ENGLEWOOD — John Elway's philosophy is to address immediate needs in free agency, even though some of his own veterans may prove too pricey to keep around.
Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno both said they'd love to stay in Denver, but they might find more lucrative offers elsewhere when free agency begins in a month.
Unlike the Seattle Seahawks, who throttled the Broncos in the Super Bowl, Denver has a high-priced quarterback who takes up a good chunk of the salary cap, limiting what the team can spend elsewhere.
Manning's salary cap charge for 2014 is $17.5 million, same as last season, which was more than Seattle's entire starting defense and about 25 times as much as Russell Wilson's $681,000 cap number.
"Yeah, but I'll tell you right now it's worth it for us to have Peyton Manning," Elway said. "That's just part of when you get a quality quarterback like that that we have in Peyton Manning. You know that's going to be a big chunk of your salary cap, but we got to figure out ways to find the right players."
At the right prices.
Elway said he has no problem continuing to build a team around Manning even though nobody knows how long No. 18 will be in the Broncos' huddle beyond next season.
"Well, we're going to keep building like Peyton is going to be here," Elway said. "And you know, when Peyton decides to hang 'em up, we have expectations hopefully to make that transition."
Manning confirmed during Super Bowl week that he intends to play next season, pending clearance from his doctor at his annual checkup next month to see if his surgically repaired neck is sound, which seems like a formality given the way he played last season when he won his fifth MVP award.
Manning and the Broncos are out to do something that no team has done since the Buffalo Bills in 1993 — make it back to the Super Bowl the year after losing it.
Elway, the team's executive vice president, had been busy on a blueprint long before the Super Bowl blowout. He knows he could lose Decker, Moreno and guard Zane Beadles on offense and he has to rebuild a defense that was obliterated by an injury epidemic.
The Broncos have 18 unrestricted and three restricted free agents, but Elway has to be prudent because big deals are looming next year for Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and maybe Von Miller.
He's hit the jackpot in free agency two years in a row, first with Manning in 2012 and then with Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips, Terrance Knighton and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last year.
Elway expects to be busy again this year. He has about $25 million in projected cap space right now but could free up more by asking Champ Bailey and Jacob Tamme to restructure their contracts and by releasing Chris Kuper and Joel Dreessen.
Elway said using free agency to address immediate needs gives the Broncos freedom in the draft.
"We don't have to sit there and reach for some guy because of a need. So, if we can get rid of really the absolute needs that we need to do in free agency, then that opens it up, we can fire free at the draft, take the best players," he said.
If Moreno leaves, the Broncos have Montee Ball ready to step in as the featured back. He came on strong down the stretch, finishing the season with 120 carries for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Nearly a third of his carries moved the sticks, ranking third in the league and tops among rookies. His pass protection also vastly improved.
"We have high expectations out of Montee," Elway said. "We'll see how things flush out with Knowshon."
Decker, who has 32 TD catches over the last three years, would be missed. But Manning has plenty of other targets and teammate Bubba Caldwell, another unrestricted free agent, could prove a cheaper alternative.
"This is an organization any player wants to come to," Decker said. "They treat you first class, it's a winning organization. They've built a culture that's phenomenal. I would love to play here and unfortunately it isn't something that's always in my control."