The Denver Broncos had a terrific 2013 regular season. A 13-3 record led to the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC.
But that was when disaster struck. The Broncos were dominated in all phases of he game and thoroughly beaten by the Seattle Seahawks, 43-8.
So where does that leave things? How will the offseason play out for the Broncos? Click forward for a preview of what lies ahead for the franchise.
The 2013 season may have been the last for two very prominent members of the Denver Broncos.
Champ Bailey just completed his 15th season in the league, and he will go down as one of the greatest cornerbacks to ever play in the NFL. His 52 career interceptions along with his great coverage skills and tackling ability speak to that.
However, his talent has clearly diminished, and the 2013 season was not Bailey's best. He played in just three regular-season games after suffering an ankle injury in the preseason. He was likely just happy to be along for the Super Bowl ride in Denver.
Bailey will turn 36 years old in June, and as Peyton Manning recently explained to USA Today, Champ won't be playing out the final stretch of his career at safety.
There is a good chance that Bailey has played his final game in the NFL—or at least in Denver.
As for Peyton Manning, speculation will run rampant this offseason—or at least until he makes an official announcement—as to what he plans to do in 2014. Does he walk away after having one of the greatest individual seasons in NFL history? Or, does he keep going into season No. 17? The bad taste in his mouth from the Super Bowl loss will likely factor into that decision.
Manning faced plenty of questions from the media prior to the Super Bowl as to his future plans. He didn't really tip his hand one way or the other, only stating he'd like to continue playing.
It seems that an evaluation of his neck could help determine what will happen, but after watching Manning play this year, there's no reason to believe anything would be wrong with his neck.
Manning is still one of the best players in the NFL, and he knows he can add to his legacy in Denver. Because of that, he'll be suiting up next season.
Remember what happened after the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last year? They watched many key players promptly leave for big free-agent contracts.
Danell Ellerbe, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed and Cary Williams all went to play elsewhere. Could that situation now play itself out in Denver?
Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno, Zane Beadles, Shaun Phillips, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wesley Woodyard, Mike Adams, Robert Ayers, Paris Lenon, Andre Caldwell, Chris Kuper, Quentin Jammer, Jeremy Mincey, Michael Huff, Steve Vallos and Winston Justice are all scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.
Chris Harris, Tony Carter and Mitch Unrein will all become restricted free agents, and Duke Ihenacho will be an exclusive-rights free agent.
According to Overthecap.com, the Broncos have a little more than $8.7 million available in cap room.
The biggest decisions will be in regards to Decker and Moreno, two of the biggest offensive playmakers on the team.
Placing the franchise tag on Decker would force the Broncos to give him a contract north of $10 million a year. Decker would garner plenty of interest on the open market, but Denver simply can't pay him that much.
If the Broncos can get Decker to agree to stay for $7 million to $8 million a year, they should. If he wants more than that, let him go get it.
As for Moreno, whether or not to bring him back will be a very tough decision for the Denver front office.
In recent years, they have drafted Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, planning for Moreno's rookie contract to expire and for him to hit free agency. Until this past season, many fans probably wouldn't have had a problem with him going somewhere else.
But Moreno broke out in 2013, becoming the first player in Denver franchise history to have at least 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
So what is Denver to do?
Ball had a solid rookie season, but he did demonstrate ball-security issues, the same thing that got Ronnie Hillman benched. Moreno didn't fumble once all season.
Denver may have to turn their back to other free agents, but they should do whatever it takes to keep Moreno in Denver.
Then there is the case of Rodgers-Cromartie. If any player deserves a big pay day in Denver, it's him. If Champ Bailey doesn't make the decision to retire, the Broncos may have to make the tough decision to cut him to save the $10 million he is guaranteed next season.
The Broncos could use that money for Rodgers-Cromartie.
It will also be interesting to see what the team decides to do with guards Beadles and Kuper. There is almost no way they retain both players.
Who Should the Broncos Sign From Other Teams?
The Broncos should pursue help in the secondary and along the defensive line as well as inside linebacker, but they should be more focused on retaining as many of their own free agents as they can first.
Despite a midseason health scare for head coach John Fox and head coaching consideration around the league for both offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, there is no reason to think the entire coaching staff won't be back in 2014.
If the Broncos have similar success next season, it's likely that Gase and Del Rio could be offered a head coaching job in 2015.
As for John Fox, he is one of only six coaches in NFL history to take two different teams to the Super Bowl, and his health issues seem to be behind him. He should be strolling the sidelines in Denver for many years to come.
However, it will be the final year of his contract. If Denver intends on Fox being their coach going forward, they'll need to work out an extension with him soon.
The NFL draft has been pushed back to May this coming season, allowing teams a couple more weeks for preparation.
The Broncos will mostly be looking to add depth to the roster, but starters could be obtained at cornerback and middle linebacker depending on when the team decided to address those positions.
What the team decides to do in free agency will weigh heavily on this draft. For instance, if Decker and/or Moreno leave for another team, the Broncos would likely select another wide receiver and running back to replace them.
If so, how early would Denver look to make those picks? In the last two drafts, they have used high draft picks on running backs, starting with a third-round selection on Ronnie Hillman and a second-round choice on Montee Ball.
The Broncos will have the No. 31 pick in the first round, and they will select from the next-to-last pick in each round, as losers of the Super Bowl.
The 2014 season will be filled with tough games for the Broncos.
Starting inside the division, both Kansas City and San Diego will be looking to do what they can to overtake Denver in the AFC West. San Diego played the Broncos very tough in 2013.
The Broncos will match up with the NFC West in 2014 which will bring tough games against San Francisco and an up-and-coming Arizona squad. However, the game everyone will have circled on their calendars is the Super Bowl rematch with Seattle.
Indianapolis was one of just three teams to beat the Broncos in the regular season. In 2014, Andrew Luck will make his first trip to Denver.
The Broncos will also take a trip to New England, a road game that lately feels like an annual event. The fact that the Broncos play the Patriots means that Denver will face all three of the other teams that advanced to the conference championship round in 2013.
The Broncos will likely open as the favorite to win the AFC and reach the Super Bowl next season. There will be a familiar group of teams in their way of doing so.
New England will need to retool its offense, but the Patriots will be a threat as long as they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Inside the AFC West, San Diego and Kansas City figure to challenge the Broncos for the division as long as they can build on the success they achieved in 2013.
But for the Broncos to not only reach the Super Bowl, but also to win it, they would need to take a page from the team that just beat them by 35 points.
Seattle is built to win championships due in large part to its hard-nosed mentality. The Broncos were visibly shaken during the Super Bowl.
The finesse style that Denver uses may guide them through the AFC, but against teams like Seattle and San Francisco, the Broncos will see similar results to what they got in Super Bowl XLVIII because of the level of physicality those teams bring.
In order to beat teams like that, the Broncos need to develop the same persona. For John Elway and the Denver coaching staff, one of the biggest challenges of this offseason will be to figure out how to build a team that is more physical on the field.