Team Report - DENVER BRONCOS

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INSIDE SLANT

The Denver Broncos and head coach John Fox agreed to a three-year contract extension on Friday that runs through the 2016 season.

According to the Denver Post, Fox will receive $5.5 million per year under terms of the new deal, an increase from the $3.5 million he was due to make in 2014.

The 59-year-old Fox helped guide the Broncos to the Super Bowl last season. His overall record is 115-91 in 12 NFL seasons and 37-17 with three AFC West titles in three years with Denver.

Said John Elway, executive vice-president of football operations, "We are pleased to reach this agreement with John Fox, who has played a key role in the success and improvement of the Broncos during the last three seasons. While our team has made progress each year under Coach Fox, we both understand that there is still work to be done for us to reach our ultimate goal.

"Having continuity at the head coaching position is critical in building a championship team, and John Fox is an important part of our foundation as we move forward."

Said Fox, "I want to thank John Elway and the Broncos organization for the trust they have shown in me with this agreement. I'm proud of what our teams have accomplished, but our expectations are much greater as we pursue the Super Bowl championship that our fans deserve.

"It's a privilege to coach the Broncos, and I am fully committed to the continuous improvement of our football team."

--The Broncos have gone all-in for the 2014 season, signing pass rusher DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib in an effort to upgrade the defense enough to support quarterback Peyton Manning and the record-setting offense.

What the franchise looks like 12 months from now is anyone's guess.

Manning is in a year-to-year situation, the team is relying on several aging veterans as it chases a Super Bowl title with a shrinking window and even head coach John Fox is entering the final year of his contract.

Fox said the sides "are working on" his contract, but he's not concerned about potentially entering the 2014 season as a "lame-duck" coach.

"Really, I'm going to coach my rear end off no matter what happens," Fox said at the NFL league meetings Tuesday. "That's in people's hands and I feel confident something will happen. Either way, I'm going to be fine. I'm under contract."

Fox is solely focused on next season. He feels "a bunch better" following his health scare during last season, and isn't concerned about his health going forward.

As for the crushing 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl? Fox waited a week before watching the film.

"Probably everything," Fox joked when asked what he would change about that game. "Right now I would like to get there. If you don't win that last game it gnaws on you. It really kind of never goes away. It's like a scar. You learn from it, you move on and you do everything you can to get better."

The Broncos have undergone a bit of a facelift since that game. Gone are wide receiver Eric Decker, guard Zane Beadles and future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey. But the Broncos were aggressive in signing Ware and Talib after the defense was exposed in the Super Bowl.

The offense is also poised to turn over the backfield reigns to second-year running back Montee Ball, whose playing time increased last season as he improved in his pass blocking.

"He's a tremendous young player," said Fox. "He improved a lot - we needed him to a year ago. I thought he turned into a pro. He understands how to prepare. Sometimes that may take a while. It didn't take him as long. We're looking for him to make good leaps.

"Every year - it's a young man's game - you take leaps of faith with young players. I think Montee showed he grew up as a player as far as being dependable, being accountable assignment-wise - all of the things young players struggle with. He made a lot of growth and we'll see what this year brings."

The Broncos hope the year brings another Super Bowl run, because the window is closing. How fast it is closing and whether the roster changes help the Broncos close the gap between themselves and the other elite teams in the league remains to be seen.

Fox has now been on the losing end of two Super Bowls as a head coach, including a close loss in Super Bowl XXXVIII while with the Carolina Panthers.

"The yellow rope still comes up and gives you rope burn," said Fox. "You don't get to stick around for the confetti. You don't get to hoist the trophy. That doesn't matter if it's one point or 100 points. That's just the reality of not doing it. But it's fun going there. It's a good week. Like I said, there is only one happy team at the end of all of this and everybody else loses their last game."

--Just over 12 hours after signing cornerback Aqib Talib for $57 million, the Broncos made another splash by signing defensive end DeMarcus Ware to a three-year, $30 million deal.

Ware will earn $20 million guaranteed over the lifetime of the deal, including $13 million next season, matching what he would have made in Dallas.

Ware signed less than 24 hours after being released by the Cowboys. He had a franchise-record 117 sacks for the Cowboys since being drafted in the first round in 2005. He had a career-low six sacks last season and missed games for the first time in his career because of a thigh injury.

"I feel like what they're bringing to the table, what they're doing with this organization, it's a perfect fit for me," Ware said Wednesday at a press conference. "Playing with a guy like Von Miller -- they like to rush the passer. Some of the things that they have missing, and it was a main thing, was having a pass rush and being able to hold teams to low points so Peyton (Manning) can do his thing. I feel like it's perfect for me to come here, and that's why I feel like it was a perfect fit."

