Welker: No hard feelings toward Patriots

Two days, $56 million. Yes, John Elway can handle the checkbook

almost as nimbly as he once threw the football.

For the second straight offseason, the Broncos

quarterback-turned-front office chief made as big a splash as

anyone in NFL free agency. In the span of 48 hours, he added

receiver Wes Welker and four more players – all with the single

goal of getting Peyton Manning and the Broncos to the Super Bowl as

soon as possible.

”I was probably the one pitching to him, trying to make this

happen and everything else,” Welker said Thursday about his

discussions with Elway.

The subtext: At 31 and entering his 10th year in the league,

Welker wants to win Super Bowls more than cash huge checks. He

signed a two-year, $12 million contract – relatively modest for the

most productive receiver in the league over the past six years.

And anyone who thought Elway would stand pat after a 13-3

season: ”They don’t know John Elway,” said former Bronco safety

John Lynch.

”I love it,” Lynch said. ”They’re in it to win it. I think

they’re doing it prudently, too. Welker was a bargain.”

Many players, of course, are more willing to let a few million

slide if they can play with a teammate of Manning’s caliber.

Elway’s successful pursuit of the four-time MVP ended up as the

story of last offseason. Manning lived up to the hype, throwing for

37 touchdowns and 4,659 yards. But Denver lost to Baltimore in the

divisional round of the playoffs. That, plus the reality that no

roster remains the same from year to year in the NFL, put Elway on

the clock again this year.

He treated free agency like one of his patented two-minute


”It was quick,” said guard Louis Vasquez, who had a contract

with Denver only hours after the signing period began Tuesday. ”I

didn’t expect it to go as fast as it did.”

Welker, who has 768 career receptions for 8,580 yards and 38

touchdowns, was Denver’s biggest signing. The former New England

slot receiver is moving to Denver after his former team, the

Patriots, offered him $10 million over the same timeframe.

No umbrage taken, Welker insisted, though he made a point of

saying he’ll miss Tom Brady.

”I’d definitely like to thank New England for the six years

there, all the trust and everything they put in me,” Welker said.

”As free agency kind of went on, I kind of got the feeling that it

was time to start looking for other opportunities. Denver, I felt,

would be a great fit for me.”

The other Bronco signings this week:

-Vazquez, four years, $23.5 million.

-Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, two years, $4.5


-Linebacker Stewart Bradley, one year, $1.2 million.

-Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one year, $5


Also in their free agent flurry, the Broncos brought back safety

David Bruton (three years, $4.5 million) and defensive tackle Kevin

Vickerson (two years, $5 million). Add the franchise tag the

Broncos put on tackle Ryan Clady for $9.8 million and the team has

spent $65.5 million this offseason.

For many of the free agents, the temptation of winning a Super

Bowl, combined with the Elway-Manning connection, was too good to

pass up.

”You grow up watching these guys and then you actually have a

chance to play for one of the greats and play under one of the top

ones, too,” Vasquez said. ”It’s like a childhood dream. If

somebody would have told me 10 years ago, `Hey, you’re going to be

a Denver Bronco playing for John Elway and Peyton Manning,’ I

would’ve said, `You’re out of your mind.”’

Elway’s most delicate task of free agency still remains. The

Broncos have asked defensive end Elvis Dumervil to take a cut from

the $12 million owed to him this season. If no move is made before

the weekend, Denver will likely release him.

That decision will help shape the team’s preparation for the


The Broncos are still in the market for a big running back and

possibly a safety, along with more depth on both lines.

Regardless of how the draft pans out, the Broncos and Elway came

out of the early stages of free agency looking very much like


”None of it’s easy when you’re dealing with people and the

selection of human talent,” coach John Fox said. ”I think it’s

like anything else – the harder you work at it, the better you

usually do.”

AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to

this report.