Peyton Manning signs reduced deal

ByJeff Legwold via ESPN logo
Thursday, March 5, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No. 18 will return for his 18th NFL season.

Peyton Manning signed a reduced contract to play for the Denver Broncos, the team announced Thursday.

"I've been working real hard, and I'm excited to be back with the Denver Broncos," Manning told the Denver Post. "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 on Wednesday agreed to accept a salary reduction from $19 million to $15 million for the 2015 season. The team confirmed Thursday that he passed his physical and signed the new deal.

"We're excited; we're excited it's over," executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "Glad that we can move on, glad that Peyton's going to be part of this team and hopefully win a championship next year. I think this time of the offseason is tough for everybody. It's a tough part of the business and the time of the year we've got to put the best football team together that we possibly can, so we're glad Peyton's going to be a part of that."

Manning will have the opportunity to make up the difference with incentive clauses tied to team performance. If the Broncos advance to the Super Bowl, he'll earn $2 million, and he'll earn an additional $2 million if they win.

Manning's return for a fourth season in Denver, combined with the fact that the team has eight Pro Bowl players who are under contract for the upcoming season, means the Broncos are squarely back among the league's elite.

The Broncos have gone 38-10 during the regular season and won three AFC West titles with Manning as quarterback. Manning, who set the career record for touchdown passes last season, is also within striking distance of every significant record he doesn't already have, including wins for a starting quarterback and passing yards.

Manning had said after a Christmas Eve practice that his intention was to return for the 2015 season, but he backtracked after the Broncos' 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC's divisional round, saying he didn't know whether he would return.

Manning's decision, people who know him say, revolved around his belief he can compete at the level to help the Broncos get back to the Super Bowl. The Colts' loss made the Broncos 2-3 in the playoffs in his three seasons with the team, including two upset losses at home in the divisional round to go with a 35-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

And in an offense that struggled up front for much of the 2014 season, several Colts players said they wanted to "put the game in Peyton Manning's hands" after their playoff victory. Manning, who played with a right thigh injury the last month of the season, has seen increasing numbers of defenses force him to throw the ball outside the hashmarks, toward the sideline, because they feel it is the best percentage play, given his arm strength.

Manning also said in recent weeks that it was important for him to know what his role would be in the offense with Gary Kubiak having replaced John Fox as coach and Rick Dennison having replaced Adam Gase as offensive coordinator. Manning was close to Gase. In his offense, the Broncos set the NFL's single-season scoring record with 606 points in 2013 and finished second in the league in scoring this past season. They averaged 34 points a game in Gase's two years as the team's playcaller.

"[Just] getting a good evaluation of the changes that have been made, you know, how I fit in to the changes, how does Coach Kubiak see me possibly fitting in with him and his team," Manning said in Phoenix two days before the Super Bowl. "Like I said, you want to get a good feel for them and what's comfortable to them as well."

Elway met with Manning the day after the Broncos' playoff loss and told the quarterback to take several weeks to make his decision.

"We want him to get away, step back and feel good about the decision he comes to," Elway said at the time.

For the inconsistency the Broncos' offense showed last season, its struggles on the line -- running backs were hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on one-third of the team's carries, and the Broncos surrendered two sacks on three-man rushes in one game -- Manning still finished with his 15th 4,000-yard-passing season (4,727 yards) and was second in the league with 39 touchdown passes.

In his three previous seasons with the Broncos since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him on the sideline for the 2011 season, Manning has posted three of this top four seasons in touchdown passes, with 55 in 2013 (No. 1), 39 last season (No. 3) and 37 in 2012 (No. 4).

Manning's return puts Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, the team's second-round pick in '12, in a continued holding pattern.

Kubiak, who has always run a version of the West Coast offense, has said it would be "easy" to design an offense for Manning and promised to fit the Broncos' scheme to what Manning does best at this point in the quarterback's career.

"We're not going to run Gary Kubiak's offense -- we're going to run the Denver Broncos' offense," Kubiak said shortly after he was hired. In his time as an offensive coordinator or head coach in the NFL, Kubiak has been coached offenses that have featured the league's leading passer, leading rusher and leading receiver.

Manning is the league's only five-time MVP winner. He won his fifth with the Broncos after the 2013 season. He has also won the league's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award to go with the Bart Starr Award this past season for his off-the-field work.

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