It came in the form of a 43-8 victory over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
For many, that nationally televised cave-in wiped away all of the touchdowns, league records and remember-when plays that the Broncos had assembled along the way. Because of that, the Broncos have moved through the offseason with questions about their mettle swirling around them.
That's what everyone wants to know, and it's a burden the Broncos carried as they took the field Thursday for their first training camp practice.
Make no mistake -- the Broncos like the team they have. And why not? Peyton Manning is back, as are the coaching staff and the guts of a roster that has gone 13-3 in back-to-back seasons.
As cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it, "Guys know what kind of team we have."
John Elway, the Broncos' general manager and executive vice president of football operations, was busy this offseason, signing high-profile free agents DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders.
"Are we a better football team on paper?" Elway asked. "I think we are. I feel good about the fact that we're a better football team with free agents that we signed, as well as the draft, as well as the young guys taking steps from last season."
Ware arrived from Dallas with 117 career sacks. Talib and Ward were named to the Pro Bowl last season.
"DeMarcus came in and walked in like he'd been here for 10 years, because that's the kind of guy that he is," Elway said. "You know the way that Aqib practices and the competitive nature that he has, and the mentality, the toughness that he brings."
The Broncos also have the likes of Harris Jr., Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson and Rahim Moore -- defensive players who finished the season on injured reserve -- back on the practice field. They've seen Manning look as good as ever, with his receivers saying the future Hall of Famer has had a little more on his fastball this spring.
They see a deep team with impact players they believe is tougher, a little more calloused by what has happened. But training camp is the season of sunshine and rainbows in the NFL. Always has been, always will be. Everyone arrives to camp happy and optimistic, touting the offseason changes in players or attitude, the new day or new era.
"I'm never getting too optimistic, because this thing changes so fast, and things can change on a dime," Elway said. "But I am excited about the team that we have on the field, I'm excited about the coaching staff that we have.
"So we're excited about getting started -- plus we can put last year behind us. As tremendous as last year was, obviously there's always a bitter taste in your mouth when it ends the way it ended. When we get out on the field, that officially ends the 2013 season. We can now get going on the 2014 season."
It's a season where the Broncos hope they can be the team that hands out the exclamation point.
It seems like a football eon ago that then-Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels sized up the potential AFC West race and called the San Diego Chargers “kind of the measuring stick.”
That statement came before the 2010 season as the Chargers had won the previous four division titles. It’s also right about the time the winds of change began to roar in earnest in the division, when the foundation was set for what has happened since.
The Kansas City Chiefs won the division in '10. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen fired McDaniels after a 4-12 season marred by Spygate and hired John Elway as the Broncos’ top football executive.
Since then, the Broncos have won three consecutive division titles, one featuring the national phenomenon that was a Tim Tebow-led read-option offense, and two with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. And the Broncos' crushing February Super Bowl loss notwithstanding, they are coming off a record-setting 2013 with Manning returning and a free-agency haul that included pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos are poised to be in the league’s championship conversation again.
The Chiefs think they are ready for more, the Chargers were the only team in the division to beat the Broncos last season, and the Oakland Raiders, after a flurry of offseason moves, believe -- at least LaMarr Woodley believes -- they can be a playoff team.
NFL Nation reporters Jeff Legwold (Broncos), Eric D. Williams (Chargers), Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Gutierrez (Raiders) look at how the AFC West division race will shake out this season.
What will the Broncos' record be and why?
Jeff Legwold: Look at the Broncos' depth chart, and on paper -- yes, the dreaded "on paper" distinction -- they are better than they were when they finished 13-3 and played their way into Super Bowl XLVIII last season. After the crushing loss in the title game, they didn't go quietly into the offseason. They put together a solid draft class with two potential immediate contributors in cornerback Bradley Roby and wide receiver Cody Latimer. They were also one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, reeling in Ware, Talib, Ward and Sanders. If Ware and Talib, in particular stay healthy (Talib has never played 16 games in a season), Denver's defense will be vastly improved alongside a record-breaking offense that figures to again pile up points. The Broncos finished with five defensive starters on injured reserve last season, and many of the players who were starting on defense down the stretch will be backups this season. Their trek through the NFC West to go with road games against the Patriots, Jets and Bengals gives them a potentially brutal schedule. They could be better than they were last season and not have the record to show for it. That is why 12-4 would be a quality piece of work.