Ware was released Tuesday afternoon by the Cowboys. He was contacted by a dozen teams, according to his agent, and made his first visit Wednesday to Englewood, Colo., at the Broncos team facility. Vice president and general manager John Elway improved his sparkling record of sealing the deal with marquee free agents.

"Just their mentality is a 'now' mentality," Ware told reporters at his introductory press conference. "A mentality of, 'I'm not looking forward to the next season or the season after that - the time is now.' So when I see Talib, I'm like, 'You know what? They're trying to get the job done.' When I see them signing a guy like (safety T.J.) Ward, they're trying to get the job done. They're trying to get these lockdown corners so the pass rush up front can really create havoc out there. Seeing what they're doing, now I feel even more comfortable even being here doing that with where they're trying to be and where they're trying to have their defense and what they're trying to mold."

General manager John Elway said, "We really believe he's got a lot of football left in him. He played through a lot of pain last year. He's had a tremendous career and we really think that opposite Von Miller he will really add to the pass rush."

To those that claim the Broncos are sacrificing the future to make a big push now, Elway said, "We're all in now, but we're really in this for the future as well. We're not mortgaging our future. We plan on being a good football team for a long time."

--The Broncos landed two of the top defensive prizes on the opening day of free agency, agreeing to terms with cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.

Financial terms were not disclosed by the team, but ESPN reported that Talib's six-year deal was for $57 million and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer indicated that Ward's contract averages $5.5 million per year.

Denver was thought to be close to re-signing cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but landed Talib.

Injuries and off-the-field issues surrounded Talib the past few years, but he was considered one of the top players at his position in free agency.

In 13 regular-season games for the New England Patriots last season, Talib had four interceptions and 41 tackles. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

In seven seasons with the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 28-year-old Talib has 23 interceptions, 73 passes defensed, two fumble recoveries and 272 tackles.

Ward, 27, registered a career-high 129 tackles with the Cleveland Browns in 2013, earning his first Pro Bowl selection and was named second-team All-Pro.

He is considered one of the league's most aggressive safeties, often playing in the box as an extra run defender. Ward will be paired opposite free safety Rahim Moore, who possesses far more range.

One of the Broncos' main priorities following their blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII last month was to get more physical on both sides of the ball.

"We are excited to add T.J. Ward to the Denver Broncos," Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said. "He's a young, explosive strong safety who is going to bring a lot of energy and toughness to our secondary."

The Broncos also agreed to terms with wide receiver Andre Caldwell on a new two-year contract. ESPN.com reported the deal is worth up to $3.45 million.

Caldwell, who will enter his seventh NFL season in 2014, has played in 24 regular-season games (two starts) for the Broncos during the last two years, totaling 17 receptions for 218 yards with three touchdowns.

Caldwell, 28, combined to catch 11 passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns during Denver's final three games in 2013 before seeing action in all three playoff contests for the club. He could be in line for significantly more playing time with Eric Decker expected to sign elsewhere as a free agent.

"If (Decker) doesn't come back, (I'll compete) for his spot and make some things happen if I get that opportunity," said Caldwell. "Only time will tell if that's the case or not."

In six NFL seasons, including his first four with the Cincinnati Bengals, Caldwell has appeared in 75 regular-season games (16 starts) and tallied 141 catches for 1,390 yards with nine touchdowns. He has seen action in four career postseason games (one start) and has four receptions for 51 yards.

Selected by the Bengals in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft from the University of Florida, Caldwell caught a career-high 51 passes for 432 yards with three touchdowns for Cincinnati in 2009.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The NFL announced each team's preseason schedule without precise dates or times, except for national TV games and the final preseason week in which all games will be on Thurs. Aug. 28. Week 1 games are Aug. 7-10, Week 2 Aug. 14-18 and Week 3 Aug. 21-24.

The Broncos will be at home against Seattle in Week 1 and Houston in Week 3, while going on the roads against San Francisco in Week 2 and Dallas in Week 4.

--Broncos general manager John Elway acknowledged that many of the team's moves have come with the Patriots in mind. This past season, the Broncos defeated New England in the AFC Championship Game to advance to the Super Bowl.

"You always know you have to go through New England. With their track record over the last 10 years, they're a team you're going to have to be able to deal with," Elway said. "For us to get done what we want to get done, you have to be able to beat them. It's a fun arms race, and we'll see what happens next year."

In the first week of free agency, Denver has signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

Said Elway, "You have your wish list, and we're fortunate enough, ... we were able to X off a lot of guys off our wish list that were able to come here. We want good football players that are going to be here for a long time. The basic (idea) is to get as young as we can with the best players we have."

--The Broncos agreed to terms with unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a three-year contract. The deal became official when Sander passed a physical.

Sanders' deal is worth $15 million, a league source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. The National Football Post reported the deal is worth up to $18 million, including $6 million guaranteed.

