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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
A Denver Broncos public-relations staffer had already said, "Last question," and head coach John Fox had already answered it. It looked as if the season-ending press conference for Fox and executive vice president John Elway was over.
Then, Elway piped up.
"And I'll say one thing," Elway interjected, and he was on with a rambling statement that was part reflection, part assessment and part manifesto for the next 12 months.
"I kind of get the sense that these questions are about 'How are we going to overcome this?' Well, the bottom line is, 'Sure. It's not even 48 hours away from the game.' But I will tell you this: right now the focus is on what happened instead of how we got there and what we did this year, what we went through as a team," he said.
In the course of his 326-word statement, he expressed his pride in the team's performance this season, acknowledged there are "some changes" to be made, but sounded a similar tone to the one he struck a year ago after the divisional-round loss to Baltimore, to use the 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII thumping as motivational fuel to succeed in the future where they failed in the past.
"The thing is, we can use that as a game that, 'OK, we now know what it's like to be there, now we're going to use that as the experience of we've been there,'" Elway said, "but we've got to start with step one again and start with the offseason program.
"We will use this as an experience that we went through, be disappointed that we didn't play better, but the bottom line is this organization and what (owner) Pat Bowlen wants from this organization -- that has not changed and it will not change. The bottom line is we're going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be world champions and we're going to do everything we can to get there."
The first thing the Broncos will have to do is heal the mental damage and prevent the hangover that a loss like that can leave on an organization. As they do that, they will have to retool the roster, as salary considerations will prevent them from keeping the entire team together for a run at another AFC championship.
Of the potential free agents, the most prominent are wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Knowshon Moreno and left guard Zane Beadles.
Among those three, Decker is the only one for whom there is not an obvious in-house replacement. Moreno could be replaced by 2013 second-round pick Montee Ball, who improved dramatically in the second half of the season. Beadles could be replaced by Orlando Franklin, a former college left guard; that would free Chris Clark to start at right tackle after a successful 2013 season filling in for injured left tackle Ryan Clady. But the Broncos would likely have to dip into the free-agent waters to potentially replace Decker, who appears to be the most productive free-agent wide receiver on the market.
"I would love to play here. Unfortunately, that's something that isn't always in my control," said Decker.
"Yeah, I'm a Bronco," said Moreno, who had a breakthrough season in 2013 and was fourth among NFL running backs in yards from scrimmage. "We'll see what happens in the offseason and hopefully I'm still here with this team."
Beadles didn't tip his hand as to what he prefers, deferring instead to his agent.
He said, "I'll let him do the business. I'm very close with him and he knows where my heart is and what I'm looking for, and he'll come to me with something when he thinks it's the right time, and we'll go from there."
The potential loss of other free agents could alter the complexion of the team. Changes are coming. But in spite of Sunday's play, as long as they keep quarterback Peyton Manning upright and he keeps finding open receivers, their championship window should remain open.
"You're not going to go into any offseason, looking at your roster saying, 'I'm good everywhere.' There are going to always be places that we need to continue to mold and work," Elway said. "But ... the better you get, the tougher the decisions. And so we welcome the decisions because we've got a lot of good football players."
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--The Denver Post reported that Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio signed a new, two-year contract with the team.
Said executive vice president of football operations John Elway. "Jack did a nice job with our defense. "We had a lot of injuries on that defensive side and Jack did a good job holding that side together. Even in the Super Bowl, our defense kept us in the game in the first half."
--To some Broncos, the demolition in Super Bowl XLVIII revealed something lacking in desire and effort.
"You could tell (the Seahawks) wanted it way more than us," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie told The Denver Post. "They were not going to take a loss. They definitely came out and punched us around."
But executive vice president John Elway described such assessments as "a way out."
"I disagree with the statement," he said. "They looked like they wanted it more, but I don't think they wanted it any more than we wanted it. They just played better than we did."
--If the Broncos had lost a tight game instead of the 43-8 shellacking they suffered in Super Bowl XLVIII, they might have been muttering about the what-ifs that came with having six defensive starters -- and seven overall -- on injured reserve by the time they faced the Seahawks.
But that didn't stop the injured players, nearly all of whom were on the Broncos sideline, from aching as the deficit mounted, believing that somehow they could have made a difference.
