In January, it was a 38-35, double-overtime divisional playoff win that KO'd the AFC's top seed. On Sunday, March 24, it was the free-agent signing of Elvis Dumervil, the pass-rushing specialist the Broncos were forced to release a little more than a week earlier due to salary-cap considerations.
While the playoff defeat clearly remains the bigger loss, Dumervil's departure is a definite setback for a Denver franchise which was in the midst of an otherwise bountiful offseason as it ramps up for another run at the Lombardi Trophy.
So who -- or what -- deserves the blame in this debacle?
Take your pick:
- Blame the Broncos and vice president football operations John Elway for instigating this whole mess by demanding a contract restructure after deeming the largely one-dimensional Dumervil too expensive with the DE due to collect $12 million this year.
Blame the Josh McDaniels regime who over paid Dumervil to begin with.
Blame Dumervil for waffling over the Broncos' first reconfigured offer half a continent away in Florida and not deciding until the final hour on March 15 to accept the terms. Blame Dumervil's former agent, Marty Magid, the crucial go-between who did everything but expedite the process in that final hour on March 15 and wound up getting dumped by his client as a result. Or blame the reliance on the 1980s fax machine technology in the Florida Kinko's that transmitted Dumervil's signed agreement 6 minutes too late to Broncos headquarters on March 15, forcing the team to release him.
Whomever or whatever is to blame, Dumervil is gone, taking his 37.5 sacks and his three Pro Bowl selections over his past three full seasons to Baltimore, where he now will be chasing down quarterbacks for an AFC rival.
Ever since putting this restructure plan in motion -- one that, don't forget, helped clear salary-cap room for the likes of free-agent additions Wes Welker and Luis Vasquez -- at the NFL Scouting Combine, Elway has known the seven-year Bronco could simply choose to walk away from the only NFL franchise he's ever played for, and on a cold and gray Sunday afternoon in the Mile High City, Dumervil just that.
And minutes after the reported 5-year, $35 million agreement between Dumervil and the Ravens burst across Twitter and millions of web pages, Elway released his own statement through the Broncos' web site:
"As we have from the start of this process, we worked diligently over the last week to find a way for Elvis Dumervil to remain a Denver Bronco. Although we made multiple contract offers to Elvis after being forced to release him, we were unable to reach an agreement and are now moving forward without him. Elvis was a team captain and a talented player who made a great impact during his seven seasons in Denver. I appreciate all of his effort on the field and the work he did in the community. I wish Elvis all the best as he continues his NFL career."
Now, just as Dumervil has, Elway and the Broncos must move on as well.
That means it's Plan B time at Dove Valley. Former first-round pick Robert Ayers should get first crack at Dumervil's spot in the starting lineup, while the need for a defensive end suddenly looms larger on the Broncos' draft board next month.
In the meantime, signing ex-Falcon John Abraham or former Colt Dwight Freeney -- both of whom worked out for the Broncos last week in Denver -- will be the Broncos' next free-agent move. The 33-year-old Freeney, who comes recommended by former Indy teammate Peyton Manning, has had 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons, while the soon-to-be 35-year-old Abraham has totaled 19.5 -- only one fewer than Dumervil during that span.
While neither player can match Dumervil's youth or productiveness, either should give the Broncos the short-term pass-rushing presence opposite Miller to keep opposing QBs nervous.
That's all that can be asked at this point by the Broncos, whose Super Bowl window with Manning, who incidentally turned 37 Sunday, is a one- or two-year proposition in any case.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver Broncos and the NFL since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Denver Broncos
- Elvis Dumervil
- Baltimore Ravens