NFL Nation: Mike Adams

When he was behind center for the Denver Broncos, John Elway was a 30-something player, was one for quite some time in fact. He was a Super Bowl starter as a 37- and a 38-year-old as the Broncos won back-to-back titles in the final two years of his playing career.

So he knows the value a productive, respected, proven veteran player can bring to a team, on the field and in the locker room.

But as an executive charged with spending Pat Bowlen’s money wisely and keeping the Broncos relevant in the Super Bowl chase every season, Elway has been particular about handing out the team’s biggest checks in free agency to the over-30 crowd.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/James D. SmithJohn Elway on signing pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware: "We feel like he's got a lot of football ahead of him."
In fact, three trips into free agency in his current job, the list is essentially two -- Peyton Manning and now DeMarcus Ware -- and Elway is pretty clear on why he made them exceptions to the rule.

“I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders," Elway said.

In 2011, Elway’s first year in his role as the team’s chief football decision-maker, the Broncos only dabbled in free agency, sticking with short-term deals for the likes of Marcus Thomas, Daniel Fells and Dante Rosario.

In 2012, the Broncos dove in for Manning for a $96 million deal that included a pile of guaranteed money when Manning was ready to turn 36 following four neck surgeries. That has worked out with back-to-back 13-3 seasons and back-to-back division titles with some NFL single-season records tossed in.

The rest of the deals in 2012 were largely short-term, low-impact contracts. Tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen received three-year deals. Tamme turned 27 just after signing his deal, and Dreessen was 29 when he signed. The 30-and-over crowd of Keith Brooking, Jim Leonhard, Dan Koppen and Brandon Stokley received one-year deals.

Safety Mike Adams was 30 when he signed and received a two-year deal. Adams, however, had played in at least 15 games in five of the previous six seasons before arriving in Denver. The rest, players such as Shaun Phillips and Quentin Jammer, both 30 or older, received one-year deals without signing bonuses.

In 2013, the Broncos’ biggest contract in free agency (four years, $23.5 million) went to guard Louis Vasquez, who was 25 when he signed his deal and went on to be named All-Pro. Terrance Knighton received a two-year deal, as did Wes Welker.

This past week, the Broncos were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency, but they still largely stuck to the younger-is-better plan when the big money was in play. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward are 27 (Sanders turned 27 this week), and cornerback Aqib Talib is 28.

“It’s not [win] for now. We want young football players who are going to be here for a long time," Elway said. “... The age thing is big."

But in Ware, the Broncos saw a durable, high character player with 117 career sacks who has been a team captain and performed over the long haul. Ware, who soon will be 32, received a three-year, $30 million deal from the Broncos.

For that deal not to sting the salary cap, however, Ware simply has to play at least two of those seasons and be a major contributor. But the Broncos like that Ware’s preparation is unquestioned and that he has missed just three games in his career -- all in 2013.

“With 117 sacks, yeah, we feel like he’s got a lot of football ahead of him," Elway said. " ... We think he's going to perform at a high level, and with the way he practices, prepares and his knowledge of the game, he's going to help us on a lot of levels."

Elway the player made a career of taking risks with the ball and often turning those opportunities into history. Elway the executive has been more prudent -- a guy looking down the road, avoiding the franchise-crushing confines created by a we'll-worry-about-it-later approach to the salary cap.

“You have your wish list," Elway said. “We’re fortunate enough on our wish list we were able to X off a lot of guys on our wish list and [they] were able to come here. ... We want to plug in the right guys, the guys that make sense for us as an organization and guys who can be here and help us win for a long, long time."

Safety market thins for Redskins

March, 12, 2014
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The Washington Redskins need to find two starting safeties, which could be tougher after the first day of free agency. There is always the draft, but they will still need to add a veteran -- or two -- capable of starting. They could always re-sign Reed Doughty as a backup/special-teamer. Or perhaps bring back Brandon Meriweather on a one-year deal.

Here are six safeties of note still on the market:

Clemons
Chris Clemons: Miami is letting him walk and signed bad-kneed Louis Delmas. Part of the problem is that Clemons wasn’t viewed as a free safety, and it sounds as if that is what the Dolphins wanted. The Redskins could use him more in the box. He’d be an upgrade.

Thomas DeCoud: Atlanta, which needs secondary help, cut DeCoud after a rough 2013 season. He’s also probably best in the box.

