Broncos' potential a powerful lure for vets

August, 2, 2013
8/02/13
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Some relatives already in Denver, a future Hall of Famer at quarterback and chance to be a part of a "specal team'' was enough to lure Ryan Lilja out of what he thought was to be the first season of his retirement from the NFL.

Lilja
But there was Lilja on Thursday night, in a No. 57 jersey, a newly minted Broncos center. Lilja will go through his first full workout with the team Friday morning, and it's clear the Broncos have designs on getting the veteran up to speed as quickly as possible.

"It only took a day mulling it over, talking to my wife,'' Lilja said. " ... I couldn't pass it up.''

Lilja is now the second 30-something center the Broncos have signed in the past four weeks. They agreed with Dan Koppen on a one-year deal July 2 as a veteran presence in the interior of an offensive line whose current starter, Manny Ramirez, has never started an NFL game at the position.

But Koppen tore his left anterior cruciate ligament Sunday and will miss the season.

So, after reaching out to some others, the Broncos decided to take a chance, in Lilja, on another player who had not been in an offseason program. Lilja also had knee and toe surgeries following the 2012 season.

The 31-year-old was Peyton Manning's teammate in Indianpolis for five seasons -- 2004 to 2009 -- and played on two Colts Super Bowl teams, to close out the 2006 and 2009 seasons.

"That was a big part of me coming back, it's a special team, it's a special offense, you picture being in the huddle and it's a cool place to be,'' Lilja said of the Broncos.

Much like Koppen's signing, it's a calculated risk for the Broncos to bring in another player who has not been in an offseason conditioning program, but they felt compelled to make the move since they already have one center on the physically unable to perform list (J.D. Walton) to go with one on injured reserve in Koppen.

They have made it clear that with an audible-heavy offense and a Super Bowl shot, they want some veteran savvy at the position and are once again selling their potential to many veteran free agents, players like linebacker Stewart Bradley, defensive end Shaun Phillips, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Koppen, all on short-term deals for a chance at a deep postseason run.

"This excited me, it kind of gave me new purpose," Lilja said. "I have to be honest with you, it got me going."

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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