Denver Broncos quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Peyton Manning reportedly passed his offseason physical exam Monday, according to USA Today's Lindsay H. Jones, and is set to return to the AFC champions in 2014.
However, No. 18's return won't come without a heavy financial burden.
Manning's surgically repaired neck held up through 2013 and doctors discovered no problems. As a result, his $20 million 2014 salary is guaranteed. Jones adds that since Manning received a $5 million advance on his salaries last year and this coming year, his base salary this season will be $15 million.
According to Spotrac.com, Manning's total cap figure is $17.5 million after bonuses.
Despite the big money Manning is owed in 2014, the expectation was that he would pass the exam and return under center next fall. Therefore, the cap hit hardly comes as a surprise to the Broncos and, even better, doesn't impede their chances of adding key pieces this spring.
The Broncos currently have $121.5 million on the books for 2014, which means they are nearly $18 million under the cap heading into March's free-agency period, per Spotrac.com.
Broncos columnist Sayre Bedinger provides some perspective:
The Broncos are expected to have huge cap space next offseason as well. This year could be interesting for player moves.— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) February 28, 2014
#Broncos can get their cap space # up to $30-35M with two moves.— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) February 28, 2014
But it's quite possible that the Broncos could free up some more space by releasing high-paid players and/or restructuring contracts. Champ Bailey's $10 million 2014 cap number looks to be a potential restructure candidate. The veteran defensive back will turn 36 in June and played in just five regular-season games last year.
Although the Broncos are likely to be an attractive destination for soon-to-be free agents, it remains to be seen how active they'll be on the market.
A number of current Broncos are set to become unrestricted free agents this spring, including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Knowshon Moreno, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end Shaun Phillips and wide receiver Eric Decker.
Whether those players agree to return on cap-friendly deals will likely determine how active the Broncos are this spring.
Many of Denver's free agents will receive hard-to-beat offers from other teams, and don't expect chief executive John Elway and the Broncos to overpay given the fact they have leverage over many of those teams. After all, the Broncos can offer players the shot to compete for a Super Bowl right away.
Fortunately, two-thirds of Denver's Super Bowl starters are under contract for 2014.
And as Elway stated a few weeks after Denver's loss to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, the team has no intention of changing what worked so well in 2013, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold:
We're still going to have the same personality we had offensive and defensively...our personality is not going to change because of Seattle and they won the Super Bowl. Our personality is going to be the same and we're going to get better. We're going to continue to do what we do, but obviously we've got to get better in the running game, take some pressure off (Manning).
Elway has every reason to feel confident building around Manning. The team has gone 13-3 in each of the past two seasons since the future Hall of Fame signal-caller arrived and was one win away from its third Super Bowl title this past season.
The busy offseason brings a fair share of uncertainty for every NFL team. However, the Broncos bring back the league MVP and a slew of starters with Super Bowl experience.
Denver may have struck out twice to start the Manning era, but there's no doubt the Broncos are getting closer and have the ideal core and right front-office personnel in place to retool for another deep playoff run next season.
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