The Denver Broncos offseason program hits a critical phase this week as the team returns for offseason team activities on Wednesday, the start of a four-week stretch of OTAs, minicamp and workouts.

Big-picture questions abound as the team makes what could be its final push for a Super Bowl title with Peyton Manning at the helm.

Can Rick Dennison finally convert his years of tutelage under Gary Kubiak into a championship-caliber offense?

Does Wade Phillips still have what it takes, even at age 67, to lead a menacing defense?

Can Manning stay healthy? And what will the game plan look like after last year’s “balanced” attack led to an unceremonious divisional round exit?

But before any of those questions can begin to play out, Denver needs answers on key matters on both sides of the ball.

Will Demaryius Thomas sign a long-term deal or play out this season on a franchise tag, and what should be done with Antonio Smith, who is under investigation for sexually-based child abuse in Texas? Both scenarios leave Thomas and Smith with nominal chances of participating in OTAs.

Because no charges have been filed as of yet, Smith has no “official” reason to miss OTAs – or for the team to hold him out, for that matter. However, given the nature of the accusations, the team may decide to provide him with an excused absence from this week’s activities.

The 33-year-old Pro Bowler was signed to a $2 million one-year contract in April to be part of an already formidable rotation with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, but might have been made more expendable when Denver drafted Shane Ray later in the month.

Denver stands to gain little – at least from a PR standpoint – in having Smith on the field during OTAs, unless they have reason to believe that Fort Bend County (Texas) District Attorney John Healey will not act on information from an investigation conducted by the sheriff’s department, which he’s had in his possession since February.

As a 12-year veteran, Smith should need little time to acclimate to the system if and when the team decides to move forward with him.

Thomas’ future with the team, on the other hand, is a far less one-sided affair. The wide receiver has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls and was a second-team All-Pro in 2013 and ’14, but does not have a long-term contract.

He currently carries a $12.823 million franchise tag heading into 2015 after reportedly rejecting a deal before the 2014 season that would have made him the third highest-paid receiver in the game. That price tag has only risen thanks to his franchise record-setting 1,619 receiving yards in 2014.

However, considering Manning’s limited remaining shelf life and the questionable prospects for replacing him, it’s understandable that Denver might not want to commit to Thomas in the eight-year, $130 million range that Calvin Johnson received in Detroit just a few years ago.

Both Thomas and the Broncos may want a long-term deal, but the two sides remain divided on total value, guaranteed dollars and length.

Denver faced similar franchise tag situations in the recent past with both Matt Prater and Ryan Clady. The right tackle missed the team’s offseason activities in 2013 before reaching a deal very near the deadline.

Thomas has until July 15 to sign a new deal, something Broncos executive vice president John Elway says is still the goal. But Elway has also been very outspoken about his feelings that missing offseason activities is a negative for both the player and the team.

Given Elway’s attitude and Manning’s reputation for meticulous preparation, Thomas might be best served to be at Dove Valley in these coming weeks, though history would suggest he’ll continue his preparation from afar until a deal is signed.

Mandatory veteran minicamp is June 9-11.

Organized team activities are scheduled May 27-29, June 1, 2, 4 and 15-18.