"It was very emotional, very emotional. I couldn't hold back some of my tears pregame," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. "I think it was just wanting to play, wanting to be there, wanting to be out there with the guys.
"I had no outcome to do with the game and that's the part where you want to do something to change that, where you know I could play, do something better to help the team. But I'm on IR so it wasn't in my situation to do anything right now."
Nearly all of the injured starters are expected back. Five of the seven, including Vickerson, are under contract for next year; the only exceptions are middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was injured in a preseason loss at Seattle last Aug. 17, and cornerback Chris Harris, who is due to become a restricted free agent.
--The Seahawks became the fifth team in history to win the Super Bowl by 30 or more points. Seattle's 35-point win tied Dallas for the third-largest margin of victory. The Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
The Broncos are no stranger to Super Bowl blowouts. San Francisco's 55-10 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV represents the largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history.
In addition, the Broncos lost to the Washington Redskins 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII, meaning Denver has been the loser in three of the five worst Super Bowl losses.
The Broncos also became the only team in history to lose five Super Bowls and they have lost those games by a combined score of 206-58. Denver also lost Super Bowl X to Dallas, 27-10 and Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants, 39-20.
Only three NFL teams now have four Super Bowl losses: New England, 3-4; and Buffalo and Minnesota, 0-4.
--Manning had two interceptions and a lost fumble as the Broncos totaled four turnovers to Seattle's none. Super Bowl teams with the fewest turnovers are now 36-3 and those that score a touchdown on an interception return are 12-0.
Asked what the Seahawks did to disrupt their offense, Broncos coach John Fox said, "There is a reason why they were the No. 1 team in defense during the season. Give them credit. They had a lot to do with it; with a combination of coverage and rush."
--The tone was set with the fastest score in Super Bowl history, when center Manny Ramirez fired the snap over and past Peyton Manning for a safety just 12 seconds into the contest.
Stunningly, the Broncos cited the noise from the Seahawks fans in the neutral venue as a reason for the mistimed snap. Seattle's fans did not appear to have the advantage in numbers, but did have the vocal edge from the beginning.
"None of us heard the snap count," Ramirez said. "I thought I did and when I snapped it, I guess Peyton (Manning) was actually trying to walk up to me at the time, I'm not 100 percent sure."
"It was a cadence issue," said Manning. "We were using the snap count on the play and due to the noise, no one could hear me. So really, I was walking up to the line of scrimmage to sort of make a change and get us on the same page. And then the ball was snapped."
At that point, it whizzed beyond the quarterback's grasp, skipped into the end zone and resulted in the safety that put the Broncos behind to stay.
"Really, just an overall (mistake)," Manning said. "Nobody's fault, not Manny's fault. Just a noise issue that really caused that play to happen."
And as a result, the team that trailed for an average of just 10 minutes, 45 seconds per game and had not trailed at all in 52 days would spend all but 12 seconds with a deficit.
--The end of the game and the season reignited questions about cornerback Champ Bailey's future with the Broncos.
Bailey is due to make $10 million next season, and the Broncos are expected to try and restructure his deal, as they did with then-16-year safety Brian Dawkins in 2011 for what was ultimately his final season.
"One thing I do know is no team stays the same," Bailey said. "There will be changes made. We'll see. I'll just play it by ear. It's definitely not any player's call. It's just one of those things you've got to wait and see."
A full conversion to safety -- or perhaps a hybrid role in which he plays free safety in the base package and moves to slot cornerback in the nickel and dime alignments -- could be a condition of his return. Bailey has resisted the idea before, but seemed more open to it after Sunday's game, perhaps because the reality of the possibility has never been more clear.
"Absolutely, if it makes sense. It just has to be the right situation and if it's something I want to do," he said. "I don't need this job, but I definitely want it. So it's something I'll definitely look into."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not over them yet. I just add this one to it." -- Executive vice president John Elway, on how long it's taken him to get over the three Super Bowl losses he suffered as a player.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--WR Eric Decker was silent in the Super Bowl, catching just one pass. The Broncos are expected to re-sign Decker after consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, but may not be able to afford to sign Decker to a long-term deal, with Demaryius Thomas also due for a new contract a year from now.
--LG Zane Beadles could be one of the toughest calls for the Broncos in free agency. Beadles earned a Pro Bowl nod after the 2012 season, but his contract expires, and he could command a high price on the market.