Mike Adams: Again, Denver struggled in the secondary and decided to let him leave, signing T.J. Ward instead. Adams is rather average.

Nate Allen: Philadelphia selected him with the second-round pick obtained in the Donovan McNabb trade with Washington. The Eagles let Allen walk and signed Malcolm Jenkins. I can’t imagine Allen is the answer. He’s better against the run.

Roman Harper: He’s 31 and coming off a knee injury that cost him nearly half the season. That is a tough combination. But he’s a two-time Pro Bowler best used in the box. Here is what ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett had to say about him in a recent article: “I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.”

Ryan Clark: If the Redskins had a young free safety worthy of grooming, I’d consider Clark as a mentor. But he’s 35 and the Redskins don’t have that player (I don’t view Bacarri Rambo as that guy).
The Denver Broncos are in need of some help at linebacker and -- with enough salary cap room to take a look at a proven veteran player at the position -- they are on linebacker D'Qwell Jackson's travel itinerary in the coming days.

The Broncos are selling the prospect of a Super Bowl team with Peyton Manning at quarterback, but they will have plenty of competition for Jackson.

Jackson
The 30-year-old Jackson was released, in large part, by the Cleveland Browns Wednesday because he had a $4 million roster bonus due March 16. Jackson had signed a five-year contract extension with the Browns two seasons ago when current Broncos' pro personnel director Tom Heckert was the team's general manager.

Jackson also played alongside Broncos safety Mike Adams during Adams' tenure in Cleveland. Adams is one of the Broncos' 16 unrestricted free agents this year.

Two league sources said Thursday Jackson was expected to begin what was initially described as a five-team tour on Friday. But the Tennessee Titans are first on the list and have to be considered the leader for Jackson before he even steps on a plane. Jackson's former defensive coordinator in Cleveland, Ray Horton, is on Ken Whisenhunt's staff in Nashville and is expected to play much the same scheme there as Horton ran with the Browns.

The Broncos are scheduled to get their chance Monday and project Jackson as a middle linebacker.

The Broncos are poised to give plenty of attention -- in both free agency and draft -- to the team's defense. At linebacker alone, Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon are free agents and the team has six defensive backs who are either restricted or unrestricted free agents. And Jackson fits the profile Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway believes free agency should have.

“With free agency, we're always trying to get ourselves in a position where when we go into the draft -- we don't have a glaring weakness where we are reaching for somebody in the draft,'' Elway said in recent days. "So I think it's important for free agency, in my opinion, to try to pick up the places where you think you have glaring holes and fill those holes and then when you go to the draft be able to draft the best players that you hope are going to have great careers in the NFL.”

Jackson, who will turn 31 in September, has had five 100-tackle seasons in his career. He missed all but six games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons because of torn chest muscles, but has started 16 games in four of his seasons.

He was a second-round pick by the Browns in the 2006 draft.

Steelers all-in on Big Ben

February, 19, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Another public affirmation of the Steelers' commitment to Ben Roethlisberger provided more proof that the team plans to go all-in on its franchise quarterback.

Kevin Colbert's comments Wednesday about the organization needing to do its part to help Roethlisberger dovetail with recent ones the general manager made about the Steelers having to surround Big Ben with as much talent as possible to maximize his remaining years.

And they again point to the Steelers fetching the tall wide receiver Roethlisberger has long coveted or a game-breaking one early in the 2014 NFL draft.

The offense around Roethlisberger is mostly set, but it could use another wide receiver, especially if Emmanuel Sanders, who started opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown last season, signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

A draft class that is deep, in general, looks particularly strong at wide receiver. And the Steelers, picking at No. 15 overall, could have their choice of wide receivers after Clemson's Sammy Watkins -- from rangy ones such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- to smaller but polished ones such as Southern Cal's Marqise Lee.

The Steelers theoretically could help Roethlisberger by taking a left tackle with their first pick. But it's not a glaring need after the way Kelvin Beachum played in 11 starts last season, and the Steelers have invested two first-round picks and two second-round picks since 2010 on their offensive line.

It's time to let new offensive coach Mike Munchak, one of the best hires of the offseason, to get the most out of those players, particularly tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.

Any number of positions on defense also could be addressed with the first-round pick, and even if the Steelers target a pass-catcher at No. 15, they might find North Carolina's Eric Ebron too tempting to pass on if he is still available.

