That handshake solidified the Denver Broncos' most busy off season in history and completed maybe the biggest free agency signing since the current system began in 1993.
Peyton Manning's agreement catapults the Broncos to the top-tier in the Super Bowl conversation. A plethora of significant deals would follow: Tracy Porter, Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreesen, Andre Caldwell, Mike Adams, Caleb Hanie as well as resigning avid contributors Wesley Woodyard, Joe Mays and Ryan McBean.
However, since the initial storm of free agency seems to have weathered, and what remains on the horizon for available quality players is "slim pickins," the remaining holes (and the Broncos have a few) will need to be filled through quality players in the 2012 NFL Draft.
This article will address a pick-by-pick analysis and select the most likely quality player available that will simultaneously fill some of the glaring needs within the Broncos lineup, in order to field a complete team and help take Mr. Manning and Mr. Elway back to the Super Bowl for another shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
With all of the hype regarding the signing of Manning and the weapons to help him on the offensive side, not much was legitimately addressed on the defensive line.
In fact, it wasn't really addressed at all. With one star defensive end in Elvis Dumervil and another that showed flashes of a pass-rushing force at the end of last season, but was nevertheless stout against the run, in Robert Ayers, the Broncos still don't have a consistently healthy, quality player to fill the two positions between them.
Losing out to New Orleans in the Broderick Bunkley sweepstakes and showing little interest in resigning Marcus Thomas, the Broncos must turn to the draft and find a couple of quality DT's to provide penetration and command double-teams to free up the ends, as well as pass rushing extraordinaire, Von Miller.
The pick here is Devon Still from Penn State. Still has great size at 6'5", 303 lbs, and his height can mean more opportunity for tips at the line. The most important facet of Still remains his ability to provide inside pressure on the quarterback, which would help free up the pass rushers on the outside, or terrorize RB's in the backfield.
He is not without risk however, as his tendency to take plays off, his late game fatigue and early college-career injury history can be a factor. However, playing on a team with a solid core locker room, especially on defense, Still will be pushed into reaching his ceiling, which would be a bonus for the Broncos. Also, Still will most likely play with a chip on his shoulder since his draft stock has plummeted since initial mocks.
Back to the DT position for their second pick. The Broncos haven't really had a solid defensive line since Mike Shanahan let Trevor Pryce walk, eons ago.
What has been the result? five of the last seven years they have finished in the bottom half on total defense.
A solid defense starts with the players in the middle, especially those in the trenches, and addressing this with dynamic prospects instead of stop-gap solutions, will give the Broncos the best shot to allow Peyton and company to play with the lead.
The pick here is Brandon Thompson, who shows versatility in playing both the nose and the 3-technique, massive strength (36 reps at 225 lbs) and smarts (2010 Academic Honor Roll).
Combining Thompson and Still will give the Broncos one of the younger and more formidable lines in the NFL for many years to come.
Running back is an obvious need for the Broncos, as Willis McGahee, despite being on the wrong side of 30, showed a significant resurgence last year and still has some gas left in the tank. But he won't be around forever (although splitting time at RB with Ray Rice in Baltimore helped alleviate some of the mileage).
Knowshon Moreno hasn't shown the ability to stay healthy, although his ability as a pass blocker and receiving threat out of the backfield may prove more useful in a Peyton Manning run offense, that is if he can stay healthy, and that's a big if.
Therefore, the Broncos need to draft a running back. The pick here is Chris Polk. Although Polk, who impressed Scouts with an improved performance at his pro day, may not be here in the third round, the trend lately is that RB's slip in the draft due to their short shelf life and the thought that effective backs can be found in later rounds.
Polk fits the mold for the Broncos. He's a big, between the tackle runner that moves north and south, breaking to the second level frequently. He also possesses fantastic receiving skills, which helps Peyton Manning as an outlet when downfield coverage is blanketing. He's not a great pass blocker, but that is a skill he can develop, and in the third round, he would be a steal.
The young receiving corps. that the Broncos have assembled seem poised to enjoy their best season ever. Especially when receiving the crisp, accurate passes of Peyton Manning—as opposed to the often inaccurate passes that led to constant readjustment, in the Tim Tebow era.
Demaryius Thomas, as long as he stays healthy, looks like a No. 1 receiver. Behind him, there are questions. Eric Decker shined early in the season and has the potential to be a solid No. 2, but late season inconsistencies and some past injury problems need to be overcome for him to emerge.
