NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
Four months have passed since the Broncos' double-overtime loss to the Ravens in the divisional playoffs, and some fans still aren't over it -- particularly one gaffe that looms over the Broncos in the way Earnest Byner's goal-line fumble at old Mile High Stadium lingered over the Browns a quarter-century ago.
Rahim Moore knows this better than anyone. His misplay led directly to Jacoby Jones' game-tying touchdown catch in the final minute of regulation. Whenever the third-year safety's name is mentioned by Broncos fans, his inability to keep Jones in front of him rather than making a leaping attempt at Joe Flacco's pass usually arises within seconds.
Sometimes, Moore will be going about his daily business, walking down the street, in a shopping mall or through an airport terminal, and he'll hear the comments.
"Just from random people, anybody, you know?" Moore said. "I hear them, but I just keep walking. Or I just keep them in the back of my head."
Moore found a more supportive environment in the Broncos' locker room and NFL circles, where players reached out to him and texted him. Moore said that Steelers safety Ryan Clark sent a text message to him Sunday, and that former teammate Brian Dawkins has been in touch with him over the last few months.
"(Dawkins) told me some plays he went through that he can regret from back in his Philly days. He said it's part of life. So, it's part of being a football player," Moore said. "There's so many good football players out there that there's going to be some good and some bad (plays). But you try to make as much good out of it as I can."
Teammates and coaches pointed to Moore as the Broncos' most improved defensive player last year; he overcame a frustrating rookie season in which he was ineffective and eventually benched in favor of fellow 2011 draft pick Quinton Carter. By the end of the 2012 regular season, Moore seemed to have left his rookie troubles behind him, playing confident and error-free football for most of the season.
Then came the playoffs, and a foul-up at the worst possible time -- and the inevitable, question: will that one play negate all his progress and lead to a regression? As he put on a helmet to practice for the first time since January, that question lingered -- although it wasn't an issue inside the locker room.
"He's good. The only people that talk about it is you guys," cornerback Champ Bailey said, referring to the media gathered for his post-practice press conference. "Nobody really pays attention to that. It's in the past. There's nothing you can really do about that. Just move on. That really shows what type of character you have."
Moore spent much of his offseason to this point doing what he did last year: studying tape. A year ago, he dissected every snap he played, focusing on the myriad plays where he messed up. This year, he again focused on the plays he didn't do well, but tried to sprinkle in some well-executed moments.
"Sometimes when you look at too many bad plays, you get bad thoughts. You want to keep good thoughts in your mind, so you want to mix in some good things," Moore said. "Sometimes the good plays you make you can make them a little better. You can fix a few technique areas and things like that."
And although he flourished in pass coverage until the playoffs, there's not one area in which he's satisfied.
"There's nothing in particular that you look at and say, this needs to get better," Moore said. "Everything needs to get better. I'm not perfect."
That's a point that was hammered home in January. The Broncos don't need perfect; what they need is for Moore to avoid making the one big mistake.
--Running back Willis McGahee was the only player not accounted for when the Broncos held their first organized team activity of 2013 on Monday. McGahee also missed some OTA time last year, so the absence didn't concern coach John Fox much.
"Not really. This is a voluntary camp," Fox said. "A lot of guys have certain offseason-type things, and it's been that way for us since they've been with our team. But we're very pleased and happy with what we've got as far as turnout-wise."
Several other Broncos were injured, but on hand on the sideline Monday. That group included center J.D. Walton, guard Chris Kuper, safety Quinton Carter and rookie defensive end Quanterus Smith. Linebacker Joe Mays and running back Knowshon Moreno were limited to individual drills.
The other prominent absence Monday was left tackle Ryan Clady, who has not signed his franchise tender.
Fox was otherwise happy with those who did show up at the first practice of OTAs.
"I thought excellent," he said when asked how it went. "It was the first time we've gotten to go against each other, offense and defense. We had a great team meeting today, kind of defining how Phase Three is supposed to operate. I thought it was very crisp. Guys' attitudes were great, their work ethic was great and it was a good first day all-in-all."
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--Coach John Fox was asked to compare quarterback Peyton Manning last year against this year.
"It seems to me he's way more comfortable," Fox said. "A year ago, he didn't play the year before, he played in another city. He's since then moved to a new city, gotten familiar with his teammates and I think felt a lot more confident about his abilities. I think he showed that a year ago and I think he'll just build on that this year."
--Meantime, the Broncos' pursuit of former Raiders and Packers defensive back Charles Woodson is in a holding pattern while Woodson prepares to visit Oakland this week.