--RB Montee Ball could be in line to start next season if Knowshon Moreno departs in free agency. Ball averaged 0.4 more yards per carry than Moreno and became an effective relief option late in the season, although he struggled in the Super Bowl, gaining just one yard on six carries.
--RT Orlando Franklin could be on the move if Zane Beadles leaves in free agency. The return of Ryan Clady and Chris Clark's solid performance as Clady's fill-in in 2013 could spur a chain reaction that shifts Franklin to left guard, a position he played in college, if the Broncos do not re-sign Beadles.
--QB Brock Osweiler is still regarded as the quarterback of the future, but quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp acknowledged that there is no way to know whether he can eventually handle the starter's role until he sees extended action. Osweiler has been limited to spot duty in his first two seasons.
--DE Shaun Phillips re-emerged with a team-leading 10 sacks in 2013 and could return, at the right price. Phillips signed a one-year contract last year after the Chargers did not re-sign him, and helped the defense endure the suspension and eventual season-ending injury to Von Miller.
--LB Wesley Woodyard is due to become a free agent, and might be headed elsewhere if he is given the chance to start. Woodyard was relegated to passing-down duty in the last two months after working as an every-down linebacker when healthy in the previous 28 regular-season games.
--S Mike Adams' contract expires, and the Broncos could bring him back -- but at the right price, and not necessarily with a guarantee of a starting job. Adams lost his first-team position to Duke Ihenacho in the preseason, but then regained it when Rahim Moore was lost to compartment syndrome.
--CB Champ Bailey faces the likelihood of a contract restructure and a potential position shift. Bailey is due to earn $10 million next season and with his declining speed, could be moved to safety. He expressed his willingness to be shifted if asked when the subject arose during a press conference after the Super Bowl.
--G Chris Kuper may have played his last game with the Broncos. Kuper only started one game this year and played under a restructured contract, nearly two years after fracturing his ankle in the 2011 regular-season finale on Jan. 1, 2012. Kuper's salaries for the next two years of $5 and $5.5 million, respectively, are not guaranteed.
--CB Chris Harris will undergo surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 6. With less than six months before training camp, Harris' status for the summer is up in the air.
--LB Von Miller should be ready for the start of the regular season after suffering a torn ACL and undergoing surgery. Miller's rehabilitation will likely keep him out of OTAs and minicamp.
--DT Kevin Vickerson is two months into his rehabilitation from a hip injury suffered against the Patriots on Nov. 24. Vickerson expects to be ready by OTAs in May.
--S Rahim Moore never recovered from compartment syndrome in time to be restored to the active roster. The Broncos used the recallable injured reserve designation on him after he was hospitalized following the Nov. 17 win over the Chiefs.
--T Ryan Clady is progressing in his recovery from a Lisfranc injury and is expected to be ready for the 2014 season. Clady missed all but two games last season after suffering the injury in Week 2.
--RB Knowshon Moreno said his back injury suffered in Super Bowl XLVIII has "eased up" and is "feeling better," but he was not sure about his future as free agency looms. "Hopefully, I'm still here," he said.
S Mike Adams
DE Robert Ayers
G Zane Beadles
WR Andre Caldwell
WR Eric Decker
G Chris Kuper
LB Paris Lenon
RB Knowshon Moreno
DE Shaun Phillips
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
LB Wesley Woodyard
QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Peyton Manning. Backups - Brock Osweiler, Zac Dysert.
A bad performance in Super Bowl XLVIII doesn't necessarily hinder Manning's legacy, but it denied him a chance to add to it after a season in which he set league records for passing yardage and completions. Manning turns 38 in the spring, but if the Broncos can keep him upright and healthy, he should be in line for another stellar statistical season. Osweiler is still considered the quarterback of the future; the question now is whether that future comes before his first contract, a four-year deal, runs out in 2015. Dysert ran the scout team this year and will be asked to push Osweiler in OTAs and training camp this summer.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Julius Thomas. Backups - Jacob Tamme, Virgil Green, Joel Dreessen.
