ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos are building around new quarterback Peyton Manning with the immediate future in mind. No three-year plans, no long-term solutions, no projects. Not anymore.
Manning is 36 and coming off a season in which he had more neck operations (four) than passes (zero), and after committing $96 million to the league’s only four-time MVP, the Broncos need to do everything they can to see to it that their investment pays immediate dividends.
They lured a number of free agents after winning the Manning sweepstakes and now it’s time to augment those additions through the draft.
They own the 25th pick in each of the first three rounds along with four picks on Saturday, three of which they received for trading receiver Brandon Lloyd and quarterback Tim Tebow.
Their biggest need is at defensive tackle, a position they’ve historically neglected in the draft and one which grew in importance when Brodrick Bunkley bolted for New Orleans in free agency and Ryan McBean saw his tender rescinded after he received a six-game drug suspension from the NFL.
Two players who could be there for the taking at No. 25 are Jerel Worthy of Michigan State and Devon Still of Penn State.
“We don’t feel as bad about our tackles as everybody else does,” said Broncos boss John Elway. “I think that we feel OK there and Ty Warren will be back coming off an injury and (Kevin) Vickerson is coming back and then we have some young guys in there that we feel like we’ll be OK. It’s not nearly the need in our minds that people think it is.”
Whether that’s a smoke screen or not, there are plenty of quality defensive tackles available in this year’s class, so the Broncos might be tempted to add another playmaker on offense, such as Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, with their top pick Thursday night.
Elway said Monday that he wouldn’t mind trading down, which could take the Broncos into the second round Friday evening before they make their first selection.
Either way, the Broncos’ draft approach has been altered by two significant developments in the offseason that changed their style on both sides of the ball: the signing of Manning, who was cut by the Colts, and the addition of Jack Del Rio, the former Jacksonville head coach who became Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons.
“If you look at where we were and where we are, the offensive mindset is a little bit different than it was. That is going to change the type of people that we are looking at offensively,” Elway said. “Defensively, nothing has changed other than the fact that we’ve gotten to know Jack Del Rio and the type of people he likes and the style that he is going to play.”
What makes Denver’s draft plans difficult to decipher is this: Elway subscribes to the “best player available” philosophy, explaining, “You have a lot more misses in my mind when you draft to need.”
The biggest question facing Elway, general manager Brian Xanders and coach John Fox is this: do they best help Manning by adding playmakers on offense or is it more prudent to build up the defense to take pressure off their new QB?
The answer could shift throughout the three-day draft.
“I think the bottom line is we want to do the best thing to surround him with a team that’s going to give him an opportunity to win,” Elway said. “We can go in with an idea of what we would like to do, but that changes as players come off the board. It’s always fluid.”
He compared it to when he used to go into kickoff with a game plan that quickly changed.
“Obviously, there are guys that we have pinpointed and like, but you never know where they’re going to go and when they’re going to be there,” Elway said.
Whether it was Mike Shanahan in charge or Josh McDaniels or the current regime, the Broncos have always been one of the busiest teams when it comes to draft-day trades, their dizzying deals netting them players or picks they covet.
And this draft might be no different.
“We’re open,” Elway said, clearly signaling to the league’s other 31 teams that he’s willing to listen to anyone’s pitch. “I think that preferably, we’d like to go back. If there is somebody that likes somebody at our position at No. 25, we’re fine there, but we’re always open to go either way.”
The Broncos are hoping to get three starters out of this year’s draft.
“Any time you go into a draft, you think your first and second picks, even into the third round, are going to come in and have an impact on your football team,” Elway said.
“We’re talking about now,” Elway stressed. “Impact doesn’t necessarily mean a starter, but one that can come in and help us win. I think that’s kind of where we are right now.”
Denver’s defense enjoyed a renaissance last year with the addition of Defensive Player of the Year Von Miller and the return of sack specialist Elvis Dumervil, but their secondary was exposed by elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, who piled up points on the Broncos.
Although Elway was reluctant for competitive purposes to speak about specific needs, cornerback is clearly another priority for the Broncos, who signed Tracy Porter to a one-year deal in free agency and spoke to the Philadelphia Eagles about Asante Samuel.
“But, you’re only as good as your pass rush, too,” Elway said. “You have to combine both of those. Obviously, our pass rush is better than it’s been, but we have to get better when people spread us out.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)