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John Elway’s All Veteran Team

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A list of Denver Broncos GM John Elway’s best free agents and trade acquisitions since 2011.

NFL: Super Bowl LIII-City Views
Just a couple of future Hall of Famers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t already checked out The All-Elway team from last week I’d advise you check it out. In it I made an All-22 depth chart using only homegrown talent since Elway took over as General Manager in 2011. This list will be similar, ranking every veteran addition the Broncos GM has made.

Defense

Defensive Line: Shelby Harris - 2017

I suspect Harris is about to flourish the best free agent signing in the post-Manning era.

Nose: Terrance Knighton - 2013

That’s Mr. Knighton to you. The man known as Pot Roast signed in part because his former head coach Jack Del-Rio was John Fox’ defensive coordinator. The 6’3 350 lb behemoth made his impact immediately and played so well he earned a Peter King feature prior to Super Bowl 48. His Broncos career ended in 2014 when Elway refused to meet his contract demands and he went on to sign a 1-year “prove it” deal with Washington. His career ended after being released by the Patriots in 2016.

Defensive Line: Brodrick Bunkley - 2011

In his first offseason with the Broncos Elway went out to add talent to a defense that was a sieve throughout the Josh McDaniels era. One of the more underrated moves he made was grabbing Bunkley once the former Eagles trade to the Cleveland Browns was voided. Bunkley only played one for in Denver, but did enough for the Broncos to snag a 5-year $25 million deal in 2012 free agency.

Edge: DeMarcus Ware - 2014

I would argue no free agent this side of Peyton has mattered more to the Elway era than D-Ware. He signed a 3-year $30 M deal with the Broncos after his release from the Cowboys and went on to notch 25 sacks, 56 QB hits, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, and an interception. His value goes far beyond the stats, however.

To see it, you have to look back at where the Broncos best defensive player was at the time of Ware’s signing. In 2014 Von Miller had just finished a year where he was suspended for attempting to corrupt the NFL’s drug-testing program. 2013 was also when he ran into trouble with the law for driving without a license. He was at a bit of a crossroads coming off the injury and suspension marred worst season of his career.

Von looked nothing like the team leader, spokesperson, and eventual Super Bowl MVP he’s become since. Personally I attribute a lot of that to the leadership and professionalism DeMarcus Ware brought with him in 2014.

Ware deserves a spot in the Ring of Fame for his impact on and off the field.

Linebacker: Brandon Marshall - 2013

Selected by the Jaguars in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL draft, the Nevada linebacker was signed to the Broncos practice squad in 2013. By 2014 he’d found a starting job and quickly paired with Danny Trevathan to become one of the best duos in the league. Following the 2015 Super Bowl win he gained notoriety in some circles for kneeling to protest police brutality during the 2016 season. In 2019 he signed with the division rival Oakland Raiders in hopes of going home to Las Vegas in 2020.

Linebacker: Todd Davis - 2014

Davis is one of the more interesting players to wind up on one of these teams, as he falls in a bit of gray area between both. By the definition laid out above, he’s a free agent addition, coming to the Broncos off waivers from the New Orleans Saints in 2014. However, like Brandon Marshall he came to Denver so early in his professional career it’s as if he’s almost a homegrown talent.

One little known fact about Davis is that he competed against Marshall and Trevathan for a starting role on the 2015 defense, but eventually served as a key reserve and special teamer. After the season he took over the starting job opposite Marshall once 59 signed with the Bears. Since then Davis has signed an extension and looks set to play a key role in the middle of the defense for Fangio’s defense in 2019.

Edge: Shaun Phillips - 2013

Cornerback: Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie - 2013

In Elway’s early career he was infamous for signing veteran players on short term deals to provide the roster a shot in the arm. It was the kind of strategy straight out of Madden, and it did enough for the 2013 defense to do it’s part in helping the best offense in Broncos history make the Super Bowl.

After losing Elvis Dumerviel in what’s infamously known as Fax Gate, Elway went out and signed Phillips from the Chargers to provide pass rush help opposite of Von Miller. He started his orange and blue career off with a bang, sacking Joe Flacco 2.5 times in the season opening revenge game against the Baltimore Ravens. While Miller dealt with suspension and eventually season ending injury, the 32-year old Phillips led the team in sacks with 12 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception.

Meanwhile the 27-year old former Eagle signed a 1-year $5 M contract in March to get a chance at another big money deal during his prime. DRC is a bit overlooked now because the length of his tenure and the perception that the 2013 Broncos D was a complete sieve, which isn’t true. The D had huge issues against tertiary receivers, running backs, and tight ends but Chris Harris Jr. and the 6’2” Rodgers-Cromartie gave Denver a chance against the best receivers in the league. He finished the year with 3 interceptions that included a 75-yard return touchdown and found that payday: a 5-year $35 M contract with the New York Giants.

Run DRC could make you pay for throwing at him.

Cornerback: Aqib Talib - 2014

Safety: T.J. Ward - 2014

Following the Broncos ___ beatdown at the hands of the Legion of Boom, Elway and the Broncos looked to add more punch to their own secondary with these two veterans. Ward came over from the Browns on a 4-year $23 M deal and immediately improved Denver’s coverage in the middle of the field. At his peak he was the kind of Swiss Army knife the best defenses have at Strong Safety: able to fill against the run like an extra linebacker, run with tight ends or backs in coverage, or play the deep middle.

Talib was known as an incredibly talented, albeit mercurial player upon his signing with the Broncos. Drafted by the Buccaneers in 2008 he hit his stride under Bill Belichick but wore out his welcome after leaving the Patriots’ playoff game against the Broncos with a concussion. What he did for Denver cemented his reputation: A Pro Bowl corner his entire 4-year stay (and First Team All Pro in 2015), Talib scored 6 touchdowns off interception returns and paired with Chris Harris Jr. as the best corner duo in the league. He also shot himself in the leg in 2016 and became a meme for snatching Michael Crabtree’s chain in a 2017 game against the Oakland Raiders.

Safety: Darian Stewart - 2015

The last member of the No Fly Zone to join the Broncos, Stewart originally signed for two years and $4.25 M. He went on to earn a Pro Bowl selection in the 2016 season and a 4-year $28 M extension. This March the 30-year old was released.

Offense

Right Tackle/Guard: Billy Turner - 2016, Louis Vasquez - 2013

I’ll let you decide who should play which position Broncos Country. Both Turner and Vasquez played a bit of both during their tenures. Vasquez came over from the then San Diego Chargers after agreeing on a 4-year $23.5 M deal. He was selected as a Pro Bowler but couldn’t play in 2013 because of the Broncos appearance in the Super Bowl and won a ring as a guard for the 2015 team.

Turner was claimed off the Ravens waivers and found his way to a starting job during the 2018 season. After the year I ranked him as the 25th Most Valuable Bronco. He was not retained in free agency and signed with the Green Bay Packers on a 4-year $28 M deal.

Center: Will Montgomery - 2014

Technically Manny Ramirez doesn’t count as an Elway move, as the long time Broncos center (infamous for probably the worst snap in Super Bowl history) signed with Denver one day before Elway took over as GM. In his stead are two options. Dan Koppen, who came to the Broncos from New England in 2012 or Montgomery, who replaced Manny Ramirez down the stretch of the 2014 season.

Left Guard: Ron Leary - Offensive Line, 2017

When he’s been healthy, the former Dallas Cowboy has looked like the player Elway deemed worth a 4-year $36 M contract. Unfortunately, he’s played in just 17 games since coming to Denver. Chances are the Broncos move on in the 2020 offseason when doing so will save them over $8 M.

Left Tackle: Russell Okung - 2016

After leaving the Seattle Seahawks the Broncos signed the veteran left tackle to one of the more interesting deals I’ve seen in free agency. It represents one of the best and worst decisions Elway has made in free agency negotiations to date.

Despite Okung’s free agent status he negotiated with teams without an agent. He wound up signing a 5-year $53 M deal with the Broncos that was essentially two contracts in one. In 2016 the deal was guaranteed for $5 M and he was able to make $8 M with incentives. After the season the deal had a window where Elway had the option to pick up for 4-years and the remaining value of the deal.

The left tackle started every game in 2016, but after an early injury was pretty inconsistent on the field. As many expected prior at the time of the deals signing Denver elected to pass on picking up the option that would have given Okung an APY of about $12 M.

What most didn’t expect was how the tackle market would change, which provided Okung an opportunity to then negotiate a 4-year $53 M deal with the Division Rival Chargers. Missing a left tackle, Elway then selected Garett Bolles in the first round of the 2017 draft and added free agent right tackle Menelik Watson.

Two months into the 2017 season, Mile High Report’s own Jeff Essary had this to say:

I think it’s clear from the numbers above that Okung would be an upgrade over any of our tackles currently on the roster.

Here’s my arm chair GM in hindsight opinion: Denver should have picked up Okung’s option, still drafted Garrett Bolles, and played Bolles at right tackle for at least this season, grooming him to be the left tackle of the future. This would have improved the Broncos current tackle situation on both fronts.

Tight End: Jacob Tamme - 2012

Tamme had a 3-year run in Denver, moving on to Atlanta in 2015. During his time in the Rocky Mountains he caught 86 passes for 848 yards and 5 touchdowns. Most of his production came in his first season as a familiar target for Peyton Manning, and before the rise of Julius Thomas.

Receiver: Emmanuel Sanders - 2014

Receiver: Brandon Stokely - 2012

Slot Receiver: Wes Welker - 2013

If there’s one area that the Broncos veteran O is lacking it’s probably at the receiving position. This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Elway has never gone out and signed a free agent X-receiver. He inherrited Demaryius Thomas just as he was coming into his own and now has a young Courtland Sutton. Where this corps is special is working the intermediate middle of the field as both Stokley and Welker filled similar roles for the Manning offenses. Sanders gives the group some much needed speed.

Running Back: Willis McGahee - 2011

The former Buffalo Bill and Baltimore Raven was a late addition to Elway’s first roster, signing with the Broncos in late July. After an injury to Knowshon Moreno he became the primary ball carrier and ran his way to Hawaii as the workhorse in the Tebow offense. Counting his playoff production, he finished his Denver career with 641 touches for 2339 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Quarterback: Peyton Manning - 2012.

It couldn’t be anyone else. When the Denver Broncos won the Manning Sweepstakes in 2012 they went from a fringe playoff contender with a fullback under center to a legitimate Super Bowl contender overnight. True stroy: I Tebowed when the Sheriff came on board.

There was some risk involved, as the 36-year old Manning had just lost a season to a serious neck injury that threatened his NFL career. Instead he played four more in Denver, including one of the greatest single season’s a passer has ever put together. The final numbers: 19,062 passing yards, 152 total touchdowns, 59 interceptions.

I don’t consider QBWinz a real stat, so I won’t tell you how Peyton won a Lombardi for Denver to cap off his incredible run. It was, after all a team victory; the No Fly Zone became a historically great defense and Manning got benched for a stretch of his last season.

Instead, what I will tell you is that he transformed everything around the organization from the time he stepped in the door. Denver jumped from the 23rd best offense by Football Outsider’s DVOA in 2011 to 2nd in 2012. During the 4-year Manning era the Broncos only fell below 2nd in points scored once. The offensive line was among the two best teams in the league by adjusted sack rate three of his four seasons. Chris Harris captured his impact perfectly when he said ““He changed everything when he signed here.”

Your Broncos Links

Denver Broncos: The All-Elway Team - Mile High Report

No Free Agents, just homegrown Denver Broncos hand selected by John Elway in the NFL Draft or as an undrafted rookie.

Denver Broncos 2016 draft class turned out better than people think - Mile High Report

Paxton Lynch casts a dark cloud over an otherwise solid 2016 NFL Draft class for the Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos and Chris Harris Jr. closing in on a deal for 2019 - Mile High Report

According to Mike Klis, the Denver Broncos and Chris Harris Jr. have inched closer towards a deal for 2019 over the weekend.

3 & Out: Over the Cap’s Jason Fitzgerald talks Chris Harris Jr. contract details - Mile High Report

Why would the Broncos give Harris a pay raise this year instead of a long-term deal?

Could Von Miller and Bradley Chubb set records in 2019 - Mile High Report

Would you rather have Von Miller or Bradley Chubb lead the team in sacks?

Denver Broncos roster prediction: A way-too-early ‘Final 53’ - Mile High Report

JoRo considers which players will stay and which will go. Here is my final 53-man Denver Broncos roster projection.

Josey Jewell loves Vic Fangio’s coaching - and his defense - Mile High Report

“It’s awesome being able to work with these guys every day and being able to hear Coach Fangio talk in our defensive meetings,” he said. “We’ve really learned a lot about defense and different types of concepts. I think with his defense what’s really cool is [the offenses] are never really knowing what you’re in — what coverage you’re in. It really disguises everything really well.”

Justin Simmons excited how safeties are used in Vic Fangio’s system - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos secondary is certainly looking No Fly Zone ish heading into the 2019 season. Justin Simmons is excited about the possibilities under Vic Fangio.

Denver Broncos’ defensive end Adam Gotsis weighs in on Head Coach Vic Fangio - Mile High Report

In the 3rd year DE’s turn at the podium, he offered some insight into the team’s new head coach and the defense he’ll run.

