Denver Broncos Say No Deadline for Manning, but What Options Are Facing Them?
With another Super Bowl championship in the books, the Denver Broncos are now turning to their attention to offseason issues. There are many players to consider in free agency—including 16 unrestricted free agents on the roster.
However, one player's future could have a domino effect on the rest of the team.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has the opportunity to ride off into the sunset as a league champion after defeating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. It’s a chance that most players in the NFL don’t get, but we don’t know if Manning is going to retire or not.
Broncos general manager John Elway knows all about going out on top. After winning two Super Bowls in a row, he decided to hang up his cleats for good with his last game being a victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII.
Elway says there’s no rush for Manning to make his decision.
“So you want this decision today?" Elway said. "You think he’s had enough time? (laughing) No, there is no deadline. Again, we’re going to enjoy this, let Peyton enjoy this. I’m sure he’ll sit down with his family and then eventually we’ll talk to him, too, and go through that. There is no timeline for that right now.”
So if there’s no deadline for Manning, what options are possibly facing the Broncos right now?
What a perfect way to end your NFL career. For years Manning has been in the conversation of being the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL, and with another Super Bowl title, he may just find himself at the top of the list.
Manning seems like a player who has always been aware of his legacy—and the legacy that comes attached to the Manning name. With the ability to go out on top, will he go ahead and retire? Or, will he think he can get healthy and try to play a couple of more seasons?
Elway knows all about this tough decision.
“In talking about retirement, retirement is always hard. You can butt up to that line and cross that line, taking that final step saying, ‘I am moving on’—even if the first 99 percent are easy to get there, the last 1 percent is as hard as that first 99 percent. That’s why he’s going to have the time he needs.”
Elway summarized, “It’s basically going to be up to him.”
As reported by Brian Costello of the New York Post, after the Super Bowl, Archie Manning guessed that his son Peyton is done in Denver. When asked about Archie’s opinion, Elway replied honestly.
“I don’t know why Archie would say that, but obviously that is up to Archie. I said we’re going to give Peyton plenty of time to think about what he wants to do.”
Even if he doesn’t retire, there’s a chance that Manning has played his final snap with the Broncos. They have a clause in Manning’s contract where he must pass a physical about 10 days before the start of each new league year. This year, that deadline is March 9.
The easiest answer for the Broncos is Manning coming back for yet another season. He has a $19 million base salary and will count $21.5 million against the cap if he’s on the books in 2016. As mentioned earlier, Manning would have to pass his physical before his contract for this season is accounted.
Elway knows this is not his decision.
“I think that it’s important for him—the key thing is for him to want to come back. I think the important thing is it’s going to be his decision. Where we get a chance to sit and talk to him—and that’s why it’s up to Peyton to see that process—where he is, where he is in his career, what he thinks he can do, how he can play, what he wants to do from here on out.”
If Manning does return, the Broncos will obviously have a big chunk of their salary cap taken up by the veteran quarterback. With 16 unrestricted free agents to tend to—including superstar linebacker Von Miller—having Manning on the books would alter the construct of the team in 2016.
If Manning does return, the Broncos would have to hope he can stay healthier than he did last season. If not, the team might not have the same backup plan in place as it did in 2015.
Re-Sign Brock Osweiler
A big reason why the Broncos were able to make it into the playoffs was the play of young quarterback Brock Osweiler. With Manning hurt, Osweiler stepped in and helped lead his team to key victories during the regular season.
Osweiler has been waiting for his opportunity to start since the team selected him in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. His athleticism makes him a perfect fit for the Gary Kubiak system, where he can execute plays while bootlegging and rolling out. Osweiler’s rocket arm allows him to make all the throws required in the NFL, and he can make those throws off platform if need be.
Kubiak was impressed by many things Osweiler did this season.
“I think his toughness would be the first thing that jumped at me," Kubiak said. "When you get thrown into those situations as a young quarterback—I know when I was a player that I was thrown into it a few times. He [Elway] let me jump in there a few times, but you have to really be mentally though because there are a lot of things going on within the team.”
Kubiak continued: “His toughness, battling and he played some really good teams. New England here at home. We got down 14 to Cincinnati and kept finding a way to get his football team back in the game and win. I think of all of those things, what he went through this year is really going to help him with his future, so I loved his mental toughness.”
If Manning does retire, then re-signing Osweiler becomes a no-brainer decision.
Just how much would it take to sign a quarterback with a limited number of starts? According to Broncos beat writer Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, Osweiler could be looking for a three-year deal in the range of $36 million. That length and total number seems reasonable for a player who was a big part of Denver's Super Bowl season.
Outside of Osweiler, the free-agent market may have some interesting options for the Broncos to consider. The top of the free-agent list might be highlighted by veteran Sam Bradford. Of all the free-agent quarterbacks projected to be available this offseason, Bradford had the highest salary in 2015 of $12.9 million.
The former No. 1 overall pick (2010) by the then-St. Louis Rams, Bradford’s career has been largely a disappointment.
He’s a talented player, but Bradford has an injury history that reads like Infinite Jest. Bradford has good accuracy with enough athleticism to extend plays and get away from the rush, but he has suffered major injuries multiple times during his pro career.
With such a lengthy injury history, any team interested in signing Bradford is going to have to account for that risk.
Griffin has the athleticism necessary to run the Kubiak system, and he could use a fresh start after his career went off track in Washington. The best season of his career (2012) came in a similar system, as Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator and used similar zone-blocking concepts. Manziel would come with a ton of baggage, and the Broncos would likely pass on him if he’s available.
Prospects in the Draft
The 2016 NFL draft features a good crop of quarterbacks. As world champions, the Broncos have the last overall pick in the first round.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, three quarterbacks have a first-round grade. By the time the Broncos pick, Jared Goff (California), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) and Paxton Lynch (Memphis) may be gone.
Players who may be available at the end of the first round are Connor Cook (Michigan State) and Christian Hackenberg (Penn State). Either would be an interesting fit for the Kubiak system.
However, there might be a perfect fit for the Broncos in the third round.
Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) made big plays time and time again on the field. His elite athleticism jumps off on tape, and in person he’s even more impressive.
Earlier this year, I attended the week of practice for the Senior Bowl. Prescott flashed big potential every day in practice. While he’s famous for being a scrambling quarterback, he was impressive as a passer at times that week.
Prescott came through with a strong performance in the Senior Bowl, as he was named Most Outstanding Player of the game. He showed the ability to work from under center, plus he did a fine job of pass placement and leading his receivers to maximize their run-after-the-catch opportunities.
If the Broncos want to add a quarterback through the draft, then Prescott would be a fantastic fit.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos media department unless otherwise noted. Advanced stats via ESPN's employees-only database.