Adam Teicher: 12-4. It's a bit much to expect the Broncos to match their 13-3 record of last season. A schedule that includes two games against the Chiefs and Chargers and singles against all teams from the NFC West plus New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati almost guarantees that Denver won't get to 13 wins. But a slightly diminished regular-season record doesn't mean the Broncos won't win the AFC or play in the Super Bowl again. From this vantage point, it's an upset if any team but the Broncos represents the AFC in the Super Bowl this season.
Paul Gutierrez: Sure, no one takes a Super Bowl beating like the Denver Broncos, whose five losses on Super Sunday are by a combined score of 206-58. But in the modern world of the rich getting richer, the defending AFC champs simply got better. Adding a trio of big-name free agents in Ware, Talib and Ward will only make the defense more sound. And the addition of Sanders, who will replace the departed Eric Decker, should help the Broncos' record-setting offense continue to hum along under the direction of Manning. The Broncos are primed for another division title with a 12-4 record, with tough games at Kansas City, at San Diego (the Chargers won in Denver last season), at New England (the Patriots won in OT last season) and at Seattle (remember that 43-8 pasting the Seahawks put on the Broncos in the Super Bowl?).
What will the Chiefs' record be and why?
Legwold: There is an air about this team; the Chiefs seem comfortable with where the roster was at the end of the 2013 season going into 2014. They were not all that active in free agency, though they took some swings at a wide receiver or two, including Emmanuel Sanders. If they are the team that went 9-0 before the bye last season, then standing pat is just fine, but if they are the group that went 2-5 down the stretch, then they are not catching the Broncos. They have shuffled the offensive line and seem likely to lean on running back Jamaal Charles again on offense, but they lack pop on the outside, especially if receiver A.J. Jenkins can't lift his game. The defense is solid in the front seven, but in a division with quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, cornerback Brandon Flowers' release might be the move that eventually stings the most, especially if young cornerback Marcus Cooper, a player Manning targeted repeatedly last season, is not up to the challenge. It all has the look of a step back from last season's 11-5 to 9-7 with the NFC West on everybody's schedule in the division.
Teicher: 8-8. Kansas City faltered down the stretch last season, winning two of its final eight games. The Chiefs then watched several significant regulars leave through free agency. The Chiefs have holes at wide receiver and in the defensive backfield that they failed to adequately address. That doesn't mean they won't be playoff contenders. Despite the lousy record, the Chiefs quietly finished last season as one of the NFL's better offensive teams. They might be able to score enough points to overcome a shaky defense that couldn't hold a 28-point lead in last season's playoff loss against Indianapolis.
Gutierrez: Are the Kansas City Chiefs the team that made history by becoming the first in NFL modern annals to follow up a two-victory season by winning its first nine games the following season, or are they the club that lost six of its last eight, including a heartbreaking 45-44 wild-card loss to the Indianapolis Colts? Momentum being what it is, and with the Chiefs having a so-so draft coupled with departures of the likes of Albert, defensive end Tyson Jackson and receiver/returner Dexter McCluster, plus a tough schedule, they seem to be on the way back down. As in a 7-9 record. Tough stretches that include games at Denver, against New England, at San Francisco and at San Diego early, and against Seattle, at Oakland, against Denver, at Arizona and at Pittsburgh late will truly tell the Chiefs' tale, even as Charles continues his ascent as one of the game's best all-around backs.
@adamteicher 9-7 would be a great accomplishment. Schedule is nails, but if OL gels and backend D is in place, it's doable. O will score— Lou Montagna (@LouMontagna) July 21, 2014
What will the Chargers' record be and why?
Legwold: In his first year as Chargers coach, Mike McCoy helped get quarterback Philip Rivers back on track -- though Rivers never really conceded to being off track -- and the Chargers were able to fight through injuries, hand the Broncos their only home loss of the season, and earn a playoff spot. McCoy figures to try to keep Rivers cocooned in a low-risk approach on offense -- their leading receivers in terms of catches last season were a tight end (Antonio Gates) and a running back (Danny Woodhead) -- with a heavy dose of starting running back Ryan Mathews if he can stay healthy. Defensively, new cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers should help the secondary. As they continue their makeover in the second year of the current regime, most personnel people in the league believe the Chargers are still lacking enough athleticism, especially on defense, to make a significant push in the division race. Add up four games against the NFC West to go with New England and Baltimore and it looks like a 7-9 campaign.