The signing of Andre Caldwell could prove to be a steal in free agency, as he fits the slot receiver mold well. He has good speed, and is still fairly young (27 years old this week), but he has yet to emerge as the force that Cincinnati envisioned him to be, so now he comes to Denver.
Behind them they have Jason Hill and Matt Willis, who are not established at all (except Willis is invaluable as a cover man in the punting game).
The need here is more talent, and Nick Toon is the pick early in the fourth round. Although he may not be around at this selection because of another strong pro day, if Toon falls this far he is too good to pass up. A big receiver at 6'2" 220 lbs, Toon has shown the ability to make electrifying plays with his speed and his hands. He would be a welcome addition to the receiving corps., as you can never provide Manning with too many weapons.
While addressing the middle of the line early in the draft, the need for a middle linebacker that can reach the point of attack at the line of scrimmage is also necessary for a successful defense.
Joe Mays is a tremendous hitter, but at times he seems out of place or making plays to far down the field. Nate Irving didn't receive much of an opportunity to flash his potential and could come in to supplant Mays in the preseason. However, Irving still has question marks about his ability and the injuries sustained in a vicious 2009 car accident.
Linebackers are a fairly safe pick, as they can always be utilized in special teams as punt and kick coverage because of their desire for collision.
To add depth and competition to the corps., the pick here is Vontaze Burfict. A controversial pick as no one's draft status has plummeted farther and faster than Burfict's has in 2012. Initially seen as a first round talent, but because of character and maturity issues, as well as a poor combine workout, he has dropped to the late fourth or early fifth round. Burfict needs a good scenario to blossom.
His instincts and reaction-time are sound, and he is explosive as a hitter and a pass rusher, often making plays in the backfield. This pick may end up blowing up in the Broncos faces if Burfict doesn't mature. But with a healthy locker room, he should serve as an asset, if not as a starter, then as a fierce hitter on special teams. If he doesn't work out, the Broncos wasted a fourth round pick.
This may seem like a lot now, but when was the last time any team had a perfect draft? Burfict is worth the risk.
Obviously, the quarterback position was addressed in the offseason with the addition of one Peyton Manning. Manning is the QB John Elway wanted after visibly squirming through an entire season with the unconventional style of Tim Tebow.
Behind Manning sits Caleb Hanie. Hanie was handed a chance to prove himself as an every down NFL QB, much like Matt Flynn, the problem was, he botched it, badly. He posted an abysmal 41.8 passer rating to accompany only three touchdowns and nine picks in four starts.
The result was obvious, the Bears went 0-4 (although in all fairness they should've beat the Broncos, if not for Marion Barber's antics).
If Manning goes down—which is a possibility given his recent neck problems—are the Broncos completely satisfied with Hanie as the backup? The more important question is, do they think Hanie is the quarterback of the future? Given the recent workouts they have had with ASU QB Brock Osweiler, the answer to this question is no.
With all the glaring holes that need to be filled around Manning, the Broncos would be ill-advised to waste one on reaching for a quarterback like Osweiler, who, like many QBs, will be drafted much too soon. However, the need for a potential quarterback of the future is there, and therefore the pick here is B.J. Coleman.
Coleman is a big passer at 6'3" 233 lbs, and has potential to develop into a solid option at the next level, given his performance at the Senior Bowl. Coleman will add depth and can learn under the tutelage of Peyton Manning, while potentially becoming his replacement down the road.
With the last pick in the draft, the Broncos need to address depth on the offensive line. Although many people have been bagging on J.D. Walton and his ability to run a Manning-style offense, Walton is still young, reliable and steady. He also suffered under an unconventional offense with multiple blocking schemes to adjust for the capabilities and strengths of Tebow. Now, Walton has already been working out with Peyton to become familiar with the cadence and schemes, so here's hoping he flourishes.
The line itself has been a stalwart unit that led the league in rushing and is fairly young. Plus, it would've been the only unit to finish the entire season together if Chris Kuper hadn't injured his leg in the regular season finale. However, that can't be counted on year in and year out.
Enter Ryan Miller, the homegrown talent that graduated from Columbine and then took his size and talents just up the road to Boulder. Now he brings that same skill to Denver, providing much needed versatility and depth to the unit. He is massive, at 6'7" 321 pounds, and fairly nimble for his size. Being a capable blocker all-around, he has the ability to stay inside at a guard position or move outside, depending on where he is most needed.
With all the moves the Broncos have made, and a quality draft addressing the remaining holes, there is no reason why they cannot legitimately compete for another Super Bowl Championship. Only this one featuring Elway as the executive and Manning as the quarterback.
Could this be the year that begins a run? Let's hope so.