INDIANAPOLIS -- **Like Head Coach Gary Kubiak, Executive Vice President and General Manager John Elway wants Peyton Manning to return for a fourth Broncos season and 18th in the NFL, and believes the future Hall of Fame quarterback will come back.
"We're hopeful that Peyton comes back and we want him back. As I said after the season, we wanted him back -- and we still want him back," Elway said Thursday as he met the media for the first time since announcing the hiring of Kubiak on Jan. 21.
"He has not given me a definitive answer exactly what he wants to do, but we're hopeful he is going to come back."
Elway and Manning met at team headquarters Feb. 12, and Kubiak has kept in contact with Manning over the last few weeks, although the conversations between them cannot revolve around football tactics and strategies, per league rules for this time of year.
But what Elway made clear Thursday is that the tweaked offense is a good fit for a legendary quarterback nearing the end of his career -- in part because he experienced it in the late 1990s, with a balanced, diverse attack that kept foes off guard, pushed the Broncos to two Super Bowls and allowed Elway to end his playing career at the top of his game.
That can be Manning's future if he returns, Elway believes.
"I do believe having been through that part of my career and having played for [former Head Coach] Mike Shanahan at the time and played with his offense, that I do believe it's a very helpful offense," Elway said.
"Peyton could fit in this offense very easily. It's a lot more dependent on balance, so therefore Peyton is hopefully not going to have to throw the ball 50 or 55 times. I think for an older quarterback, it's a perfect system to be in.
"It's really a great system for any quarterback, but I think it's even more helpful the older you get."
It's a system that requires a running back who can read the blocks, make one cut and capitalize on the holes in front of him -- and late in the 2014 season, C.J. Anderson proved he could be that type of back. Kubiak said that he told Anderson to return for organized team activities preparing to be the starter, and Elway was equally robust about Anderson's prospects.
"He's a one-cut guy and he's a north-and-south runner," Elway said. "That's what style of an offense this is. I think C.J. will be a perfect fit for it so I'm thrilled we still have him."
So the pieces that would surround Manning are falling into place. That leaves the question around the veteran who heads into his 18th season.
Elway declined to talk about whether contract issues existed in regards to Manning's future.
"The bottom line is I don't like to get into anybody's contract or discuss anything about contracts," Elway said, "but just know that, as I said, I believe he will be back and I believe that he will be our quarterback next year."
And if Manning is the quarterback, he should begin the year in excellent health. The quadriceps that Manning injured two months ago has healed, and Elway said Manning has gone through his post-season physical examination with a doctor in New Orleans, where he is currently training.
"He felt good with the results that came out of that," Elway said. "Physically he was feeling much better after six weeks off from the season and was feeling much better when I had a chance to talk to him."
If Manning does return, he could find an altered collection of receiving targets, with Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme all due to become free agents at the start of the league year.
But one player that is expected back is Demaryius Thomas. Elway said that the Broncos will apply the franchise tag to the three-time Pro Bowl receiver if they cannot strike a long-term deal with him in the coming days.
"If we can't get something done, yeah, we'll tag him," Elway said, later adding, "That market's changing. The wide receiver market is changing, too. The bottom line is we want Demaryius to be around."
Elway said the Broncos tried to finalize a contract extension with Julius Thomas last year, but failed.
"They wanted to test the market," Elway said.
Broncos EVP/GM John Elway met with the media Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis