Tales from the Draft: How free agency misfortune turned into a decade of success with the selection of Steve Atwater


As the Broncos entered the final year of the 1980s and as a new decade approached, the franchise hoped to reverse its fortunes. Denver was only about a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but the Broncos had since slid, falling to a .500 season in 1988 in which they ranked in the bottom half in scoring offense and defense. So, with less than a month before the 1989 NFL Draft, the Broncos had their eye on a future Pro Football Famer — but not in the draft. Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, fresh off back-to-back first-team All-Pro seasons, was about to enter the NFL's "Plan B" free agency, instituted that February. Broncos head coach Dan Reeves and his staff hoped that they could bring in the young, dominant defensive playmaker as an antidote to the pass-rushing weakness that had allowed Doug Williams to pick them apart in Super Bowl XXII. Tickets for the 2022 NFR are on sale now - Catch the bronc-bustin' action live in Las Vegas this December - Get your NFR live today!