The NFL scouting combine, which starts Thursday, should provide more clarity for the Steelers. They will get an extended look at the underclassmen as a group and will presumably fill in more blanks as they start to assemble their draft board.

It is too early to tell where the Steelers will find help for Roethlisberger in this draft. But it has become clear that giving him the best chance of succeeding in the coming seasons has become as much of a priority for the Steelers as addressing a defense that is in need of reinforcements.

Franchise/transition tags: Broncos

February, 17, 2014
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In each of the previous two years, the Denver Broncos used the franchise tag on an impending free agent they hoped to lock up to a long-term deal but just needed a little more time to cross all the T's and dot all the I's in the contract.

In 2012, it was kicker Matt Prater, who got the tag before he signed a new multiyear deal with the team. Last year it was left tackle Ryan Clady, who was still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery when the Broncos placed the tag on him.

Clady, who would have earned $9.828 million on that one-year deal had the tag remained in place, eventually worked out a five-year, $52.5 million contract with the team just before training camp.

But don’t look for the Broncos to use either of the tags this time around. Their most prominent free agents -- most notably running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Eric Decker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- have been productive starters with the team, but none are so deep in the team’s plans that the Broncos would use the tags to have them guaranteed of being on the roster next season.

Decker has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons since the Broncos signed Peyton Manning, but the franchise-tag salary on a one-year deal at wide receiver was $10.537 million last year and is expected to be slightly higher this time around.

At running back, the franchise tag was $8.219 million last season, and at linebacker, it was $9.619 million.

The Broncos will make offers to most of their impending free agents, but it’s likely all of their more high-profile unrestricted free agents could get better offers, in terms of overall money, elsewhere.

Decker, Moreno, guard Zane Beadles and defensive end Robert Ayers are among the team’s free agents who, next month, will complete deals they signed with the Broncos as rookies. It will be their first opportunity in the open market. Woodyard, who has been a team captain in each of his six seasons with the Broncos, just finished his second contract with the team, while other unrestricted free agents, like Rodgers-Cromartie, safety Mike Adams, linebacker Paris Lenon and defensive end Shaun Phillips, came from elsewhere.

Part of the issue for the Broncos this time around is securing the players who are set to become free agents following the 2014 season, a group that includes wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas.

Denver Broncos season wrap-up

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video Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 2
Preseason Power Ranking: 3

Biggest surprise: It took 19 games, a pile of league records and a few slices of history along the way, but by far the biggest shock for an organization that believed it had the moxie to win a title was its Super Bowl meltdown. Broncos head coach John Fox had said his team was “calloused" by all it had to overcome this season, including linebacker Von Miller's six-game suspension, five defensive starters eventually landing on injured reserve and Fox's open-heart surgery. But on the biggest stage with the biggest prize on the line, the Broncos had a night when they didn't respond to any of the adversity they faced.

Biggest disappointment: Other than losing in the title game -- “I'm not sure you ever get over that," said quarterback Peyton Manning -- it would have to be the way Miller's season dissolved. After his 18.5-sack season in 2012, the Broncos expected even more this time around. Instead, he was out for the first six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He came back heavier after the suspension and often looked less explosive according to many personnel executives in the league. He then suffered a season-ending torn right ACL in December. He won't be ready for training camp and may not be full speed by the start of the regular season.

Biggest need: In their past three playoff losses, the Broncos have had a combined one sack against Tom Brady, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson. Miller has played in two of those games, albeit with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb to close out the 2011 season against the New England Patriots. They have used their opening pick in each of John Elway's three drafts as the team's top football executive on a pass-rusher -- Miller, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. It still needs some attention, as does the team's secondary; the Broncos will need to address cornerback and safety as well.

Team MVP: Manning, with 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards passing for an offense that set an NFL record with 606 points, was the league MVP and was the Broncos' as well. Manning's drive, preparation and no-nonsense approach pushed the team past every bump it faced during the regular season, and he powered the franchise into its seventh Super Bowl. But cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and linebacker Danny Trevathan deserve special mention for being the defense's most versatile and productive players outside the glare of the team's offensive fireworks in the regular season. Trevathan and Harris were consistently the guys asked to do more in Jack Del Rio's defense.

 

Broncos' D will need an A effort

January, 31, 2014
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Wesley Woodyard, Danny TrevathanDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesHow will Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and the Denver defense impact Sunday's result?