Teicher: 8-8. The Chargers might be the division's most interesting team. San Diego is the team most capable of catching the first-place Broncos, but also has the best chance of getting caught by the last-place Raiders. If Rivers plays as well as he did last season, it's not out of the question that San Diego wins the AFC West. Like Denver, San Diego might have a better team than it did last season. Signing Flowers filled a big need. But a tougher schedule will keep the Chargers out of the playoffs this time.
Gutierrez: San Diego, under a rookie head coach in the offensive-minded Mike McCoy, won four straight games to end the regular season and sneak into the playoffs at 9-7, and another 9-7 campaign seems to be in the works, even if the Chargers look to be better in 2014. Some of McCoy's moves did have many fans scratching their heads, but there is no debating he was instrumental in Rivers' NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning season. The Chargers added bruising running back Donald Brown to join lightning-quick Ryan Mathews and are excited to see what their receiving corps, highlighted by second-year wideout Keenan Allen, can do if Malcom Floyd is healthy. No, it's not the halcyon and high-flying days of Air Coryell, but with tough games at Arizona, Oakland, Denver, Baltimore and San Francisco, and with New England coming to San Diego, the Chargers will take it.
@eric_d_williams 11-5 & make the playoffs if we stay healthy, 9-7 & miss the playoffs if we don't. And we'll beat Denver.— Shea Duggan (@SDsportskid86) July 22, 2014
What will the Raiders' record be and why?
Legwold: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a potential foundation player in the Raiders defense. If things go as the Raiders hope, he should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year because he's going to get plenty of snaps. But overall this team has put its immediate fate in the hands of veterans with far less of their career in front of them than in their past, led by quarterback Matt Schaub. Raiders coach Dennis Allen keeps saying Schaub is a top-10 passer in the league, but Schaub has always seemed to lack that kind of confidence in himself. But front-seven additions LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew are certainly risk-reward moves the Raiders need to work. Tuck is 30, Woodley is 29 and Jones-Drew, who has missed 11 games combined in the past two seasons, just turned 29. The depth chart is still thin, particularly on defense, and an injury or two will have a ripple effect. The schedule's second half also includes two games against the Broncos, two against the Chiefs, and games against the 49ers and the Rams. It all looks like a potential 5-11.
Teicher: 6-10. The days of hopeless desperation are coming to an end in Oakland. The Raiders won't be the pushovers they were last season. But they are still not ready to compete with their AFC West rivals. Schaub won't be the answer at quarterback. Instead, he will be another in a long line of failures. Going to rookie quarterback Derek Carr won't solve their problems, at least not this season. By 2015, the Raiders will be a factor in the AFC West race. But despite a major free-agent spending spree, they will still drag the bottom in 2014.
Gutierrez: In the immediate aftermath of the NFL schedule being released back in April, I saw a 5-11 season for the Raiders. Now, after the draft, organized team activities and minicamps? I'll go 6-10. Doesn't sound all that impressive, I know, but it would, technically, be improvement for third-year coach Dennis Allen after consecutive 4-12 seasons. Yes, the Raiders did rebuild both lines with talent and, on the defensive side of the ball, championship pedigree. And they are going with a new quarterback in the battle-tested Schaub. Plus, the veterans Oakland brought in via free agency all have chips on their shoulders. Truly, this is the most talent Allen has had at his disposal. Still, Oakland has the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL, and until it proves differently, it's hard to imagine the Raiders winning more than six games. Where might they scratch out six victories? Let's start with home games against Houston, Miami (in London), San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City and Buffalo and go from there.
@PGutierrezESPN 8-8 because they have a tough schedule and with the talent they have will improve a bit..DA gets fired & Gruden in 2015— AK (@AaronK510) July 21, 2014
They signed two veterans, offensive tackle Ryan Harris and linebacker Josh Mauga. They released one rookie free agent, linebacker DeRon Furr, and placed another, running back James Baker, on the did not report to camp list.
The addition of Harris makes the most sense. The Chiefs aren't particularly deep at offensive tackle. Eric Fisher and Donald Stephenson are the starters. Veterans Jeff Linkenbach and J'Marcus Webb are the leading candidates to become the first tackle off the bench, so it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for the Chiefs if Harris wound up winning that job instead.