Mike Singletary: Vic Fangio allows players to play at their best - Mile High Report

“Time will tell about the hire itself,” Singletary said. “But what he’s been able to do as a coordinator has been extraordinary. I think he’s done a great job of putting the right guys in the right position and being able to have a scheme that allows them to play at the best of their ability.”

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton picked to have a breakout season - Mile High Report

The Denver Broncos have an emerging superstar in wide receiver Courtland Sutton. He is poised for a big season in 2019.

Mike Munchak downplays hype, says ‘I see myself as a teacher’ | 9news.com

Can Munchak get Bolles to play consistently? “I hope so. He’s going into his third year. And for an offensive lineman obviously a lot is expected of a first-round draft choice,” Munchak said. “But the thing is he’s had a couple – I’ll be his three O-line coach in three years. People don’t realize how hard that is on the development of a player. So hopefully I can stay with him for a while and we can develop something.

Predicting the story of the season for all 32 NFL teams

Can the Broncos’ offense be the best it’s been since Peyton Manning retired? This question breaks off into some smaller ones. Does quarterback Joe Flacco have plenty left in the tank? Can they protect him? Can they fit the plan to the personnel? Rich Scangarello is the third offensive coordinator in the past three seasons and will try to find a rhythm that’s been mostly absent since Manning was the QB. Since winning Super Bowl 50, Denver has had a mishmash of inconsistent line play, hesitant quarterbacks and conservative philosophy. That has to change, or it’ll miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. -- Jeff Legwold

The 2019 Dirty Dozen – ProFootballTalk

10. Broncos: Yes, they’ve won three Super Bowls, including their most recent trophy only three years ago. But a sustained run of relevance has been replaced by a sharp plunge to the bottom made even more conspicuous by the fact that, for the first time since the early 1970s, the Broncos have had a losing record for consecutive seasons. While a decorated history spared Denver from being closer to the top of the list, three years of post-Peyton flopping in the boat have earned them a spot in the bottom 12. Whether they remain there depends on whether Vic Fangio is the answer at coach (he very well may be), whether Joe Flacco is the answer at quarterback (he very well may not be), and whether the linger intra-family Willie Wonka competition for control of the team is ever resolved (at times it feels like it never will be).

Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones retires: Former Bengals’ CB done after 12 seasons | SI.com

Jones spent eight seasons in Cincinnati during his 12-season career.

Adam Gase talks GM search, C.J. Mosley, Sam Darnold, Le’Veon Bell | SI.com

Pacman Jones retired this week. I covered him in Dallas in 2008, and I just remember how capable he was of convincing everyone that he’d changed – which, at that point. he hadn’t. Between Tennessee and Dallas, eight years in Cincinnati, and last year’s swan song in Denver, Jones flashed plenty of ability, and a lot of people wound up liking him, but he never completely got past his off-field problems. It’ll be interesting to see where he is in five or 10 years

FMIA: The Determination of Bart Starr – ProFootballTalk

Kudos are in order for Dick Ebersol, the longtime NBC Sports executive who, along with Denver owner Pat Bowlen, invented the Sunday night football package that now has been the king of prime-time TV for eight years running. (“Sunday Night Football” has been the highest-rated TV show in the country every year since 2011.) It has to be emotional for Ebersol to be getting the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award—which recognizes exceptional contributions to radio and TV in pro football—in Canton on enshrinement weekend in August. Because he’ll be taking his spot in Canton while Bowlen is inducted to the Hall of Fame for his long and meritorious career as the owner of the Broncos and one of the most influential owners in the league. Ebersol called the honor “especially meaningful to be recognized in the same year that my friend Pat Bowlen earns his rightful place in Canton.”

2019 NFL season: One key homegrown player for each AFC team - NFL.com

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton, wide receiver. Sutton was the subject of an unfair amount of offseason hype last season -- and still, he mostly delivered. For a second-round pick to accumulate 704 receiving yards as a rookie is impressive, no matter how he got there. Now an unfair amount of expectations will be placed on him again. With Emmanuel Sanders coming off a torn Achilles tendon and Demaryius Thomas having been traded away last season, Sutton is the closest thing to a No. 1 receiver the Broncos have. He struggled with drops and getting open in that role late in the season after Thomas was shipped out and Sanders was injured, with fellow first-year receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick outgaining Sutton in the season’s final quarter. That sluggish finish was a typical part of Sutton’s learning curve and his jump-ball ability should be a perfect match for new quarterback Joe Flacco’s strengths. (Not that Broncos fans need to be told about Flacco’s ability to throw a jump ball.)