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The most prominent storyline of Super Bowl XLVIII, at least beyond what Richard Sherman said, what Marshawn Lynch didn't say and just how much wobble is in the average Peyton Manning touchdown pass, has been the Denver Broncos' No. 1 offense and the Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 defense.

It has been the classic matchup of league best on league best and the first of its kind since Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the league's No. 1 defense, defeated the Oakland Raiders (the No. 1 offense) to close out the 2002 season.

But how a Broncos defense battered by injuries throughout the season responds against Seattle's power offense with Lynch at running back, the mobile Russell Wilson at quarterback and wide receiver Percy Harvin playing in just his third game of the season, will have a lot to say about how things go for the Broncos. In fact, it may have everything to say about whether or not the Broncos get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

"We feel like we need to be the defense we know we can be," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We've been better as the season has gone on, we've adjusted some, overcome some and now we feel like we're ready to play our best football."

The Broncos have four defensive starters on injured reserve -- cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Von Miller -- and they have not always played with the consistency defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would have liked because of it. But after holding opponents to fewer than 17 points only once in 14 games, the Broncos have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in four consecutive games. The total includes both of their playoff wins -- 24-17 against the San Diego Chargers and 26-16 over the New England Patriots.

"In spite of all the things that could have derailed us, we stayed on point, stayed on message, continued to grind, continued to believe," Del Rio said.

Del Rio has used a variety of lineup combinations until settling on the current one that includes Woodyard, an every-down player for much of the season, now playing in the specialty packages. Del Rio also has put Paris Lenon at middle linebacker in the base defense to go with Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving at the other two linebacker spots.

The combination gives the Broncos a little more bulk against opposing run games, especially one such as the Seahawks'.

The return of Champ Bailey, who played just five games in the regular season because of a left foot injury, has given Del Rio more options of late in the coverages the team can play and stabilized things, even with Harris Jr. having torn an ACL against the Chargers in the divisional round. After initially returning to the lineup, playing in the slot as part of the nickel defense (five defensive backs), Bailey will likely start on the outside against the Seahawks and then move inside to the slot if Seattle goes to a three-wide receiver look. In the nickel, Bailey would likely face Harvin or Doug Baldwin.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images"I don't want to hear a reason that we can't," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I want to talk about how we're going to get it done."
And the Broncos have gotten enough from Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton in the pass rush to at least try to work past Miller's injury, a torn ACL he suffered in Houston in Week 16.

"We think we can play the way we need to, we know we have to if we're going to win this game," Bailey said. "We don't think too much about the injuries. We would love to have those guys because you always want your best out there. But [Del Rio] isn't going to let you talk about that anyway and we wouldn't want to."

Said Del Rio: "I don't even want to hear it, I don't want to hear it from our staff, I don't want to hear a reason that we can't. I want to talk about how we're going to get it done. I don't spend a lot of time entertaining how we can't. I understand that we can and want to figure out exactly how we can get it done. It's a little bit of scheme, it's a little bit of technique, there's a little of mentality you've got to build. It can be pretty good if you put it all together and everybody buys in."

While the Broncos' record-setting offense and the Seahawks' bone-rattling defense have parked themselves in the headlines this week, Sunday's game may well be decided by what Seattle's offense does against Del Rio's defense.

"We feel underrated a little bit, but we've got to expect that," Broncos safety Mike Adams said. "I probably would say the same thing because we had a slow start as a defense early in the season. But one thing we did: We finished the season strong and we carried it on to the playoffs, and we're trying to continue that streak that we're on."
When pondering center Alex Mack's and safety T.J. Ward's futures, it's probably important to remember Mike Adams' foray into free agency.

Adams is a former Cleveland Browns safety now starting for the Denver Broncos and will play in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesVeteran safety Mike Adams is finally playing for a winning team.
Tony Grossi caught up with Adams in New Jersey and did a fine story about his life and his career -- and his positive impact with the Browns.

Adams always played well for Cleveland, and was a positive presence in the locker room. For whatever reason, the Browns let him go as a free agent and he is now in Denver doing the things he did in Cleveland.

But as Grossi points out, it took Adams five years to win 28 games in Cleveland. He's now won 28 games in just two seasons with the Broncos.

There were a lot of reasons Denver won all those games, and most start and end with a guy named Peyton Manning. When Adams went into free agency, quarterback Tim Tebow was coming off a playoff win over Pittsburgh. It's to Adams' good fortune that John Elway recognized acquiring Manning was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and he did not settle for Tebow.

