- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEWARK, N.J. -- First, Pat Bowlen hired John Elway to return his team to prominence.
Then Elway hired John Fox to provide a seasoned hand, and the Broncos made the playoffs in 2011. They signed Peyton Manning in 2012 and went to the Super Bowl in 2013.
At each point along the way, the Broncos have become a more popular stop for a veteran player, or three, looking for more in his career. A Super Bowl victory Sunday would only help the cause Elway has described as "finding a veteran guy who wants to be with the Denver Broncos and who fills a need for what we want from him."
In the end, the Broncos' spot in Super Bowl XLVIII came as a result of Manning's signing, to go with a foundation of draft picks such as Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Orlando Franklin and Danny Trevathan. But it is also a result of several veteran players who signed short-term deals with the Broncos in the past year, players who jumped at the opportunity to fill needs when they arrived.
Players -- such as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, linebacker Paris Lenon, and defensive ends Shaun Phillips and Jeremy Mincey -- who didn't have the best of experiences and saw the Broncos as a change for the better.
Rodgers-Cromartie had struggled in his time in Philadelphia, often miscast in the team's defense as part of a trade/free-agency spree that didn't pan out. Lenon was unsigned in August when Stewart Bradley went on injured reserve. Phillips signed during the draft weekend this past April.
And Mincey was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars in December before the Broncos gave him a chance to kick-start his career.
“In Philly, when it was bad, it was bad from an overall standpoint," Rodgers-Cromartie said. “You had your highs and lows, but there wasn't one guy who could have turned it around. It was just a bad time. I don't think about it much because I am over it. Like you said, we are doing well now, I'm playing well now and we are just trying to finish."
Phillips, who spent nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers, said joining the Broncos was "a no-brainer."
“I could have gone some other places, maybe even gotten a little more money," Phillips said. "But I've been in this league a while and I want to win. In this situation here, you knew you were going to have a chance, and when I met everybody here and saw what they were about, this is where I wanted to be."
Rodgers-Cromartie has been a starter all season and tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, and Phillips led the team in sacks with 10. Lenon now starts in at middle linebacker in the base defense, and Mincey, who played 28 snaps against the Houston Texans just days after he signed, is already a regular in the defensive line rotation and has a sack this postseason.
“Being in a position to win inspires people," Mincey said. “I feel like it inspired me."
So, win or lose Sunday, Elway knows the salary-cap decisions always get tougher for teams that win. He knows “stacking those draft classes" will always be the foundation of the Broncos.
But he also knows that, from time to time, the Broncos will need to find a veteran player who fits, one to replace someone who is injured or just to bolster a spot on the depth chart that needs it.
And a Super Bowl trophy always improves the quality of those candidates who are interested in the job.
2dEric D. Williams