Denver hosted Woodson at team headquarters last week, where Peyton Manning said he was able to visit with Woodson. The two have a historical connection; Woodson became the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy in 1997, beating out Manning, then a senior at the University of Tennessee.
"I know there's the business side of it that comes into play, but there's no question that any time you can add good football players at any position, I think that's always a good thing," Manning said.
Woodson would be expected to push starters Rahim Moore and Mike Adams for playing time, and would likely be a good bet to supplant one of them if he joins the Broncos. His potential arrival doesn't leave Moore worried.
"I was excited. I was actually hoping that we get him because I'm all about competition," Moore said. "I'm going to learn everything that he does and I'm going to compete like as if he's been here since I've been here."
To cornerback Champ Bailey, the move seems obvious, if the Broncos can make it happen.
"Why wouldn't you take a chance on a guy that has done what he's done in his career?" Bailey said.
--While the Denver Broncos were willing to stick out Peyton Manning's neck in terms of guaranteeing him $20 million in 2014, the team is covered by insurance if he is unable to play due to any other injury.
That is the simplified essence of the so-called "renegotiation" announced in the NFL's official transaction log -- the inclusion of an insurance policy that takes the Broncos off the hook for 2014 for an injury not related to his neck.
But if that happens, the team will get some salary-cap relief. Denver submitted the contract with revised language to the NFL on Thursday. Manning's salary and salary-cap numbers do not change, if he is healthy.
"It has no effect on the financial aspects of Peyton's contract, and it was expected once the guarantee came into play," said Manning's agent Tom Condon. "They'd certainly want to protect themselves in case of injury."
However, the change will help the team's salary-cap position should the insurance clause be invoked. An insurance payment would be considered a "refund from the player," and would not count against the cap. However, the cost of the insurance policy might count against the cap.
This insurance situation is covered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, under Article 13, Section 6, Rule IV:
"In the event that a Club receives a refund from the player of any previously-paid Salary ... such amount as has previously been included in Team Salary shall be credited to the Club's Team Salary for the next League Year ... Insurance proceeds received by a Team as beneficiary to cover the player's inability to perform services required by his Player Contract shall be deemed a "refund from the player" if (a) the Club or the player purchased the policy (b) the amounts covered by the policy are so specified in the Player Contract; and (c) the policy is made available for inspection upon request by the NFL or the NFLPA."
When Manning signed with Denver in 2012, his $20 million salaries in 2013 and 2014 were guaranteed, but 2014 could be voided if Manning injured his neck in 2013. Manning, who turned 37 in March, is signed through 2016. However, each of the final two years of his contract could be voided if the team cuts him before the league year begins.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Keep me young? Let me know what keeps me young, because I haven't figured that out yet. They just keep me on my toes, definitely." -- Cornerback Champ Bailey, dismissing the notion that practicing against Denver's complement of receivers keeps him young as he heads into his 15th season.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Broncos' picks:
Round 1/28 -- Sylvester Wiliams, DT, 6-3, 313, North Carolina
The Broncos were surprised that Williams fell to them, but when he did, they declined trade offers and pounced. He continues John Elway's trend of leading off with a pass rusher; he opened the 2011 draft with Von Miller, who lines up at defensive end half the time, and picked defensive tackle/end Derek Wolfe with his first pick last year. Williams, who had six sacks and 25 pressures last year, will likely back up Terrance Knighton and Kevin Vickerson right away, but could be worked into the Broncos' sub packages to boost the interior pass rush and take pressure off Miller.
Round 2/58 -- Montee Ball, RB, 5-10, 217, Wisconsin
Four days after declaring Willis McGahee the "big back" and Ronnie Hillman the "change of pace back," Elway and Fox drafted Ball, and immediately dubbed him the "three-down back." The all-time leader in touchdowns among Division I backs, Ball proved remarkably durable in spite of a massive workload. His arrival puts last year's team-leading rushers, McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, on notice. Although the Broncos don't have to cut one of them immediately, one won't be on the roster when the 2013 season begins, and whoever remains might be as insurance in case Ball falters.
Round 3/90 -- Kayvon Webster, CB, 5-10, 197, South Florida
With Champ Bailey turning 35 and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year deal, the Broncos needed to cultivate a younger option. They hope they found it in Webster, a fast cornerback who ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the Combine. Webster is raw and unlikely to be anything more than a fourth or fifth cornerback this year, but could have a more prominent role in 2014.