Thomas was excused until Monday by the Broncos' coaching staff to attend funeral services for his grandmother in Georgia. The Broncos Pro Bowl wide receiver did attend a team meeting Wednesday, shortly after he reported and took his arrival physical, as did the Broncos' other players.
On a morning radio appearance, Broncos head coach John Fox said Thomas "is where he needs to be, (our) prayers are with him."
Thomas has had back-to-back 90-catch, 1,400-yard seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback, and the Broncos are currently negotiating a long-term deal with Thomas' representatives.
Thomas is expected to return for practice Monday.
“Where do I park when I get there?” Carr sheepishly admitted.
Carr, the Raiders’ second-round draft pick out of Fresno State and QB of the future, found the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa’s players-only lot on Wednesday -- yes, he drove himself rather than ride the “rookie” bus from Alameda -- and, just like that, his future was kickstarted.
“I’m starting to learn how to be an NFL quarterback,” Carr told a cluster of reporters after checking in. “But I’ve still got a long way to go. So I’m just going to rely on my coaches and the team to help me get through my first camp.”
Carr has first-hand experience, so to speak, what with older brother David spending 11 years in the NFL after the Houston Texans made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2002.
In minicamp, Carr was elevated to second-string on Oakland’s depth chart, ahead of Matt McGloin and behind new starter Matt Schaub.
Ironically, it was Schaub who replaced the elder Carr in Houston and, if all goes according to plan in Oakland, the younger Carr will replace Schaub in the near future.
Schaub has been an accommodating mentor.
“Hopefully, Matt doesn’t get too annoyed at me for asking too many questions,” Carr said with a laugh. “Because I’m going to ask even more now. I’m going to try and pick his brain as much as I can.”
After all, folks all over the region are thinking the same thing as they look over the Broncos' depth chart that still includes Peyton Manning at quarterback with a fairly young roster around him and one of the league's biggest hauls in free agency as well.
But now new arrival DeMarcus Ware has brought another goal into the conversation. Asked about the expectations of the team's defense, Ware said he hopes the Broncos go to uncharted ground when it comes to the franchise's history.
That's not just a lofty goal, but something the team has never done in five-plus decades worth of football business. The team has been to seven Super Bowls -- six of those on Pat Bowlen's watch -- and won two title games. But the Broncos have never finished a season with the No. 1 defense in yards allowed per game, which is what the NFL uses to statistically rank defenses each year.
The Broncos' best season in scoring defense -- when they allowed a franchise low 148 points in a 14-game season -- was 1977. They finished ninth in yards allowed and were third in scoring defense, behind the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan routinely has said a team will almost certainly be in the Super Bowl conversation with a top-five offense to go with a top-five defense.
Then, Shanahan has said, it comes down to playing your best when the lights are brightest. But even that will be no small chore for these Broncos. Overall the Broncos have had only four seasons when they even finished in the league's top five in yards gained per game on offense and yards allowed per game on defense -- again that's how the league ranks them each year.
In those four seasons -- 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2012 -- the Broncos won the Super Bowl only to close out the 1997 season. They were upset in the playoffs, at home, to close out both 1996 and 2012 and were thumped by Manning in the wild-card game to close out 2004.
But Ware has again raised the issue many of the Broncos defensive players, most notably defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, have touched on throughout this offseason. That it's great Manning and the offense can pile up the touchdowns, but the Broncos want, and need, to be known for something on the other side of the ball.
If the team can't win the Super Bowl in a year that they scored more points in a season (606) than any team in history, then it's clear the Broncos need to bring a little something more than offensive pizzazz to the table.
But the difference in saying you want a top defense to go with the top offense and actually doing it is galactic in size. Especially in the salary cap era, when many teams find themselves picking sides when they're doling out the contract cash. And that was something John Elway was trying to avoid this past offseason when he was waving Bowlen's checkbook around in free agency, securing players such as Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward for the team's defense.
"I think that we've got to get to be where we're a complete football team," Elway said Wednesday. "We can't rely on [No.] 18 to win it because he can't win it by himself."
The 2013 season will always have its place in the team's lore as Manning threw for more touchdowns on his own (55) than the 31 other teams each scored. But the team never, whether it was because of injuries, mistakes or simply a lack of personnel, showed it had a Plan B for the days when the offense and Manning couldn't pull the team through -- like the day Super Bowl XLVIII was played, for example.