"We're thrilled to announce the signing of Emmanuel Sanders," general manager John Elway said at a press conference. "He's a guy that has had a tremendous career so far, and we think that he's only scratched the surface. So we have great expectations of Emmanuel and really think he's going to come in and add a tremendous amount to the offensive side."

Sanders (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) is a fifth-year player who appeared in 56 career regular-season games (18 starts) during his first four NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, totaling 161 receptions for 2,030 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also has 13 catches for 172 yards in four career postseason games played.

"It feels good to be a Bronco," Sanders said. "I want to thank (owner and CEO) Pat Bowlen, John Elway and, of course, (head coach) John Fox for bringing me here. This is a team that I wanted to go to during free agency. Somehow, someway it ended up happening."

Sanders, who turns 27 on Monday, started 10 of 16 games for the Steelers in 2013 and recorded career highs in receptions (67), receiving yards (740) and touchdowns (6). Sanders caught at least one pass in every game and finished the year with four touchdowns in the Steelers' final six contests.

Sanders was selected by Pittsburgh in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Southern Methodist University.

The record-setting Broncos' offense was in need for help at wide receiver after Eric Decker left in free agency for the New York Jets.

--There was nothing more certain in the Broncos' offseason than the fact that they would not pay Champ Bailey the $10 million remaining on his contract for the 2014 season.

But until Bailey was cut on March 6, it seemed plausible that the Broncos would re-structure the likely Hall of Famer, rather than cutting ties with their longest tenured player. A move to safety was rumored, to account for the loss of speed that was exacerbated by the Lisfranc sprain that sidelined him for 11 games and hindered him for the ones he played during the 2013 season.

"This was a difficult decision for our team with everything that Champ Bailey has meant to the Denver Broncos and this community over the last 10 years," said general manger John Elway.

Difficult, but altogether logical. Only four cornerbacks have started a full season in their 16th year in the league, which Bailey will play if he is signed by another team. None made the Pro Bowl, which has been the standard of success for Bailey, as he racked up more Pro Bowl selections (12) than any other cornerback in NFL history.

The Broncos want to get younger, longer and faster at cornerback. Chris Harris, Jr., a restricted free agent, appears likely to return; if his recovery from a partial tear of his anterior cruciate ligament is on schedule, the Broncos have one of the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL. 2013 third-round pick Kayvon Webster showed flashes of effectiveness before fracturing his thumb and will likely be leaned upon more.

But how the Broncos replace Bailey for the next few years will likely depend on what they do in free agency, and whether they re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, add another high-dollar free agent cornerback, or both.

--Just over two years ago, Chris Kuper seemed destined to become a fixture among the NFL's elite guards. He had gradually evolved into an effective run and pass blocker, and had a contract that tethered him to the Broncos through 2015, evidence of their faith in him.

But then he suffered a horrific fracture of his leg in the regular-season finale against the Chiefs. He was never the same, and after two years of struggling to regain his lost form, announced his retirement on March 10.

"This felt like the right time for me to leave this game on my terms," said Kuper.

Kuper had the chance to go to the 2013 Pro Bowl as an alternate, but declined, because he needed to undergo more surgery on the leg he had injured one year before. He battled ankle problems in that leg during the 2012 season and started just five games.

After further surgery in 2013 Kuper was relegated to the bench for most of the following season. He started in Indianapolis in Week 7 after a series of shuffles that followed an injury to Orlando Franklin, but struggled and played just once the rest of the season. He was deactivated for each of the Broncos' playoff games.

Kuper was one of the Broncos' team captains from 2010-12, and became a well-respected presence in the locker room.

"(Kuper) consistently demonstrated the type of leadership you look for in a team captain,a?? said Broncos coach John Fox. a?oHe earned the respect of his teammates and coaches for his dedication to the game."

Following Kuper's retirement and the release of Bailey, kicker Matt Prater is now the longest-tenured Bronco.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--After signing with the Jets, former Broncos receiver Eric Decker said, "I'm very thankful for my four years in Denver. I think it's one of the greatest cities to play in. Unfortunately, I never got an offer from the Broncos. Denver will always be a part of me but I'm excited about New York being my new community and starting a new chapter in my life. On top of all that, my wife's expecting our baby any second."

In fact, after signing, his wife, country singer Jessie James, tweeted for Decker to hurry home so he can be there for the birth.

TEAM NEEDS

--SAFETY: No position has more question marks, with health concerns and uncertainty for starter Rahim Moore and 2011 starter Quinton Carter, inconsistent play from Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams set to become a free agent. The Broncos showed interest in ex-Lion Louis Delmas last month, and that could augur a makeover. T.J. Ward was signed, and they could ne in the market for more.

