ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As he usually does, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning stuck to his plan and met with executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway and CEO Joe Ellis on Thursday as he works through a decision over whether to play in 2015.
Team sources confirmed Thursday night that Ellis, aboard Broncos owner Pat Bowlen's plane, flew from the executive airport near the team's suburban Denver complex to New Orleans on Thursday morning to pick up Manning. Ellis and Manning talked on the flight back to Denver. Manning then met with Elway once he arrived at the Dove Valley facility.
No decision was announced after Thursday's discussions, given that Manning would have to undergo a check-up.
Manning had said in Phoenix two days before Super Bowl XLIX that he wanted to meet with both Elway and Ellis and "look them in the eye" to discuss a possible return for the 2015 season. Broncos officials had consistently said they believed the meeting would happen before Elway left for the scouting combine, which begins Tuesday in Indianapolis.
Elway and new Denver coach Gary Kubiak have said they want Manning back for his fourth season with the Broncos and 18th season overall. And the fact that the Broncos would send Bowlen's plane to retrieve Manning from New Orleans would seem to mute reports that they weren't sure they wanted him to return.
In the coming weeks, Manning will have an exam on his surgically repaired neck to gauge his health. The Broncos also need to be armed with the information from that exam because Manning's salary for 2015 -- $19 million -- will be guaranteed if he is on the roster on March 9, the day before the start of the new league year and the opening of free agency.
The Broncos have said it's not the vertebrae fused in the surgery that would be a concern but rather the areas just above or just below the fusion because those are where any degeneration would occur.
In Phoenix, however, Manning said he didn't think the exam would be an issue.
"Don't see it being that significant, I feel pretty confident I would pass that physical, that my neck is in good shape," he said. "I'd like to avoid a crowd standing outside the MRI room, if possible. I've felt secure about that the past three years and feel the same about that."
Manning had been working out in New Orleans in recent days, something the Broncos knew he had planned to do, as well.
Manning had said Christmas Eve he fully intended to return for 2015 "if the Broncos will have me," but he was noncommittal after the team's 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC's divisional round.
Manning finished second in the league in touchdown passes this past season with 39 and fourth in passing yards with 4,727 as the Broncos finished 12-4. But he played with a right thigh injury down the stretch, an injury he suffered in the Broncos' Dec. 14 win in San Diego. Defenses, largely from the Broncos' Nov. 2 loss in New England on, also had some success schematically in clogging the middle of the field and forcing Manning to throw ball outside the numbers, up the sidelines.
In the final nine games of the regular season, Manning threw 17 touchdown passes to go with 12 interceptions after he had thrown 22 touchdown passes to go with three interceptions in the first seven games. The Broncos also had difficulties on the offensive line for much of the season, and an attempt to integrate the run game more into the offense after a Nov. 16 loss in St. Louis resulted in an offense that looked disjointed at times.
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said this week there was "no rush" for Manning to decide and that the coaches would build the playbook once they knew what Manning wanted to do.
"I'm letting him take his time, he deserves that," Dennison said.