Round 5/146 -- Quanterus Smith, DE, 6-5, 250, Western Kentucky
After trading out of the fourth round for fifth- and sixth-round picks, the Broncos still managed to get Smith, who they targeted as a potential pass-rush replacement for Elvis Dumervil, whose 250-pound weight is the same as Smith's. Smith led Division I with 12.5 sacks before tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in November; that injury will keep him out until the start of training camp and might hold back his development. Three of Smith's sacks last year came against Alabama, when he was lined up against No. 11 overall pick D.J. Fluker.
Round 5/161 -- Tavarres King, WR, 6-0, 189, Georgia
The Broncos have little depth at wide receiver behind the starting troika of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, so they had to emerge from the draft with at least one receiver. In King, the Broncos add a vertical threat who got enough separation to average 22.6 yards per reception, but who also needs work to refine his route-running and pass-catching skills in traffic. King will have the chance to be the primary backup at the outside spots to Decker and Thomas.
Round 6/173 -- Vinston Painter, OT, 6-6, 309, Virginia Tech
Painter only started one season for the Hokies, but the Broncos were enamored with his strong Combine workout, in which he finished among the top five offensive linemen in the bench press, vertical jump and 40-yard dash. Painter is a converted defensive lineman who will likely back up at right tackle. He could also get a look as a reserve guard.
Round 7/234 -- Zac Dysert, QB, 6-3, 228, Miami (Ohio)
One year after drafting their anointed quarterback of the future in Brock Osweiler, the Broncos might have found his potential backup in Dysert. Questions about accuracy -- particularly a high interception ratio -- and hand size helped knock Dysert down to the last round, even though he broke most of Ben Roethlisberger's records at Miami. A torn hamstring injury kept Dysert from working out fully in recent months, but he said he's "100 percent" and will be ready for rookie camp, which begins May 10.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: T Ryan Clady (tendered at $9.828 million).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (6)
--DT Justin Bannan is not expected to return after the Broncos signed Terrance Knighton from Jacksonville to play alongside Kevin Vickerson. Bannan started throughout the season in his return to Denver after spending 2011 with the Rams.
--LB Keith Brooking appears unlikely to return. The 37-year-old middle linebacker stepped into the starting lineup in place of Joe Mays in Week 6 and stayed there the rest of the season, but the Broncos want to take a look at younger options.
--C Dan Koppen is not expected to return if he finds a suitor willing to give him a starting job. Koppen filled in for the injured J.D. Walton at center for the last 12 regular-season games of 2012 and proved he could handle first-team duties, but Broncos coach John Fox declared Walton would "definitely" be the first-teamer when training camp began.
--WR Brandon Stokley is unlikely to return after the Broncos signed ex-Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker. Stokley, a resident of nearby Castle Rock, Colo. admitted to The Denver Post that adding Welker was a "great move," even if it meant the end of his Broncos tenure -- and his career with it.
--DT Ty Warren is expected to retire after missing the last 15 games of 2012 with a torn triceps muscle. A hip and two triceps injuries have limited him to just one regular-season games since 2010.
--WR Matt Willis could return, but the Broncos could look elsewhere for receiving depth as his career has failed to take flight as hoped. Willis, who turns 29 in April, has just 29 catches since joining the Broncos as a practice-squad member in 2008, but has survived three coaching changes in that span.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--QB Zac Dysert (7/234): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Lance Ball: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--S David Bruton: Potential UFA; $4.5M/3 yrs, $1.2M guaranteed.
--CB Tony Carter: ERFA; terms unknown.
--OT Chris Clark: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--P Britton Colquitt: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation; $1.323M/1 yr.
--DT Mitch Unrein: ERFA; $555,000/1 yr.
--DT Kevin Vickerson: UFA; $5M/2 yrs, $1M guaranteed.
--LB Stewart Bradley: FA Cardinals; $1.2M/1 yr, $300,000 guaranteed.
--DT Terrance Knighton: UFA Jaguars; $4.5M/2 yrs, $500,000 guaranteed.
--LB Shaun Phillips: UFA Chargers; $1M/1 yr.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: UFA Eagles; $5M/1 yr, $5M guaranteed.
--G Louis Vasquez: UFA Chargers; $23.5M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$13M guaranteed.
--WR Wes Welker: UFA Patriots; $12M/2 yrs, $12M guaranteed/$6M fully guaranteed.
--DE Elvis Dumervil (released).
--FB Chris Gronkowski: Not tendered as RFA/Chargers; terms unknown
--QB Caleb Hanie (released).
--DE Jason Hunter: UFA Raiders; terms unknown.
--S Jim Leonhard: UFA Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Tracy Porter: UFA Raiders; $2.5M/1 yr.
--LB D.J. Williams (released).