--MIDDLE LINEBACKER: By the end of the last two seasons, the Broncos started veterans at the end of their careers in Keith Brooking or Paris Lenon. This free-agent period may end the Broncos' recent tendency of trying to jury rig temporary solutions.

--CORNERBACK: With Champ Bailey a cap casualty, the Broncos will likely spend heavily on an elite cornerback, which they did with the addition of Aqib Talib.

PERSONNEL TRACKER

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--S Mike Adams returned to the starting lineup in November after being demoted in training camp, and provided a steady hand for a relatively inexperienced safety corps. The Broncos targeted this position in free agency, but if they're not confident in the health or capability of their options on hand, they could bring back Adams as an insurance policy and for locker-room leadership.

--LB Stewart Bradley was poised to start at middle linebacker before fracturing his wrist in a preseason loss at Seattle on Aug. 17. Bradley appears set to move on, and probably won't be able to find anything beyond a backup role.

--CB Marquice Cole was signed the week before the AFC Championship Game after being released by the Patriots, but he did not play in either of the postseason games that followed. He is not expected to return.

--S Michael Huff was signed for depth on Nov. 19 and saw spot duty in five games after that, including two postseason games. Huff struggled in Baltimore before joining the Broncos. He could be brought back for depth, but nothing more.

--CB Quentin Jammer appears unlikely to return. Jammer saw spot duty last year but struggled in the divisional-round win over San Diego after replacing the injured Chris Harris. Jammer could still have value for a team needing veteran experience, but the Broncos appear poised to move on.

--C Dan Koppen missed the 2013 season after tearing his ACL in training camp. The Broncos didn't re-sign him last year until late June, after they learned expected starter J.D. Walton needed further surgery on his ankle. With Manny Ramirez consolidating his position as starting center, there appears to be no need for Koppen.

--LB Paris Lenon took over at middle linebacker in December and held the role through the Super Bowl, but the Broncos' interest in ex-Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson revealed that they likely want an upgrade -- and to get a few years younger after using end-of-career veterans at the end of each of the last two seasons.

--C Steve Vallos beat out veteran Ryan Lilja for the backup spot in training camp and was a reserve at center and guard last year. His experience at both spots and his knowledge of the offense makes him an ideal candidate to return on a veteran-minimum contract.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--DT Mitch Unrein (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation) has established himself as a stable part of the Broncos' interior rotation. He also moonlights as a goal-line fullback -- and is the closest thing the Broncos have to a fullback on the roster.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--CB Tony Carter (tendered at $730,000) will likely be on the roster bubble again. He managed to make the team the last two years; whether he survives this time will depend on who else the Broncos import.

--S Duke Ihenacho (tendered at $495,000) lost his grip on a starting job in December, then quickly got it back. He was effective against the run, but struggled in coverage as teams used his aggression against him. If the Broncos target safety in the free-agent market, his future could be as a backup.

--LB Brandon Marshall (tendered at $495,000) was one of a handful of ex-Jaguars brought in to bolster the depth of the defense. Marshall showed a spark on special teams, and will push for a greater role in training camp.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--WR Andre Caldwell: Potential UFA; $3.45M/2 yr.

--CB Chris Harris: RFA tendered at $2.187M with second-round pick as compensation; $2.187M/1 yr.

--T Winston Justice: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Jamar Chaney: FA; $730,000/1 yr.

--T Ramon Harewood: FA; $495,000/1 yr.

--C Will Montgomery: FA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Jerome Murphy: FA; $645,000/1 yr.

--WR Jordan Norwood: FA; $1.39M/2 yrs.

--WR Emmanuel Sanders: UFA Steelers; $15M/3 yrs, $6M guaranteed.

--CB Aqib Talib: UFA Patriots; $57M/6 yrs, $5M SB/$26M guaranteed.

--S T.J. Ward: UFA Browns; $22.5M/4 yrs, $14M guaranteed.

--DE DeMarcus Ware: FA Cowboys; $30M/3 yrs, $20M guaranteed.

PLAYERS LOST

--DE Robert Ayers: UFA Giants; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$1.75M guaranteed.

--CB Champ Bailey (released).

--G Zane Beadles: UFA Jaguars; $30M/5 yrs, $12.5M guaranteed.

--WR Eric Decker: UFA Jets; $36.25M/5 yrs, $7.5M SB/$15M guaranteed.

--KR/PR Trindon Holliday: Not tendered as ERFA/Giants; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--G Chris Kuper (retired).

--DE Jeremy Mincey: UFA Cowboys; $4.5M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.

--RB Knowshon Moreno: UFA Dolphins; $2M/1 yr, $500,000 SB/$1.25M guaranteed.

--DE Shaun Phillips: UFA Titans; $6M/2 yrs.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: UFA Giants; $35M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$13.98M guaranteed.

--LB Wesley Woodyard: UFA Titans; $16M/4 yrs.

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