After a disappointing 2-3 start to the 2012 season, the Denver Broncos found their rhythm and completed the regular-season slate on an 11-0 tear, staring down a first-round bye and a divisional round playoff pairing with the Baltimore Ravens.
What followed would be a heartbreaking reminder that in the NFL, nothing is guaranteed.
As well as the Broncos played to finish the regular season, it would be a late defensive collapse and some uncharacteristically poor decision-making on the part of Peyton Manning that would end Denver’s playoff run prematurely, dropping a 38-35 double-overtime decision to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
But for as devastating as the end result was for the Broncos, the loss was no reason to signal major changes in Denver. If not for one misplayed deep ball to Jacoby Jones in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, the Broncos could very well have found themselves facing the San Francisco 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy.
With the league’s No. 4 offense and No. 2 defense in place, Denver entered this offseason with very few areas of real concern. Apart from retaining franchise left tackle Ryan Clady and shoring up their secondary, the Broncos were in position to instead focus their efforts on building around Manning and sustaining a roster that is among the most talented in the NFL.
Clady’s expiring contract was the most pressing matter to address, however.
With the two-time All-Pro left tackle facing free agency this offseason, the Broncos opted to use their franchise tag to keep him under contract for the 2013 campaign—despite Clady’s disinterest in the one-year deal.
As a result, the 26-year-old hasn’t signed the franchise tender, as noted by Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, and will skip the team’s mandatory minicamp, which began on Tuesday.
But according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, Clady and the Broncos have resumed talks to negotiate a new long-term contract, the last discussion taking place nearly a year ago:
Today, for the first time since last July(!), #Broncos reached out to Ryan Clady's camp to talk contract. Previously, it was radio silence.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 10, 2013
Clady is arguably the best blindside protector in the league, and Denver’s entire offensive unit would suffer as a result of a prolonged holdout. Hopefully for both parties’ sake, a new deal can be reached in the coming weeks.
And considering the Broncos’ key acquisition this offseason, Clady is the only piece keeping Denver from total confidence in its offense going forward.
With the New England Patriots unable (or unwilling) to reach a new deal with veteran wide receiver Wes Welker, John Elway saw it fit to extend a contract offer to the 32-year-old, effectively providing Manning with one of the best slot receivers in the business.
Welker’s two-year, $12 million contract was a steal for the Broncos, who now enter the 2013 season with a bevy of talented wideouts at Manning’s disposal, including an ultra-productive pair in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
Manning’s arrival last offseason took the Broncos' offense over the top, and with Welker in the fold, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Denver doesn’t finish with a top-five offense again this season.
Elway wasn’t especially active on the free-agent market this offseason, but there wasn’t really much need. As it stands, Denver is already in excellent position to again dominate the AFC West in 2013.
We’ll take a closer look at Denver’s offseason in the following slideshow and also highlight a few key positional battles to watch as the 2013 season draws near.