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Combine starts this week, marking the unofficial begin to next season

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The NFL Combine kicks off tomorrow and although the new NFL year officially begins March 10, the first real action related to the NFL since the Super Bowl begins this week...and that means real football is back on the calendar. But first, a little humor...

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

In case you missed all three-and-a-half hours of Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary special last night (like me), not only did you miss some "excellent" appearances and funny quips from former SNL stars - ie, Tina Fey: "Also joining us is one of the show's original producers: Cocaine" -  you also missed none other than Peyton Manning, who joined a plethora of major Hollywood stars and added his second SNL appearance.

And though he could probably never top that 2007 appearance when he hosted the show and made the greatest United Way spoof EVER, he was still the deadpan Manning we know and love - arguing with Derek Jeter who had the best athlete-hosted SNL ever - as Manning argued his case, "They made me peg an 8-year-old kid in the head":

...And making jokes with Steve Martin about getting hit in the head ..."A LOT" :

But enough jokes, let's get to some real football...(as real as we can get the second week in February).

The Combine

Though pro football fans don't always pay attention to the Combine, it does have some entertaining aspects (Rich Eisen's annual - and ridiculous - 40 yard dash as I mentioned last week) but also is a hint at some of the up-and-coming talent in the NFL.

Also, it's worth noting that one of our MHR members does have a nephew in this year's festivities - wide receiver Kenny Bell of Nebraska.

Aannnddddd...that Kenny Bell is related to THIS Ken Bell who was a kick/punt returner for the Denver Broncos from 1986-89.

ken bell

In fact, it was the elder Bell who fumbled - and immediately recovered - the kickoff return in the waning minutes of the AFC Championship game against the Cleveland Browns in 1987 that put the Broncos on their own two-yard-line.

If you have just joined the Broncos fandom, you may not realize that that play set up perhaps the most iconic moment in Broncos history - The Drive. So in all sincerity, Mr. Bell, thank you for putting in motion the most memorable offensive drive in the Broncos' history as well as one of the greatest in the NFL. And all the best to your son in the Combine and Draft...we look forward to another Bell in the NFL.

Unrestricted Free Agency

Teams can contact agents for players who become Unrestricted Free Agents beginning March 7 through March 10 at 2 p.m. when the new league year begins - and so does Free Agency. All teams must be under the cap by the 2 p.m. MT deadline.

Agents for some of the Broncos' high-profile UFAs including Julius ThomasTerrance KnightonWes Welker and Rahim Moore among others can consider offers from other teams during the three-day period leading up to the new NFL year but no contracts can be signed until the year starts.

Today marks the beginning of the opportunity to get the franchise tag, and it seems highly likely that's going to be how the Broncos keep Demaryius Thomas next season.

Latimer to see bigger role?

Second-round pick Cody Latimer was a big hit in training camp but many fans were disappointed he didn't see the field more often this past season.

Not to worry. It's tough to be a rookie behind superstars like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as well as tested vets like Wes Welker.

But with another year under his belt (er, football pants) and more time with that playbook, look for Latimer to have an increased role this season and to finally show fans what his speed and physicality can do to defensive backs (and as a side note, I'm really looking forward to his appearance just for the fact that so many people confuse our last names - what??? - but still, I should be way more famous this time next year!)

And don't worry about the fact there are new coaches.

With Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, there's plenty of opportunity for any player who can be tough on the field as well as catch the ball. In fact, with Latimer's known blocking ability (remember that block on Antoine Bethea in preseason?), there's a good chance we'll be seeing a lot more of that ... and a good bit of this:

Cody Latimer 1 hand catch practice

Horse Tracks

Why, barring a surprise deal, Demaryius Thomas gets tagged - NFL Nation Blog - ESPN
The Broncos have been prepared to place the franchise player tag on Demaryius Thomas in the coming days.

Franchise tag primer: Predicting who gets tagged - NFL.com
To tag or not to tag? Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant is a no-brainer, but what about Detroit's Ndamukong Suh? Gregg Rosenthal and Marc Sessler break down the decisions facing teams league-wide.

Mike Mayock on 2015 NFL draft prospects, scouting combine storylines | The MMQB with Peter King
It’s that time of year—the 2015 football season is about to begin. Over the past decade or so, since the NFL combine has gotten so much traction in this football-crazed country, I always think of combine week as the beginning of the new season.

No Talks with Terrance Knighton
Cecil Lammey looks at various rumors surrounding the Broncos leading up to the Combine this week.

Six free-agent fits that make sense - NFL.com
Could Julius Thomas land in Oakland? Is Mark Sanchez Buffalo-bound? A reunion between Rex Ryan and his former QB and Thomas' leap to an AFC rival are among our six fits that make sense.

Report: Justin Houston, Chiefs to resume contract talks - NFL.com
The Chiefs and Justin Houston will reportedly resume contract talks at the NFL Scouting Combine this week. Will the NFL's sack leader become the league's highest-paid pass rusher?

Watch Peyton Manning on 'Saturday Night Live': 'I get hit in the head a lot' - CBSSports.com
Peyton Manning appeared on the 'Saturday Night Live' 40th anniversary edition and made a joke about getting 'hit in the head a lot'

Alex Smith 'shocked' over 49ers' regime change - NFL.com
Alex Smith said that he is "shocked" over the 49ers' regime change. How does the former San Francisco quarterback feel about Jim Harbaugh's replacement as head coach?

Joe Namath: No QB's ever been better than Tom Brady - NFL.com
Former Jets icon Joe Namath believes no quarterback has ever been better than Tom Brady. Find out what it is about the Patriots star that has allowed him to succeed so late in his career.

New York Jets decline contract option on Chris Johnson - NFL.com
With a roster bonus due Monday, the New York Jets severed ties with running back Chris Johnson. The former 2,000-yard runner has been a shell of that formerly dynamic player.