Broncos making big splash in free agency

Remember that smokescreen I warned you about a week ago, saying the Denver Broncos were playing it rather coy leading up to this free-agency frenzy? Things seemed a bit too quiet.

Smokescreen? This is an out and out forest fire.

Let me get this straight:

The Denver Broncos have just signed Wes Welker, the quickest little SOB ever spotted running across, around and/or through the middle of a football field, to a two-year contract. This is a guy who averages more than 100 receptions a year.

They have upgraded their offensive line by signing one of the top guards available on the free-agent market, Louis Vasquez, away from division rival San Diego.

They have upgraded the interior of their defense by signing their own free agent (thought to be gone) in Kevin Vickerson, added another monster in the middle in Terrance Knighton, late of Jacksonville, and a big middle linebacker, Stewart Bradley, from Phoenix.

And the hits kept coming late Wednesday with the Broncos adding cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, late of Philadelphia, to team with Champ Bailey in the secondary.

Two days of free agency: Six starters signed for next season.

Guess what folks? The Broncos, 13-3 last year but a loser in their first playoff game to eventual champion Baltimore, have suddenly become a lot better.

Their 5-2 odds of winning the Super Bowl next February will take a hit. Want to bet on the Broncos? Better do it quick before the odds go to 2-5.

The only thing that hasn’t come up roses so far for the John Elway-led team was the recruiting of running back Rashard Mendenhall, formerly of Pittsburgh, now of Phoenix. Mendenhall was due in Denver on Wednesday, but he signed with the Cardinals prior to visiting Denver.

So Elway & Co. will have to go with Plan B at running back, meaning find another free agent the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Turner or Steven Jackson, or with Plan C, which would be to stick with what they have in hand in Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman.

The way things have gone so far, maybe the Broncos will find a way to trade disgruntled defensive end Elvis Dumervil to Minnesota for Adrian Peterson.

OK, so that’s a bit over the top.

But let’s quickly evaluate what we’ve seen.

The offensive line got bigger and much better in terms of run blocking in adding the 335-pound Vasquez and putting him next to the 330-pound Orlando Franklin on the right side. (It could become monstrous if second-year player Phillip Blake, a 320-pounder, earns the starting job at center.)

As for Welker? Putting him in the slot with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker flanking him and Jacob Tamme also running routes from a tight end spot will give a certain quarterback just one more option. Welker is always open, and you can rest assured he and Peyton Manning will do plenty of scheming between now and the season opener.

Defensively, the re-signing of Vickerson is huge, as is he at 330 pounds. Putting him next to Knighton, also 330 pounds, gives the Broncos two forces in the middle, something defense coordinator Jack Del Rio loves.

The Broncos also will be bigger and more physical at middle linebacker with either Bradley, who was a standout several seasons ago in Philadelphia in a 4-3 before being forced out of position in a 3-4 after signing a big contract with the Cardinals one year ago. Bradley weighs in at 260 pounds. He also will have to beat out third-year player Nate Irving for the starting job.

With Rodgers-Cromartie in the fold, the right corner position is set, allowing Chris Harris to return to the nickel spot that he is so adept at, strengthening the defensive unit even more.

Yes folks, the Broncos and Mr. Elway have snuck up on us again.

It’s starting to become a habit.

Now, if they can just get something accomplished with that Elvis character ...

Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.


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