(CNN) — Peyton Manning has a decision to make. So do the Denver Broncos.
Since winning his second Super Bowl ring, Manning has gone to Disneyland and smashed eggs on his head with Magic Johnson on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. What he hasn’t done, however, is publicly announce his future career plans.
“No, there is no deadline,” Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations John Elway said February 9, two days after Denver beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50. “Again, we’re going to enjoy this, let Peyton enjoy this. I’m sure he’ll sit down with his family and then eventually we’ll talk to him, too, and go through that. There is no timeline for that right now.”
But time is running out for Manning and his current employer. A key date looms. The 2016 league year and free agency period begin at 4 p.m. ET on March 9. Should nothing happen between now and then, Manning’s $19 million salary for the 2016 season — the final year of his contract with the Broncos — is guaranteed.
So really, if they don’t have it already, the Broncos need an answer from Manning by the end of the day on March 8.
Additionally, NFL teams operate under a salary cap, which is a rule that limits how much each team can spend on its players. All teams must be under the 2016 salary cap — expected to be $155 million, according to NFL Network’s Rand Getlin — prior to 4 p.m. ET on March 9.
That means Manning could be cut before then, making him a free agent and available to sign with any team.
The Broncos also could use any extra money to re-sign outside linebacker Von Miller, who was named Super Bowl 50 MVP. They also likely still need to negotiate with Denver backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, who went 5-2 as the starter in the 2015 season.
‘One step at a time’
Following the Super Bowl 50 win, Manning said that night that he didn’t want to make an emotional decision one way or the other.
“It’s been an emotional week, emotional night, and the night is just beginning,” Manning said then. “I look forward to celebrating with my friends and family and I think I’ll take some time after that. Like I said, I am going to enjoy the night, take it one step at a time.”
With all of his staggering accolades, Manning’s status for a future induction date at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, is secure. Manning has an NFL-record five MVP awards. He owns the record for the most passing touchdowns (539) in pro football history and is the NFL’s career leader in passing yards with 71,940.
Manning became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. He also won Super Bowl XLI when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. With the most recent win, Manning became the first NFL quarterback with 200 career wins (186 regular season and 14 postseason). He had been tied with Brett Favre, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016, with 199.
Challenges on and off the field
At 39, Manning was the oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history, and at times, it was ugly. Manning was 13 of 23 passing for 141 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. He also was sacked five times.
Manning’s 18th season was full of challenges. He was benched for the first time in his career, which was a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in November. While backup Osweiler filled in, Manning missed six games because of a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot.
In December, Manning strongly denied a claim in an Al Jazeera documentary that he was among a number of professional athletes who may have been provided human growth hormone, or HGH, by an Indiana doctor.
Additionally, though he’s not a defendant, Manning has been cited in a lawsuit that accuses the University of Tennessee of mishandling reports of alleged sexual assaults by student athletes. The lawsuit cites a 20-year-old complaint against Manning, who played for the Volunteers from 1994 to 1997. Filed on behalf of six unidentified accusers, the lawsuit alleges that the university violated federal Title IX regulations against sex discrimination and fostered “a hostile sexual environment and culture.” The university denies permitting such a culture.
The lawsuit references a 1996 sexual assault complaint against Manning by the university’s first female associate trainer. The woman, Jamie Ann Naughright, is not a party in this current suit. In the Manning complaint, Naughright said that the nude quarterback “sat on her face” while she treated him for an injury, according to the Title IX lawsuit. The case was settled in 1997 on the condition that Naughright leave her position, the lawsuit said.
Naughright later sued Manning for defamation after he, in a book, described the alleged assault against her as a “crude, maybe, but harmless” incident in which he “dropped the seat of my pants” and “mooned” another athlete. He said Naughright “had a vulgar mouth” and that allowing women in the locker room was “one of the most misbegotten concessions to equal rights ever made.”
Manning wrote: “I admit that even in the context of ‘modern’ life, what I did to offend this trainer was inappropriate. Not exactly a criminal offense, but out of line.”
CNN was unable to reach Manning’s representatives for comment.
Where will Manning be in 2016?
Will the image of Manning holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy be the final image of his career, or could we see Manning playing next season — either in Denver or elsewhere?
Johnson told Fallon that when he was backstage he tried to persuade Manning to join the Los Angeles Rams. Was it a joke, or was he serious? Who really knows?
Manning turns 40 on March 24. He had durability issues during the season but played well enough in the playoffs for Denver, which was led by the NFL’s No. 1 defense. His mind is as sharp as ever.
But a decision will have to be announced soon.
“The key thing is for him to want to come back,” Elway said. “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. In talking about retirement, retirement is always hard.
“You can butt up to that line and cross that line, taking that final step saying, ‘I am moving on’ — even if the first 99% are easy to get there, the last 1% is as hard as that first 99%. That’s why he’s going to have the time he needs. It’s basically going to be up to him.”