That being said, Adams' experience shows what can happen with a free agent. When a player experiences losing for so long the way Mack and Ward have, the temptation to go somewhere to win has to be a factor.

Adams said he didn't want to leave Cleveland, that it was the Browns' choice to let him go. So it is not automatic by any means that a player will leave.

Mack and Ward both spoke of liking the team, the organization and the city. It's not inconceivable both could stay.

But CEO Joe Banner's history has not been to pay a ton of money at certain positions, and center and safety are among them. The former coaching staff was high on safety Josh Aubrey, who missed the season with an ankle injury. The Browns may feel he can step in for Ward. And they may feel that John Greco can slide from guard to center. The Browns haven't won many games with Ward and Mack; the team may feel it can't do worse without them. The Browns made no effort to sign them this past season, which also should be some indicator.

The Browns would lose something if both leave. They're both good players -- both were in the Pro Bowl this season -- and they're both smart. They are at the age where they should be hitting their peak.

So if they leave it would hurt, and it would create two more needs on a team that already has plenty.

The one unknown is whether the recent negativity that has surrounded the Browns affects a player's thinking on his future. A player might not like the idea of leaving his team -- until he sees how another team operates and he sees the money being offered.

In free agency, it only takes one team to make a player rich.

Ward and Mack have certainly earned the right to be free agents and test the market.

If the pair want an example of the potential positives of free agency, they only need look at Adams, who has promised to walk home to Paterson, N.J., if Denver wins.

That's quite a walk for a guy who walked away from losing two years ago.
NEWARK, N.J. -- If Mike Adams walks home after the game, he won't be alone.

[+] EnlargeMike Adams
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsBroncos safety Mike Adams, from nearby Paterson, N.J., is sure to have company if he takes a victorious stroll home after the Super Bowl.
The Denver Broncos safety said Tuesday he has received so much reaction from his half-joking proclamation that he suspects there might be a "mini-parade" if he decides to make the 10-mile trek from MetLife Stadium to his childhood home in Paterson.

"My Twitter and my [Instagram] were blowing up," said Adams, who declared after the AFC Championship Game that he'd walk home after Super Bowl XLVIII if they beat the Seattle Seahawks. "My brother said, 'If you're going to walk, I'm going to walk with you.' The reaction has been crazy."

It could be a scene out of "Forrest Gump," one man leading his flock -- sans the shaggy beard, of course.

Adams acknowledged that it was a joke, but he kept playing along on Media Day. Asked if he intended to follow through, he replied, "Are you going to have your sneakers on? Come and see."

Later, he said with a smile, "Now I have to put up or shut up."

You have to love the Adams story. He grew up in a three-bedroom house in gritty Paterson, which wouldn't have been so bad except he was one of seven children under the same roof. His mother died of cancer when he graduated from the University of Delaware, but he comes from a big, close family, and they were together Monday night. Adams returned to Paterson for a dinner of chicken, rice and green beans at his grandmother's house, where they celebrated the Super Bowl.

"When I first heard the Super Bowl was in New Jersey, I actually joked about it," Adams said. "I said, 'Watch, now I'll finally get to the Super Bowl now that it's at Giants Stadium.' Now it's a reality. Now I'm here. Now I'm playing in Giants Stadium for a Super Bowl."

It has been a long journey, one that may extend another 10 miles.

Broncos cool to weather talk

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As odd as it seems for a team that practices with the Rocky Mountains as its backdrop to be asked about the possibility of a chilly Super Bowl Sunday, the Broncos are facing questions about cold weather.

With a snowstorm having rolled through the Northeast in recent days and temperatures expected in the high 20s during Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, the game-day weather is already a popular narrative and the Broncos haven't even left Colorado.

"Cold? We're talking about the Super Bowl," Broncos safety Mike Adams said. "I'm not worried about the cold, I promise you that. We weren't practicing in like minus-3 weather here? I'm definitely not worried about cold weather."

In the days leading up to the Broncos' Dec. 8 game, a 51-28 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Broncos practiced outside in temperatures that were minus-1 at the start of one workout and 3 degrees at the start of another. The temperature was 18 degrees at kickoff for the Titans' game in Denver.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning finished the game 39-of-59 passing for 397 yards and four touchdowns. Immediately following the win, Manning went on the team's flagship radio station and said people who offered up the "narrative" he could not play in the cold weather could "stick it where the sun don't shine."

