ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the confetti of a Super Bowl win barely swept aside and the NFL’s scouting combine set to open Feb. 23 and free agency to follow March 9, Monday marks the first installment of a position-by-position look at the Denver Broncos at each spot on the depth chart, the salary-cap commitment, free agents and where their needs are greatest.
Tuesday: Running backs
The Broncos have said the team will give Manning room in the coming weeks to consider his playing future.
Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said: “I think that it’s important for him -- the key thing is for him to want to come back. That’s why it’s not really what we want to do. 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."
Elway has also said “there is no deadline," but there is one. On March 9, the first day of the league year, Manning’s $19 million base salary is guaranteed, so the Broncos would need to know by then. Because even if Manning wants to come back, they eventually agreed to a $4 million pay cut a year ago, and with a $21.5 million cap figure this time around, another negotiation would be in order even if Manning wants to play in Denver in 2016.
And Elway has made it clear he likes Osweiler as a prospect -- the Broncos went 5-2 in Osweiler’s starts this past season -- but the Broncos will not likely dangle the biggest offer to Osweiler in free agency.
There are too many non-playoff teams looking to make a splash who will go higher than the Broncos. So, Osweiler will be faced with the choice between the biggest offer or a competitive offer in the place he knows best with a team coming off a Super Bowl win with a playoff-worthy roster.
All in all, it means the guy -- Elway -- who once said the team had no Plan B at quarterback when the Broncos chased Manning in 2012 will need several plans to fill the depth chart at quarterback.
The Alpha: As strange as it sounds, this team just may be looking at an Alpha to be named later. The Broncos just won a Super Bowl with the lowest yardage output on offense in the title game’s history. They’d like to keep their run of five consecutive AFC West titles going, but they have a lot of uncertainty behind center at the moment and could be looking for a starter and another backup to go with Trevor Siemian in the weeks ahead.
Salary cap: At the moment Manning’s $21.5 million cap figure is by far the biggest for the Broncos for the 2016 season -- by a cool $6.2 million. So, even if Manning chooses to play in 2016 -- and many close to him say they hope he retires -- and he would like to return to the Broncos, that salary-cap figure would get some attention. Siemian is the only other player under contract for ’16 at the position with a cap figure of $538,196.
Pending free agents: Osweiler, who was a second-round pick by the Broncos in the 2012 draft, the same year the team signed Manning, is the only unrestricted free agent at the position.
Who could stay: Manning could stay, but it would mean he worked upstream against all of those around him who want him to call it career. He would also likely have to rework his deal. Osweiler could remain and the Broncos would like to keep him. It’s just a question of dollars and “sense." The Broncos and Osweiler would have to agree on a contract number that makes sense for both sides. The biggest offer will likely come from elsewhere, so Osweiler will face a choice.
Who could go: It’s entirely possible the Broncos get a day or two into free agency with Siemian as the only quarterback under contract for 2016. If Manning retires and Osweiler goes for the biggest offer, the Broncos will have to dive into free agency and be ready to use a premium draft pick on the position as well.
What they like/want: They need a guy with some mobility to work the play-action game with enough of a power arm to drive the ball downfield. Coach Gary Kubiak has consistently talked of getting big-play pop back in the offense.
Need index (1 is low priority, 5 the highest): It’s a 5 because it’s the most important position on the field and the Broncos need answers sooner rather than later.