Jack Del Rio becomes the seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons.
ENTER PEYTON MANNING
The Broncos’ return to the NFL’s elite began with a sales pitch.
But to land free-agent quarterback Peyton Manning and change the franchise, the Broncos couldn’t go for the aggressive sales pitch. Instead, after meeting with him, they let him be until he called their phone again. That’s when the Broncos scheduled a time to come watch a workout.
Manning visited with the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans after leaving Denver. Meanwhile, John Elway and John Fox sat back and waited. They could tell he was still stunned. The hard sell would not work. They had to let Manning come to his choice in his own time. Don’t come on strong.
“I was really just seeing how he was doing and what his plans were. I didn’t know what plans he had or any of those types of things. It was a conversation.”
A week after visiting with him, Broncos officials attended Manning’s workout at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. So intense was the speculation and spotlight that the van carrying Broncos officials was tracked and filmed by a Raleigh-Durham television news crew, and the feed was sent to ESPN and the NFL Network.
After the workout, again, Elway and Fox let Manning reflect on the choices in front of him: Denver, Tennessee, or San Francisco.
Three days after the workout and 10 days after Manning’s visit, Fox was in Elway’s office talking about personnel matters. The phone rang.
“I think we both froze,” Elway said.
He picked it up. Manning’s voice came through the line.
“He says, ‘It has kind of been a rough morning because I’ve had to call these other teams and say I’m not going to go work for them,'” Elway recalled.
“And he said, ‘I want to play for the Denver Broncos.'”
It didn’t take long for Manning’s impact to alter the team. After a 2-3 start, Manning got into a groove, and the offense sprinted through the rest of the schedule. Building off the momentum from a comeback from a 24-0 halftime deficit at San Diego, the Broncos won 11 consecutive games before a heartbreaking 38-35, double-overtime loss to Baltimore in the divisional round.
The end was awful for the Broncos. But the Manning Era had only begun.