"The Denver Broncos, we're definitely weather proof ... it snowed last night," tackle Orlando Franklin said. "We were outside for practice [Thursday]."

So, while the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city figures to be a prominent talking point in the days ahead, especially after the Broncos and Seattle Seahawks arrive Sunday in the New York/New Jersey area, the Broncos players wonder what all of the fuss is about.

"Whatever it is -- 100 degrees, 20 degrees -- no matter what, you go out and play," said rookie running back Montee Ball, who played at the University of Wisconsin. " ... You play; it's the Super Bowl."

Added Broncos cornerback Tony Carter: "It's the Super Bowl. I don't care where they play it, I want to be in it. It's the biggest game of the year; nobody in here is worried about the weather."
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers made what will probably go down as their most significant acquisition of the offseason Wednesday when Mike Munchak agreed to become their next offensive line coach.

Munchak
Yes, hiring Munchak is that big.

No one on the planet knows the ins and outs of the NFL and playing offensive line like Munchak does.

Think of the respect one of the greatest guards in NFL history will command from his new players. And his NFL resume merely starts with the 12 seasons he spent crafting a Hall of Fame career as a Houston Oiler.

Munchak has more than two decades of coaching experience, and he impressed the Tennessee Titans’ brass enough in 14 seasons as the team’s offensive line coach that he rose to the head coaching job in 2011.

Munchak might still be with the only NFL organization he worked for as a coach and a player had he agreed to make sweeping changes to his staff following a 7-9 season.

That he ended up in Pittsburgh is a coup for the Steelers.

The only downside to hiring Munchak: He is so highly regarded around the NFL that another head coaching opportunity could come his way in the coming years.

Then again Munchak spent more than three decades with the same organization, so he can hardly be characterized as an opportunist who jumps from job to job.

Munchak inherits an offensive line that is on the cusp of becoming pretty good if not really good provided it can ever stay healthy. He may be the coach to unlock underachieving offensive tackle Mike Adams’ considerable potential.

And he becomes the point man in installing the outside zone-blocking scheme that the Steelers ditched last season after Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down in the opener with a torn ACL, a game that the Steelers lost to Munchak's Titans at Heinz Field.

Munchak has tons of experience teaching the scheme, and it is something that will maximize Le’Veon Bell’s running ability.

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers finding a better fit for the one opening -- at least for now -- on coach Mike Tomlin’s staff.

And the Munchak hiring is a heck of a way for the Steelers to start an offseason that will bring its share of change.

The next big thing: Broncos

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos still have one game to play -- Super Bowl XLVIII -- and virtually all of the organization's energy is pointed in that direction at the moment.

But the Broncos still have to think about life after the Big Game and had a full contingent at the East-West Game last week to go with one at Senior Bowl practices this week. And when all is said and done in MetLife Stadium Feb. 2, the Broncos will be left to their offseason duties in a far more compressed timeframe.

One of their first items, and executive vice president of football operations John Elway touched on it last week in a sit-down in the days leading up to the AFC Championship Game, will be to address head coach John Fox's future.

The 2014 season is the last year on Fox's current contract and no coach wants to go into the final year of his deal and try to direct a team. Elway said the two sides will sit down when the season is over and talk about what's next. The Broncos will also be awaiting the results of an end-of-season medical exam for quarterback Peyton Manning.

Win or lose in the Super Bowl, Broncos officials expect Manning to return for the 2014 season if the doctors give him the thumbs-up to keep playing. Elway said last week that he still considers Manning "young" and at the top of the his game.

On the roster the Broncos will face a decision in Eric Decker, who is poised for unrestricted free agency, as is cornerback Chris Harris Jr., linebacker Wesley Woodyard, guard Zane Beadles, defensive end Robert Ayers, safety Mike Adams and running back Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos will also have to decide on the veterans they signed to short-term deals last offseason: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips and Paris Lenon (all are set to be free agents).

The choices they make will dictate where they look in the draft, but they'll be looking at the defensive line, inside linebacker, the interior of the offensive line, and cornerback to start.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos made it a clean sweep for Thursday’s practice as they prepare for Sunday’s AFC Championship.

With safety Mike Adams (thigh bruise) having practiced fully in Thursday’s workout, the Broncos had all 53 players on their roster as full participants and listed no players as having been limited.

Adams had been limited in Wednesday’s practice.

