ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) No big splashes this time. Just a few ripples.
John Elway spent the last three years luring the likes of Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and DeMarcus Ware to Denver. His annual attraction of superstar power to the Mile High City assured he’d ”win the offseason.”
With fewer holes and shallower pockets this time around, Elway watched big names leaving Denver for a change – Julius Thomas to Jacksonville, Orlando Franklin to San Diego – in the frenzied opening hours of free agency Tuesday.
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Meanwhile, Elway hashed out three-year deals with tight ends Owen Daniels ($12 million) and Virgil Green ($7.5 million) and signed backup linebacker Steven Johnson to a one-year, $785,000 contract.
Daniels, a two-time Pro Bowler, is 32. Green is the first of Elway’s draft picks to re-sign with the Broncos.
”Virgil was in our first draft class, was a seventh-round pick and has really worked his tail off for the last four years,” Elway said. ”And so he’s the type of guy that we want on the Denver Broncos and a guy that has the mentality of the hard work that it takes to be successful.”
Smarting from Seattle’s Super Bowl shellacking a year ago, Elway guaranteed $60 million to grab defensive stars Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, then appeased Manning by signing speedy receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
All four made the Pro Bowl.
The year before, he signed Louis Vasquez, who was named All-Pro, and Welker, who set a career high with 10 touchdown catches.
And of course in 2012, he won the Manning sweepstakes, grabbing the biggest free agent.
Green said fans shouldn’t fret that the big names this spring are checking out departure times from Denver.
”I think John Elway has done a great job of making sure he puts together a great team every year, so and I’m sure he’s going to do that again this year,” Green said. ”And I don’t think it’s something fans should be too worried about, or anybody should be too worried about, because at the end of the day, we’re going to put together a playoff performing team and we’re going to fight to get there.”
This lower-key offseason is a direct result of Elway’s aggressive approach over the last few years. Now, he needs more tweaks that makeovers to his roster and he’s plugging holes with lesser names with an eye toward the draft.
”That all comes down to where our budget is and I think that the bottom line is I think our philosophy is to build in the draft and then add with free agency,” Elway said. ”We’ve just been fortunate in the fact that we’ve been able to … get some very good high-profile players” in free agency.
Even though Manning took a $4 million pay cut last week, Elway has less than $20 million in cap space available this offseason, a good chunk of which he’ll have to set aside for a large draft class that’s expected to include several compensatory picks. Denver lost starters Eric Decker, Zane Beadles and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in free agency last year.
By week’s end, the Broncos will have paid out $4 million in roster bonuses and put another $36.5 million into escrow because of guarantees in the contracts of Ware, Talib, Ward, Manning and left tackle Ryan Clady. All of those players received higher guarantees to take lower signing bonuses.
When Elway parted ways with John Fox following the Broncos’ early exit from the playoffs, he said after hiring a new coach he would focus on re-signing the Thomases.
He bought more time to work out a long-term contract with star receiver Demaryius Thomas by placing the $12.8 million franchise tag on him. But he decided not to break the bank for Julius Thomas.
Although he’s a matchup nightmare and the only tight end in NFL history to post consecutive 12-TD seasons, Julius Thomas was almost invisible over the last half of last season after spraining his left ankle. An injury to his other ankle basically wiped out his first two NFL seasons.
So, his resume looks like this: 1 1-2 seasons of elite play and 2 1-2 seasons of next to nothing. And Elway decided to go with the veteran Daniels and the hard-working Green instead of ponying up the money to make another big splash.
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