- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Denver Broncos reporter
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The first is his ability to physically compete -- not survive, but compete -- and swing with the league's heavyweights. The second is how the Broncos explain how he fits into the plan with a new coaching staff during a pretty hearty rebuild of a 12-4 team.
Manning said Friday in Phoenix that he did not want his decision to be a "lingering thing," and it is best resolved "the sooner the better, for a lot of people."
Many in the league, including many inside the Broncos’ complex, see Manning making his decision within the next two weeks, a time frame that would account for postseason time off for the team's football staff. Manning said he wants to speak to John Elway when the executive vice president of football operations/general manager returns.
Manning also implied last week that he might make a decision even before the exam on his neck that has to be performed at least 10 days before the start of the new league year, which starts March 10. So Manning's physical would be March 1 at the latest. Manning’s salary for 2015 -- $19 million -- is guaranteed on March 9. Manning’s father, Archie, said last week that he believes Peyton will make his decision in "the next week or two," so that puts next week on the radar.
But Manning’s ability to physically handle another season is important to him. He has often said he doesn’t want to be a "hang-on guy."
"If you come back, it’s because you still believe you can help a team," Manning said in Phoenix after receiving the Bart Starr Award for his off-the-field work. "And you think you have a chance to help that team win. That’s kind of why you’ve always played. … It’s one thing to play and have a uniform and be on the roster; it’s another to truly contribute and help."
With a roster that has eight Pro Bowlers under contract for next season, there is plenty on the table for Manning and the Broncos.
But Manning will also have to wrap his head around change, and there has been plenty for the Broncos since the season ended. In his 13 seasons behind center for the Indianapolis Colts, excluding the 2011 season he missed after spinal fusion surgery, Manning had one offensive coordinator (Tom Moore).
In three seasons in Denver, he’s already had two (Mike McCoy and Adam Gase), and if Manning returns for 2015, Rick Dennison would be the third. Head coach Gary Kubiak is expected to call plays for the Broncos, but Dennison would be side by side with Manning in creating the game plan.
Although Kubiak has said he would gladly structure an offense to fit Manning’s abilities, Kubiak’s offenses of the past -- versions of the West Coast offense -- have had a far different look with far different terminology than what Manning has used. Manning said last week he would "be comfortable" in whatever Kubiak wants to run, and the two have been at the job long enough that they could make things work.
But Manning doesn't just roll with changes. He researches change. He grinds at the details. His lists of questions for any and all problem-solving sessions border on legendary. College coaches who recruited him in high school talk of his lists of questions. Bill Polian has recalled on several occasions that when he was the Colts’ general manager and first met with Manning before the 1998 draft -- the year the quarterback was drafted -- he came armed with a long list of questions.
Elway said the questions came when the Broncos were Manning’s first visit of his first foray into free agency in March 2012. Gase, once asked what Manning wants most from a coach, has said "answers." So when Manning talks of wanting to see where he fits, it isn’t lip service. He wants to know. He wants to sweat all the details.
As he said in Phoenix: “At the same time, you want to get a good feel if the team is comfortable with you, and if you fit in. Like I said, we’ve had quite a few changes. … 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. Like I said, you want to get a good feel for them and what’s comfortable to them, as well."
Manning has said he has "great respect" for Kubiak as a football coach and human being, and Kubiak has said it would be easy to design an offense for Manning.
In the end, Manning’s decision won’t have anything to do with the Broncos’ playoff loss or any nervousness about the new offense. It will simply be whether Manning feels good enough to compete at the level he believes he needs to reach to win, and whether he knows the Broncos feel good about his doing it.
Health and how he fits into the new coaching staff's scheme will likely determine whether Peyton Manning returns to the Denver Broncos.