Thomas was a revelation in his first season as a starter, earning a Pro Bowl selection and breaking Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe's club record for touchdown catches by a tight end. If he improves his blocking, the former college basketball standout will be in the game's elite. Tamme was more valuable on special teams, but filled in ably as a receiving target when Thomas was injured in November. Green remains a blocking-first backup who plays mostly in two-tight end sets. Dreessen was inactive throughout the postseason and could be a salary-cap casualty; he caught just seven passes in 2012.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker. Backups - Andre Caldwell, Trindon Holliday.
Thomas was the most dominant of the trio; all caught at least 10 touchdown passes, but Thomas continues to use his size well and ended up with 14 touchdowns and a 15.5-yards-per-catch average. Decker had a second consecutive 1,000-yard season, finishing with 1,288 on 87 receptions, but was ineffective in the Super Bowl, catching just one pass, and the pending free agent could be deemed expendable as the Broncos try and get Thomas signed to a long-term deal before his rookie contract expires next year. Welker was effective when he wasn't struggling with concussions, and the Broncos' third-down offense suffered when he wasn't playing. Welker would have been hard-pressed to match his usual 100-catch form even if he had played a full season, and he finished with his lowest reception total (73) since before he joined the Patriots. Caldwell saw extended action while Welker was injured, but his contract is expiring and he may want to test free agency. Holliday was seldom used beyond his special-teams role.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Knowshon Moreno. Backups - Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman.
Moreno established himself as a first-rate starter; he finished fourth among NFL running backs and fifth overall with 1,586 yards from scrimmage, the most for a Broncos running back since Clinton Portis in 2003. Moreno was a perfect fit for the offense, but the Broncos don't want to overpay for his services, and could lose the six-year veteran in free agency. The late-season emergence of Ball would ease the blow if Moreno leaves; he improved as a blocker and averaged more yardage per carry than Moreno (4.7 to 4.3). Ronnie Hillman did not play in nine of 19 overall games and was barely used after a goal-line fumble at Indianapolis in Week 7; he has regressed and will have to fight for his job this summer. C.J. Anderson showed promise after assuming Hillman's role on the game-day active roster and could expand his role next year.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Chris Clark, LG Zane Beadles, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Orlando Franklin. Backups - C Steve Vallos, G Chris Kuper, OT Winston Justice, OT Vinston Painter. Injured reserve: LT Ryan Clady, C Dan Koppen.
Clark stepped in when Clady suffered a Lisfranc injury, showed that he could handle a starting role and earned a contract extension. Beadles was not as effective as he was during his Pro Bowl 2012 season, but should attract plenty of interest in free agency. Ramirez emerged as the survivor of an injury-strewn competition at center and played the best football of his career, also earning a contract extension. Ramirez might not have emerged without the arrival of Vasquez, who was arguably the Broncos' best free-agent pickup last year and became the first first-team All-Pro guard in club history. Franklin might be moved to left guard if Beadles departs, and had a solid season at right tackle sullied by a bad Super Bowl performance. Vallos played late in Super Bowl XLVIII after establishing himself as the backup center, beating out the waived J.D. Walton and preseason cut Ryan Lilja. Kuper hasn't been the same since fracturing his ankle on Jan. 1, 2012 and could be headed for retirement. Justice was an insurance policy that the Broncos only used briefly in October. Painter is a project who spent most of the season on the practice squad, but was promoted during the postseason and will be a candidate to be the top backup tackle next year. Clady is expected back after missing the last 14 games of the season with a Lisfranc injury. Koppen, a veteran re-signed late in the offseason, may have played his last NFL game after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during training camp.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LDE Malik Jackson, RDE Shaun Phillips, DT Sylvester Williams, NT Terrance Knighton. Backups - DE Robert Ayers, DE Jeremy Mincey, DT Mitch Unrein, DT Sione Fua. Injured reserve: DE Quanterus Smith, DT Kevin Vickerson, DE Derek Wolfe.
