ENGLEWOOD, Colo. » Hold that gold watch. Peyton Manning is taking one more shot at the silver trophy.
Weeks of speculation about the five-time MVP’s future ended Wednesday with word that he’s returning for an 18th season in the NFL and fourth in Denver.
A person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that Manning will take a $4 million pay cut, from $19 million to $15 million, but that he can make it all back through performance incentives. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement of the deal.
Manning, who is still scheduled to make $19 million in 2016 in the final season of the five-year contract he signed in 2012, will take his physical and sign his revised contract Thursday.
Manning mulled retirement after the Broncos’ playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But he determined he still had the health and hunger to keep playing at age 39, when he tries to become the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl.
"We’re just excited to have him back," Pro Bowl running back C.J. Anderson told the AP. "Of course, he just wants to go out there and win that ring. And we’re just trying to go out there and help him win it. … If he said he’s mentally and physically ready to play, that doesn’t mean it’s at a subpar level. It means it’s at a high level."
Manning, who won a title with the Colts in 2006, met with general manager John Elway a few weeks ago after taking some time to decompress from an arduous season and told him he wasn’t ready to retire.
Reminiscent of Brett Favre’s annual flirtations with retirement, however, this saga dragged on as the Broncos and Manning’s agent Tom Condon reworked the quarterback’s contract.
The $4 million savings won’t drastically change Denver’s free agency plans. It gives Elway about $20 million to work with, but much of that will go to his own restricted free agents and a large draft class.
After dealing with a nagging thigh injury that hampered his performance down the stretch, Manning worked out this offseason in New Orleans with physical trainer Mackie Shilstone, renowned for helping athletes extend the twilight of their careers.
On Feb. 12, Manning flew to Denver in team owner Pat Bowlen’s jet to meet with Elway, CEO Joe Ellis and new coach Gary Kubiak. He also huddled with offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who replaced Adam Gase, Manning’s co-pilot in Denver’s offense who followed John Fox to Chicago.
Kubiak has designed mainly West Coast offenses throughout his career that often require the quarterback to line up under center and roll out. Mobility has never been Manning’s calling card; he’s been most comfortable making quick throws out of the shotgun in recent years.
Yet, Kubiak said it’s "easy to build a playbook" for Manning and noted that Joe Flacco, whom he tutored in Baltimore, rolled out a mere two dozen times last season.
Manning is all in.
"Aside maybe from Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Blue Hen Wing-T offense, I feel pretty comfortable playing in any offense," Manning said recently.
Elway said Kubiak’s offense reminds him of the system he ran during the final, Super Bowl-winning years of his career, when Kubiak was his offensive coordinator.
"Peyton can fit into this offense very easily," Elway said. "It’s very dependent on balance. Peyton won’t have to throw the ball 50 or 55 times. That gets more helpful, the older you get."
Manning has successfully adjusted before: the last two times he had a new head coach, he went 14-2 and 13-3.
Twelve hours after Manning delivered a shocker following Denver’s 24-13 loss to the Colts in the playoffs, saying he was unsure about his football future, Elway beseeched him not to make a rash decision.
Elway used the same give-him-space approach when he lured Manning to Denver following the quarterback’s tearful release from Indianapolis in 2012. Manning had missed the entire 2011 season following neck fusion surgery, casting doubt on his future, so the Colts cut him to clear the way for No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck.
Manning has led the Broncos to the best record in the NFL in each of his three seasons in Denver. Yet, each time, they unraveled in the playoffs: a 35-point Super Bowl loss to Seattle and two stunning home flops following first-round byes.
Manning, who has thrown 131 of his NFL-best 530 touchdown passes in a Broncos uniform, has but one Super Bowl title, three fewer than Tom Brady, whom he’ll face for the 17th time in 2015.
While Brady readily professes his desire to play well into his 40s, Manning has always taken it one year at a time. In September, Manning said he liked Brady’s "When I suck, I’ll retire" quote.
Manning is 179-77 in the regular season. His nine one-and-out playoff performances are about the only blot on a career that features an unprecedented five MVP honors but half as many rings as brother Eli.
Manning owns most of the significant QB records and is 2,148 yards shy of breaking Favre’s career yardage record of 71,838. He’s also nine victories short of breaking Favre’s record of 186 career wins.