Peyton Manning Ready To Return?

The Denver Broncos may finally be able to devote their attention to their throng of priority free agents soon, because their five-time MVP and “non-free agent” appears ready to officially include them in his plans for a fourth season. Peyton Manning told Broncos officials he is ready to play at a “significant level” in 2015, sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Manning’s quadriceps injury that plagued him down the stretch of last season is fully healed, Mortensen reports.

Debated for weeks, Manning’s decision on whether or not to return for Year 18 and, as of right now, an NFL-high $19MM salary set for this season to go along with a $21.5MM cap figure — by far the highest on the Broncos — will likely coincide with his team’s ability to determine which of its free agents to focus on retaining.

A free agent group that includes Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton and more than a third of the Broncos’ starting lineup, however, simply won’t be as effective without Manning, who’s fired 131 touchdown passes in his three years guiding their explosive offense. Mortensen also notes a key item that Pro Football Rumors also discussed earlier today: Manning could be receptive to a contract restructure, which would obviously go a long way in attempting to convince Julius Thomas and Knighton to remain Broncos with Demaryius Thomas almost certain to be franchise-tagged. The Broncos currently possess just more than $26MM in salary cap room, according to Manning earned $18MM in 2012 and $15MM in each of the past two seasons.

Contingent with the the five-year contract he signed in 2012, Manning will still need to pass a physical sometime between Feb. 23 and March 5, according to the Denver Post, to make this re-agreement of sorts stick and guarantee his as-of-now $19MM this year.

The 39-year-old quarterback threw 39 touchdown passes last year, but his production took a nosedive in the season’s second half. But free of injuries, Manning opened the year throwing 22 touchdown passes to just three interceptions in last season’s first seven games. That recent level of play plus tonight’s reported proclamation essentially keeps the Broncos’ short-term Super Bowl window open despite their ugly loss to the Colts in the AFC divisional playoffs last month.

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