The Broncos didn't run the ball well enough not to have to throw it all the time and they didn't play defense consistently well enough to close the deal. Although the Broncos defense may have actually had one of its better days against the Seahawks in February until things got out of hand.
"To win a world championship, you have to be a great football team and you have to be well rounded," Elway said. "I think we've moved closer to that. Seattle was a tremendous football team. But this is a new year and we've got to go out and we've got to play the best football that we can play, and do what we do best. And how the coordinators put our guys in the best situations to be successful and we'll create our own identity. I think if we continue to do that with the people that we have, we're going to be able to compete for a world championship."
"I think this is going to be a night and day defense from last year," Ware said. "You had guys that were hurt [last year], and have the opportunity to not have any holes in your defense … So I think the sky is the limit for us."
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in each of the past two drafts. They have one of the league’s highest paid wide receivers. They are hopeful a healthy collection of tight ends can make a difference in their passing game.
But no matter how they looked at it, the Chiefs would have felt the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.
And it would have hurt.
The Chiefs avoided that football calamity shortly after Wednesday’s reporting deadline for training camp at Missouri Western State University, agreeing to a contract extension with Charles, their most valuable player and their offensive engine.
“Jamaal is a third of their offense,’’ former Chiefs head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s going to generate points and he’s so difficult to defend because he’s multi-dimensional. They have nobody else capable of doing that.’’
Charles accounted for 35.8 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage last season, the highest total in the league.
He was their leader in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches for 693 yards) and touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving), the player the Chiefs leaned on week in and week out.
The Chiefs would have plugged a body into his spot, but they would have struggled to get half of Charles’ production from any one source. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round in 2013 but Davis averaged 3.5 yards per carry, or 1.5 yards fewer than Charles. He struggled as a pass-receiver and a pass-blocker.
“Davis can run the ball,’’ said Edwards, the Chiefs’ coach when they drafted Charles in the third round in 2008, “but he’s not Jamaal Charles.’’
The Chiefs this year drafted the fast but diminutive De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round. The Chiefs have looked at Thomas as a back and in a variety of other roles, but he’s still a rookie and an unproven commodity.
He’s also 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and at that size unlikely to be a consistent threat for the Chiefs.
“Thomas is explosive and you can give him the ball a bunch of different ways,’’ Edwards said. “But he’s not an every-down player. He’s just not big enough.’’
The Chiefs had one of the least productive groups of wide receivers in the league last season and failed to add much in the way of proven help. They are hopeful of a bounce-back season from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013 after signing a five-year, $56 million contract. But Bowe will turn 30 in September, so a return to form may be wishful thinking on the part of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are healthy, for now at least, at tight end after injuries ravaged them at the position last year. But, again, they’re counting on big seasons from unproven players Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris.
Despite their efforts to fortify themselves on offense to the point they can survive without Charles, the fact is the Chiefs aren’t there yet. They can’t survive without him, a fact that soon would have been hammered home had they not moved Wednesday to get Charles into camp.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Often folks look at John Elway and talk about steely resolve. They talk about competitive fire. They talk about the unblinking ability to turn pressure into football diamonds.
And Wednesday, Elway showed his heart -- showed it with tears welling in his eyes as he tried to talk about Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen's, and Bowlen's family's, decision to step down from the day-to-day work of running the team. Bowlen turned over control of the team to a family trust with team president/CEO Joe Ellis making decisions that were previously Bowlen’s to make and Elway running the team's football operations.
Both Elway and Ellis were emotional as they attempted to talk Wednesday about Bowlen's impact on them, the community and the NFL. Both have spent the better part of three decades working for Bowlen, as well as spending time around the Broncos owner and his family away from the team complex.
For some, it was the kind of emotion they hadn’t seen from Elway, in particular, since he retired from the NFL after the 1998 season. The tears welled in Elway’s eyes as he spoke Wednesday, as he took several pauses and a heavy sigh or two to try to gather himself.
“I’ve worked for him for 30 years ... it’s, uh, going to be very hard not to see him walk through that door every day," Elway said. “He’s given me so much. As a player to be able to play for him, and as I’ve said when I retired, I said as a player all you want is an opportunity to be the best and to be able to compete for world championships and ... that’s what Pat has given us."
Elway also said Bowlen’s tenure as a day-to-day presence in the building “will never be matched, he will never be replaced." In the end, Elway called it a “sad, sad day."