“Everybody practiced full, we had nobody limited or did not participate," said Broncos head coach John Fox.

It means the Broncos will make all of the decisions for their gameday roster -- seven players will be declared as inactives 90 minutes before kickoff -- based on their game plan and special teams duties rather than health. The Broncos did put cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on injured reserve Tuesday with a season-ending knee injury, and signed cornerback Marquice Cole. Cole, who has always been a quality special teams player in his career, has practiced the past two days as the Broncos try to get him up to speed.

"A good athlete, a good guy, works hard at his craft -- both on and off the field," Fox said.
PITTSBURGH -- Kelvin Beachum started 11 of the Pittsburgh Steelers' final 12 games at left tackle -- he missed a game because of a knee injury -- and strengthened his grip on the position as the season progressed.

Not that Beachum would engage in any talk about his future at the all-important position when he cleaned out his locker a couple of weeks ago.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Beachum
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarKelvin Beachum starts the offseason as the presumptive starter at left tackle.
Beachum gave his standard replay -- "ask the organization" -- when the subject was broached multiple times in multiple ways.

He did explain why he refuses to address his future at left tackle.

"I don't know what their plan is," the second-year man said. "All I can do is continue to prepare, look at film, grow from it. I learned a lot playing left tackle. All I can do is continue learning and continue getting better."

Such sensibilities may stem from Beachum getting taken near the end of the 2012 NFL draft. The seventh-round pick knows nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, particularly for those who enter the league in the manner that he did.

Beachum's stock answer to all left tackle questions also speaks to the singular focus he applies to his job -- whether it is learning every position along the offensive line and filling in where needed or doing everything he can to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

Beachum takes the latter seriously enough that he has sought out advice from a number of former Steelers offensive linemen, including Tunch Ilkin, Kendall Simmons and Marvel Smith.

Beachum talked with Simmons at a Steelers event last season in Pittsburgh. He met with Smith, who was the Steelers' left tackle for much of the last decade before back issues cut short his career, when the team played in Oakland last October.

Ilkin, the color analyst for Steelers' radio broadcasts, is a regular at the team's practice facility, and he is often seen chatting up Beachum.

"Anybody that's willing to help me become a better player I'm willing to take their advice and put it in my tool box," Beachum said.

That willingness to soak up advice from those who have played before him is one reason why Beachum will enter offseason workouts and practices as the starting left tackle.

"He's got a big offseason and training camp [ahead of him]," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "but he's in pretty decent position from that regard."

That is all that Tomlin would concede when it comes to Beachum's hold on left tackle.

"I will not allow him to have an opportunity to exhale or seek comfort in regards to that," Tomlin said.

Not that Beachum needs any reminders that he has to keep working and keep getting better.

The 6-foot-3, 306-pounder, who is not a prototypical left tackle, said he wants to add strength during the offseason without compromising his athleticism. He plans to work out in Pittsburgh with defensive end Cameron Heyward among others in advance of the Steelers' offseason workouts.

Beachum's emergence at left tackle should allow the Steelers to use their first-round pick in the 2014 draft on another position. Even if the Steelers don't draft a left tackle at some point Beachum will face competition from Mike Adams.

Adams faltered at left tackle last season but the 2012 second-round pick steadied himself after his demotion and contributed as an extra tight end. Adams also played well when he started in place of Beachum against the Dolphins last month.

Adams will have a new position coach this year and he won't have to overcome an offseason stabbing, something that had to set him back last year. His presence -- as well as the investment the Steelers made in Adams -- won't allow Beachum to get too comfortable at left tackle.

Whatever challenges Beachum has to fend off won't faze him considering the path he has taken from the 248th pick of the 2012 draft to the job of Steelers left tackle.

"I embraced and enjoyed the challenge," Beachum said, "and we'll see what the organization has in store for me moving forward."
Peyton ManningTroy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning owns the single-season record for TD passes, surpassing Tom Brady with No. 51.
HOUSTON -- There are times when history demands a Sharpie.

A little mark, here and there, to make sure things don’t get lost in the shuffle. But along with the third consecutive AFC West title and a first-round postseason bye the Broncos brought with them on their chartered flight Sunday night, there were two pieces of football history.

Two footballs, bearing small notations from Broncos equipment manager Chris Valenti on the laces to label Peyton Manning’s 50th and 51st touchdown passes of the season, were along for the ride.