Jackson and Phillips were forced into greater emphasis than expected, and responded, finishing one-two on the team in sacks. The Broncos hope to re-sign Phillips, and could keep Jackson in his extensive role rotating between the inside and outside in 2014, a role that belonged to Wolfe before he was lost for the season after suffering symptoms consistent with a seizure on Nov. 29. Williams developed well alongside Knighton, who became a force as the season progressed and was a primary reason why opponents averaged less than four yards a carry. Ayers played extensively in a rotational role, although he lost contain repeatedly in the Super Bowl and is a free agent. Mincey was signed late in the season for depth and could opt to re-sign with the Broncos; he had a sack in the playoff win over the Chargers. Unrein was the primary backup tackle after Vickerson was lost to a season-ending hip injury. The Broncos have high hopes for Smith as an edge rusher, but the reason why he dropped from a potential first-round pick to the fifth round, a torn ACL, is why he spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - WLB Danny Trevathan, MLB Paris Lenon, SLB Nate Irving. Backups - Wesley Woodyard, Steven Johnson, Brandon Marshall. Injured reserve: Stewart Bradley, Von Miller, Lerentee McCray.
It was a rough year for this unit. Miller missed six games to a substance-abuse suspension, was inconsistent after returning at the highest playing weight of his career and then tore an ACL in Week 16 at Houston, thrusting him into an offseason of rehabilitation. The Broncos made do with replacements who had part, but not all, of Miller's skill set against the run and in the pass rush. Irving showed promise at times and had the best game of his career at the Super Bowl; he could get a chance to work in the middle, with the 36-year-old Lenon viewed as a stopgap for 2013 after Woodyard faltered following a move from the weak side. Woodyard's initial move thrust Trevathan into the every-down weak-side role, and he responded by leading the team in tackles, interceptions and tackles for losses. Johnson and Marshall worked mostly on special teams. Bradley was working on the first team at middle linebacker when he suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the preseason; he was on a one-year contract. McCray showed promise as an all-around linebacker and special-teamer before suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason finale. His skill set meshes nicely with Miller's as a potential backup, and he could push for playing time next season.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Champ Bailey, RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Duke Ihenacho, FS Mike Adams. Backups -- CB Tony Carter, CB Kayvon Webster, CB Marquice Cole, CB Quentin Jammer, S David Bruton, S Omar Bolden, S Michael Huff. Injured reserve: CB Chris Harris, S Rahim Moore, S Quinton Carter.
Bailey's sprained foot, suffered in a preseason loss at Seattle, set the tone for a unit that rarely looked as it was intended. Bailey recovered to play well in the AFC Championship Game, but struggled in the Super Bowl and faces a potential move to safety -- and a substantial pay cut. Rodgers-Cromartie made the most of his one-year, prove-it contract; he will attract keen interest on the market if the Broncos don't re-sign him. Ihenacho earned a starting job with a penchant for big hits and plays in the preseason, but struggled at times in the regular season and lost playing time to Bolden, Bruton and Huff at times late in the regular season. Moore was lost for the season to compartment syndrome in his leg after the Week 11 win over the Chiefs. Bolden was moved from cornerback to safety in the preseason and had the usual ups and downs of a young player making a position transition. Adams provided a steadying hand at safety, and the Broncos could try to bring the free agent back, if the price is right. Tony Carter started the season as the third cornerback, lost the job, then got it back for the AFC Championship Game, but struggled in the Super Bowl and committed a pass-interference penalty on a third down that cost the Broncos 14 points. Webster and Harris could be the future at cornerback; Harris flourished in an every-down role before tearing his ACL in the playoff win over San Diego, and Webster was solid before suffering a fractured thumb in Week 15. Jammer and Cole were veterans added for depth in the offseason and postseason, respectively. The recoveries of 2011 draft picks Moore and Quinton Carter will be interesting; the two have not played together extensively, even though they were 2011 draft picks. Carter, in particular, has not been healthy since the 2011 divisional playoffs, and might be down to his last shot to return to health after two years of knee problems.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Matt Prater, P Britton Colquitt, KOR Trindon Holliday, PR Eric Decker.
Prater missed just one placekick in the entire season and earned a Pro Bowl nod. He was solid on kickoffs, but a short kickoff in Super Bowl XLVIII led to Percy Harvin's 87-yard return for a touchdown that virtually clinched the game. Colquitt had fewer touchbacks than he did in 2012, but his net average dropped by 3.3 yards and he had a lower percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line after he was given a contract making him the NFL's highest-paid punter. Holliday had two touchdowns early in the season, but was eventually removed from punt-return duties after a spate of fumbles. Decker, Holliday's fill-in on punt returns, would have had a playoff touchdown if he had not tripped over nothing but air against San Diego in the divisional round.