Later, after matters turned to football as Elway walked to return inside the Broncos’ complex, he said “it really just hit me when I sat down to talk about him" that he had not expected to feel so much emotion when he sat down in front of the cameras and digital recorders.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Every person who works inside the Denver Broncos' suburban complex knew this day was coming.
Pat Bowlen would ask the same questions in a meeting that he had just asked a few minutes before.
He stepped away from the tireless work he did on some of the NFL’s most powerful committees, including negotiating some of the groundbreaking television contracts that fuel teams' economic engines.
He started driving less, choosing to ride with the team’s now-retired security director, Dave Abrams, or Broncos general counsel Rick Slivka, or team president Joe Ellis as they routinely went to lunch at a restaurant that overlooks an executive airport.
He was in his office less, too. Former coach Mike Shanahan once said: "[Pat] was an owner you could always find, his office was right next to mine, so some coaches can’t find their owners, don’t talk to their owners. I saw Pat every day at work."
Then for the first time, Bowlen -- who once competed in the Ironman Triathlon -- didn’t go to the league meetings in March.
On Tuesday, the Broncos formally announced Bowlen had surrendered control of the team as he battles Alzheimer’s disease. Ellis, who now will add the title and duties of chief executive officer to his duties as team president, will assume control of the team and represent the Broncos on all league matters.
A team statement said: "The Broncos are very saddened that Mr. Bowlen is no longer able to be part of the team’s daily operations due to his condition. We continue to offer our full support, compassion and respect to 'Mr. B,' who has faced Alzheimer’s disease with such dignity and strength."
Commissioner Roger Goodell said to the Denver Post: "This is a sad day for the NFL."
Bowlen publicly had said he suffered some short-term memory loss in recent years, even as far back as 2009, when he fired Shanahan. With tears in his eyes, Bowlen said: "This is as tough as it gets." He then hired Josh McDaniels, but fired him with four games remaining in the 2010 season, with the franchise reeling from on-field losses and its own Spygate scandal.
Early in 2011, Bowlen performed what might have been one of his last great acts as the franchise’s most successful owner. He convinced John Elway to return as the team’s chief football decision-maker.
The Broncos, it seems, always have been at their best with Elway and Bowlen together in some way. Bowlen raised the team’s first Super Bowl trophy, saying: "This one’s for John." There is little doubt if Elway could raise one as an executive, he would say: "This one’s for Pat."
Player and owner. Friend and friend. Boss and employee.
There are those around the league who believe the $35 million expansion of the team’s complex, including an indoor practice facility, was in part a spruce-up, a value-added item, if the team were to be sold. But Bowlen’s wife, Annabel, said in a statement Tuesday: "Long-term, I fully support Pat’s hope of keeping the Denver Broncos in the Bowlen family."
Ellis has been with the team for most of Bowlen’s ownership tenure in Denver. Ellis was the team’s marketing director from 1983 to 1985 -- Bowlen purchased the Broncos in 1984 -- and Ellis returned to the team in 1998 and has been with the Broncos since. Ellis was promoted to COO in 2008 and named team president in 2011.
Together, it now will be Ellis and Elway who will try to maintain what Bowlen always wanted for the Broncos: to be in the Super Bowl hunt.
Bowlen would always enthusiastically and without hesitation pick the Broncos to win the title game in the coming year in what used to be annual postseason sit-downs. Bowlen liked star power. He liked success. He liked the Broncos to be at the front of the line.
The Broncos will hold their first training camp practice Thursday, the 31st training camp since Bowlen became the team’s owner. As Bowlen battles Alzheimer’s, those he put in place -- Ellis and Elway -- to run his team when he no longer could, might have assembled his best team, at least on paper, with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback in Peyton Manning.
Whether this team closes the deal like Elway did in 1998 and 1999 remains to be seen. But you can see Bowlen knew what the future held, and knew what he wanted his franchise to be.
Likewise, running back Jamaal Charles has outperformed the contract he signed with the Chiefs in 2010. The Chiefs and Charles have discussed a new deal but in this case I’m going to urge the team to be a lot more cautious in handing out their money.
But the differences between the two situations are huge, and those differences make it a good idea for the Chiefs to pay Houston but a dicey one to pay Charles.
Though both players have outperformed their contracts, Houston had no choice but to sign his. He was a third-round draft pick with no leverage and no choice but to take Kansas City’s offer or not play.