“And that’s unbelievable," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, after Manning’s four-touchdown day led the Broncos to a 37-13 victory against the Houston Texans. “The guy is in his 16th year. For what this game takes out of you, for what it takes to get yourself ready to perform at the level he performs, to make it into your mid-to-late 30s and to play at the level he is right now, to do what he’s doing, it’s unbelievable. I know everybody sees the numbers and the numbers are records, almost every week a record, but the only people who really appreciate what he’s doing, how he’s doing it, at this stage of his career are probably the people that play. But everybody better enjoy it, because it might be a long time before anybody does anything like this after all he’s been through.’’

It has taken the Broncos almost a year to get from last season’s playoff disappointment to where they are right now. From a double-overtime shocker against the Ravens to what Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips called the “best season ever’’ for a quarterback.

In 15 games, Manning has broken the single-season record for touchdown passes and is 265 yards from tying the single-season record for passing yards, and the Broncos now are 18 points from setting a single-season scoring record.

The Broncos are 28 points from being the league's first 600-point team, and they have five players who have scored at least 10 touchdowns, two 1,000-yard receivers, a 1,000-yard rusher and one medical marvel at quarterback. Manning finished his work Sunday a long way -- something on the order of a football light year -- from a hospital bed with questions swirling in his mind about whether the NFL would still be a part of his life when his recovery had gone as far as it would go.

Asked whether even he would have believed, in those days and weeks immediately following the Sept. 11, 2011, surgery to remove a herniated disc from his spinal cord, that he would throw 51 touchdown passes in a season, Manning said: "No, probably not. I had no real expectations, because I couldn’t really get any doctor, or anyone, to give me some sort of gauge or timetable or strength recovery, and believe me, I asked every question you possibly could. A lot of them said maybe it would come back to this level, it may not, there was definitely some wait and see. ... But it would be hard to say you could have imagined this at that point.’’

It would be hard to imagine for most anyone not named Manning, Brees or Brady, at any point in any year. The record will show Manning finished 32-of-51 passing for 400 yards to go with four touchdowns against the Texans.

It will show it came in a game that was 16-13 earlier in the fourth quarter, a game that was Manning's 12th game of the season with at least 300 yards passing, his fourth game of the season with at least 400 yards passing and his eighth game of the season with at least four touchdown passes.

Or as Bailey put it: “Ridiculous, ridiculous, ridiculous. It just shows you what the guy is made of, what he’s about.’’

The tough part, however, whether the Broncos like it or not, accept it or not, is still coming. They signed Manning, after all, not only to topple some history, but to chase Super Bowl wins and put some additional hardware in the team’s lobby.

And as frustrating as it has been for those who get signed checks from Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to listen to folks continually say nothing else matters, that all-or-nothing mantra lives in the public domain, even as the Broncos have continued to do astounding things on offense that are worthy of appreciation.

There also are lingering questions about the Broncos' defense, questions about the special teams. Questions that grew bigger with a left knee injury to Broncos linebacker Von Miller that many with the team are not optimistic about, as well as a 51-yard return by the Texans, and yet another muffed punt from Denver return man Trindon Holliday.

There also is some slightly unfinished business when the Broncos play for home-field advantage in Oakland next Sunday, a win they will need to force everyone else in the AFC’s playoff field to come chase them around at 5,280 feet.

“Right now it’s about getting ourselves set up just right for the next season, and that’s the playoffs,’’ safety Mike Adams said. “We need to do everything we can to get everything in line for that. Concentrate on Oakland, enjoy this, enjoy what happened [Sunday], but get ready for Oakland. This team knows how to go about it; we’ll get our minds right for what’s to come.’’

But those are questions for another day. For now, for this moment, there are touchdowns and history.

There is the maybe-never-again feel that came with a quarterback’s 51st touchdown pass in a single season. A quarterback with spinal fusion hardware in his neck, a knee brace and an ankle brace.

A quarterback who didn’t know what the future would hold grabbing yet another piece of history.

"My dad [Ron, a retired Navy SEAL] told me a long time ago it's always important to dream dreams and pay the price to make them come true,'' coach John Fox said. "But this is the dream edge of that saying."

“And that’s, like I said, unbelievable,’’ Bailey said. “And he’ll be in there [Monday] getting ready to go for more. I always approach it like that, but when a guy like Peyton does that, that means everybody else has to do it, too. We all need to get ready to go for more.’’

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