the roster. It's another to truly contribute and help," Manning said in Phoenix. "And that's the only thing I've known in football."