Charles went willingly into the contract he signed. It wasn’t the offer he was obligated to take in 2008 as a third-round draft choice. In 2010, he opted for Kansas City’s cash up front instead of the chance to eventually become a free agent.
These last two seasons were part of that deal.
A bigger and perhaps more important difference is that Houston's new contract wouldn't be payment for things he's already done. The Chiefs can pay him for his projected production over the life of a long-term contract, as Houston is just 25 and should have several productive seasons ahead of him.
Can you realistically say that about Charles, even though he’s only 27? He’s got a lot of mileage on him. There’s no indication his production is about to nosedive, but at the same time it’s reasonable to believe that his best football is behind him.
So by giving him a fat new contract, the Chiefs would be rewarding him for what he’s already accomplished and not what he's set to accomplish in the future. That’s a dangerous way of doing business, and one that almost always backfires.
A modest raise for Charles is in order. Anything more than that and the Chiefs deserve whatever they get.
But those injuries to veteran players provided an opportunity for younger guys like Thomas Keiser and Tourek Williams to develop. And both made an impact for San Diego’s defense in 2013.
The most important takeaway from English’s release is that the Chargers appear confident Freeney will return to the field healthy after suffering a torn quad in Week 4 of last season against Dallas, ending his 2013 campaign.
Freeney was limited during offseason workouts, but vowed to be ready for San Diego’s regular-season opener at Arizona on Sept. 8. Freeney, 34, is the only player on San Diego’s roster who has recorded double-digit sacks in the NFL, so his presence as a pass-rush specialist is important to take pressure off of young players like Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attochu.
Also, English’s departure is a sign the Chargers like what they have seen in developmental prospects like Cordarro Law, Keiser, Williams and undrafted rookie free agent Colton Underwood.
Johnson said Williams looked impressive during offseason workouts.
“Tourek is the one that’s been pretty interesting to me, how much he’s gained in the offseason,” Johnson said. “Just how much more mature he is; he’s the one I think is going to have a huge year.”
Lastly, English’s release provides some breathing room in terms of the salary cap for the Chargers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers are just $94,768 under the cap. By releasing English, San Diego saves $1,542,500 million in 2014 cap space and cash.
"Since the Seattle Seahawks steamrolled the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII," Jaworski wrote, "I've gone over every throw from every quarterback in the NFL to properly evaluate the best 32 on my QB Big Board."
Jaworski, it should be noted, did not include rookies in his rankings since they had not yet won a starting job.
So where did the Oakland Raiders' new quarterback, Matt Schaub -- a two-time Pro Bowler who has been called a top 10 quarterback by Raiders coach Dennis Allen -- land on Jaworski's list?
Schaub, who endured a nightmarish 2013 season in losing his job with the Houston Texans, was ranked 22nd.
"I can't remember a quarterback of Schaub's caliber having the kind of meltdown he did last season in Houston," Jaworski wrote. "It was painful to watch. His mind wasn't clear, his decision-making was poor, and he made throws he simply shouldn't make at this point in his career. He's been a great first-down passer during his career, particularly on play-action, but last year he was terrible at both. We'll see if he can regain his confidence in Oakland."
It's wise not to overlook Williams as the Chiefs search for McCluster's replacement. He's fast and has more career NFL catches, 47 in four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, than all of the other main candidates combined.
There's a reason the Chiefs claimed Williams off waivers last November and a reason they re-signed him as a free agent in the spring. They wanted to get a look at Williams in Andy Reid's offensive system.
The Chiefs didn't get much of a chance to do that last year. He played in only one game for them before re-injuring the knee.
"It looked like I was going to have some serious game-plan activity last year when I got here," Williams said. "But crazy things happen. The thing about it is that they gave me their word they wanted me back and they followed through on that."
Williams completed a quick rehab after having surgery in December and appears ready to compete for a job when full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.
"The knee feels good," Williams said. "It feels stable. It feels like a solid knee. I feel like myself out there. I felt like last year when I came in I could help. I feel the same way this year."
It was just the beginning of a three-day rookie camp at Missouri Western State University. Selected veterans, Kelce being one, were also invited to participate. Full-squad training camp begins on Thursday.
Kelce moved around well and did so without a brace or any other kind of protection on the knee.
“From here, it’s just a matter of getting back into football shape and getting ready to play a 16-game season," he said.