Ranking divisions by quarterback: AFC West, NFC West top list - NFL.com

This is the only division that features two of the league’s five best quarterbacks (Mahomes and Rivers). Mahomes is majestic, and last year’s MVP season (5,097 yards and 50 TD passes!) was just the beginning for him. He’s a flat-out superstar. Rivers is still playing like a Hall of Famer at 37 years old. I think Carr is going to thrive in his second season with Jon Gruden. With massive upgrades to his weaponry -- he’ll be throwing to trade acquisition Antonio Brown and free-agent signee Tyrell Williams, and now he has the top back in this year’s draft, Josh Jacobs, running the ball for him -- I’m expecting big things from him in 2019. Flacco holds the last rung in this division, but he is a former Super Bowl MVP and has a chance for a career renaissance in Denver. Mahomes and Rivers carry this division to the top, though.

NFL Links

Joey Porter: Ben Roethlisberger has power and uses it for himself – ProFootballTalk

Fellow NFL Network commentator Terrell Davis cited as an example that his former teammate, John Elway, would lobby the coaches to give the players more non-contact days during training camp. Davis said Elway did that not for himself — as a quarterback, he wasn’t getting hit in camp anyway — but because he could see that his teammates were getting beaten up and needed a break. Davis said Elway had power within the organization and would use it to help his teammates. Porter responded that Roethlisberger doesn’t do that kind of thing. “It’s clear he has the power, and how he uses it? He uses it for him,” Porter said of Roethlisberger.

What can Patrick Mahomes do for an encore in 2019? - Kansas City Chiefs Blog- ESPN

”We know that we are close and we have a pretty good team,” Veach said. “We aren’t trying to build for the future. We are trying to win now. We are going to stay aggressive.”

Saints can’t avoid Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan megadeals much longer - New Orleans Saints Blog- ESPN

It’s not out of the question that Thomas could become the NFL’s first receiver to average $20 million per year (unless Julio Jones gets there first). You know, your standard 1,642 percent pay raise.

Drew Brees “certainly impressed” by Jared Cook so far – ProFootballTalk

“He’s got a great feel for the game, and I think he’s going to fit very well in our offense. He’s got great length, so he’s got a big catch radius. You feel confident with those 50-50 balls. You feel like there’s a lot of places where you can throw if where he can get it and the other guy can’t. Anytime you have a target like that, you feel like that’s a good matchup.”

Matt Ryan and Dirk Koetter looking forward to second chapter – ProFootballTalk

“I think the thing I took for granted when I was away was his accuracy,” Koetter said of Ryan. “Matt also now is a coach on the field. He knows this system like the back of his hand. He’s out there directing traffic. When he has young guys out there, he knows exactly what he wants them to do and what it should look like. And he’s good at expressing it.”

The Big Interview: Eric Weddle | SI.com

The 12-year veteran sits down with The MMQB’s Andy Benoit to break down tape and talk Ravens, Rams and the NFL.

Ben Watson suspended four games – ProFootballTalk

Patriots tight end Ben Watson will serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Watson himself made the announcement on Facebook, saying that he began using testosterone this offseason at a doctor’s suggestion.

JJ Watt engaged to Kealia Ohai: Texans DE to marry Dash captain | SI.com

The 30-year-old Houston Texans star is engaged to his longtime sweetheart, soccer player Kealia Ohai.

Bears see Leonard Floyd as a “rare athlete” for his position – ProFootballTalk

“This is a rare athlete playing the position,” Monachino said, via TheAthletic.com. “There’s a whole bunch of guys that are great hammers and guys that have the pass-rush gene that have that dominant trait. This is a rare athlete for the position. I’ve coached a bunch of good ones. I’ve coached big ones, I’ve coached smart ones, I’ve coached fast ones. I’ve never coached an athlete like this. … His length. His short-area quickness. Long speed. The ability to cover and change direction. All of those things are very special with this player.”

Adam Gase: Sam Darnold asking a lot of questions about Peyton Manning – ProFootballTalk

“He watches a lot of the old stuff — he’s watched a lot of Peyton’s stuff,” Gase said. “He’s watched almost all of our cut-ups. The good thing is we’ve got a pretty healthy library of examples … He’s watched so much of it he can bring up certain plays from different seasons to where he’ll ask a question — ‘Hey, what made him do this? Or why did he think this way?’ He’s really gone through a lot of this stuff already.”