Being one of John Elway’s draft picks used to mean job security. Not anymore.
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Entering his fourth season as Denver’s front office architect, the Broncos Hall of Famer has rebuilt the roster to the point that four of his selections got the boot when the team made its final cuts Saturday.
The Broncos jettisoned two 2013 draft picks: wide receiver Tavarres King and tackle Vinston Painter along with defensive end Jeremy Beal, who was part of Elway’s first draft class in 2011, and center/guard Philip Blake, part of the 2012 crop.
”You never want to release anybody, but as you get better, you have fewer slots,” Elway said. ”That’s the situation that we’re running into and we’ve got a lot of good football players on this team.
”The rookies these days, they have to get on board and get there fast and mature fast, which is tough to do for some. Our goal is always to keep them, but that’s why you have competition, too.”
Also cut was veteran running back Lance Ball, who was beaten out by C.J. Anderson of Cal to make the 53-man roster while the Broncos wait for his sprained left MCL to heal.
That makes 10 straight seasons that an undrafted college free agent has made the Broncos’ opening day roster.
”We don’t care whether they’re drafted as long as they’re young, good football players,” Elway said.
Anderson showed the Broncos enough in his one preseason game, rushing for 69 yards on 15 carries before getting hurt at practice the next week, to earn a roster spot.
Originally, Anderson thought his knee injury was season-ending but now he expects to return to the field in the next couple of weeks. ”I’m attacking the rehab the same as I was attacking the football field,” he said.
The Broncos also placed linebackers Stewart Bradley (wrist) and Lerentee McCray (ankle) on injured reserve along with rookie defensive end Quanterus Smith, whose surgically repaired knee isn’t ready for the grind of an NFL season, Elway said.
All-Pro linebacker Von Miller was designated to the reserve/suspended list. He won’t count against the team’s 53-man roster while he serves his six-game suspension.
Another notable cut was center Ryan Lilja, whom Peyton Manning helped lure out of retirement this summer. Lilja was coming off knee surgery and never mounted a serious challenge to starter Manny Ramirez. Another summertime arrival, Steve Vallos, won the backup job instead.
”Health was a concern,” Elway said. ”And then, also, when you get to the 53, you’ve got to have the guys who are able to practice during the week, too.”
The Broncos also cut Gerell Robinson, leaving them with just five receivers, and one of those is return specialist Trindon Holliday. The only true backup to the starting trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker is Bubba Caldwell, who caught just one pass for 18 yards last season.
The Broncos kept four tight ends, including promising big target Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme along with Joel Dreessen and Virgil Green, who basically serve as fullbacks in running situations.
Elway decided to keep seventh-round pick Zac Dysert as the third QB behind Manning and Brock Osweiler because he didn’t want to risk losing him on waivers.
”He’s a young guy that we think has tremendous upside. We just felt that it was in our best interest that we protect him and keep three quarterbacks and be able to develop him,” Elway said.