The Chiefs would happily settle for whatever they can get from Kelce if he’s available to them for 16 games this year. They had big plans at tight end heading into training camp last year, with Kelce joining veterans Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano.
But because of injuries, neither Kelce nor Moeaki played a down on offense and Fasano missed eight games. The Chiefs pieced together a group of tight ends that included waiver claim Sean McGrath and did well to get to 55 catches from the position.
They need more from their tight ends this season. A healthy Kelce, as well as development from former college basketball player Demetrius Harris, figures large in those plans.
The Chiefs weren’t more aggressive about pursuing an accomplished wide receiver through free agency or the draft in part because they have big expectations for Kelce.
At 260 pounds, Kelce is big for a tight end, but he’s not just a receiver capable of running the short or intermediate routes. He’s proved capable of beating coverage to make catches down the field.
The prediction here is that with Kelce in their lineup for a full season, the Chiefs’ tight ends will blow past 55 catches at a relatively early point in the 2014 schedule.
But Miller has also shown some immaturity, accumulating some off-the-field baggage along the way.
And while Miller says he has shed the troubles of last season and is re-committed to becoming one of the league's chief on-field disrupters again, it is Danny Trevathan who just may best represent Elway's vision of the Broncos' developmental curve over the long haul.
"I hope he feels that way, I hope he sees me as a success," Trevathan said. "I have big dreams. I had them coming in and I have them now and I feel like I can do the work to make them be and help this team win big games."
The Broncos certainly feature that approach at linebacker with Trevathan looking exactly like the home-grown gem that separates the teams that know what to do in the draft and those that don't. The sixth-round pick in 2012 was the defense's most consistent player last season with 129 tackles with 3 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles and 2 sacks.
Trevathan looks poised for more this season and then some. Because of his get-after-it approach to go with his production, I believe he has the look of a future team captain. But overall the Broncos will likely feature three starting linebackers who were all drafted by the team in Miller, Trevathan and whoever wins the job in the middle between Nate Irving (third round, 2011) and rookie Lamin Barrow (fifth round, 2014).
It's all part of a position-by-position look at where things stand with the team.
How many coming to camp: 13.
How many will the Broncos keep: The 2013 season signaled a bit of a change from the two previous seasons. Last year the Broncos kept six linebackers as they exited the preseason with Miller having begun the year on a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
But when Miller returned to the lineup in Week 7 the Broncos kept the total at six linebackers. That was after they had kept seven linebackers in the initial cut to 53 players in 2012 and seven in 2011.
This year the Broncos seem intent on searching for depth, having invited 13 linebackers to camp. It's the same as the number of combined defensive linemen they have invited at two positions. Miller is still working his way back from ACL surgery and it's still a question as to whether or not he will be ready for his usual allotment of snaps when the regular season begins.
Miller is on track in his return and says he's dropped weight from last season, but the Broncos will play it safe with their Pro Bowl linebacker as they move through training camp and the preseason.
That may impact how many they keep here in the cut to 53, but the number almost certainly comes down at six or seven.
Break it down: The Broncos like their potential depth here and the battle for the final spots on the depth chart will be fierce. As will the potential battle for middle linebacker.
The Broncos have consistently lauded Nate Irving's work in the offseason, he worked as the middle linebacker with the starters in organized team activities and minicamp, but they have tried him in the middle before only to move on to other options. Irving has performed well as Miller's backup on the strong-side, but to stay in the middle he simply has to show he can consistently square up blockers in the run fits, shed and move to the ball.
In the past, including in college, he has tried to run around blocks and left running lanes in his wake that offenses have taken advantage of.
The Broncos will take a look at the athletic Barrow in the middle as well. Barrow was under-rated by many on this year's draft board for his ability to take on blocks and work toward to the ball. If Barrow shows the ability to play mistake-free, assignment football, he will make a significant push for the job. It will take Irving's best to hold him off when the decision is made.
In the end the Broncos want to find the guy who can man the middle in the base, which isn't the primary formation any longer, but also play along-side Trevathan in the nickel when Miller bumps down to defensive end. At minimum Barrow looks primed for that job, an important decision since the nickel is the formation the Broncos played the most last season.
But the scrap for the final spots with the likes of Steven Johnson, a quality special teamer, and Lerentee McCray, who was set to make the roster last season as undrafted rookie before an injury ended his season, as well as Shaquil Barrett, Jamar Chaney and Brandon Marshall, will bear watching.