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Manning embraces Welker as Stokley ponders future

The SportsXchange

In North Carolina, the Broncos' future at slot receiver, Wes Welker, spent the past few days working out and running routes with Peyton Manning at Duke University's football complex.

In Colorado, the past, Brandon Stokley, spent his time organizing a fundraiser for autism research and education while spending his spare time working out and coaching his son's baseball team.

The transition from Stokley to Welker has been the defining move of the Broncos' offseason to date. By signing Welker to a two-year, $12 million contract in March, there was no room for Stokley, who played in the slot last year and had his best season in five years after reuniting with Manning, with whom he previously enjoyed his only 1,000-yard season in the NFL.

Manning and Stokley had the precise timing that develops with thousands of passes in their years together in Indianapolis and Denver.

"There's certain guys you just feel like you have timing with right away," Manning told ESPN. "He's a guy that has a great feel for how to get open, and understands route concepts and, of course, he played in such a sophisticated offense there in New England, so he's a smart player. You can see why he's been such a productive player. He's intense. He loves to work."

Welker was joined by fellow Broncos receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Manning's younger brother Eli was there; he toted Giants wideouts Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Louis Murphy with him.

Thirteen months ago, before Manning signed with the Broncos, it was Stokley who was among the receivers catching passes at Duke. Those workouts helped pave the way for Stokley's return to Denver for the 2012 season.

Stokley caught 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns last year. It was enough to keep the offense humming, but his age (he turns 37 in June) and a desire to ramp up the offense even further left the Broncos searching for an upgrade -- which Stokley admits that he expected.

"It really wasn't a shock to me. I thought they might be looking around," Stokley told KDSP-FM 102.3 in Denver. "I told my agent three or four weeks before that I wouldn't be surprised if they made a move at Wes Welker."

When Welker's employment was secured, Stokley was left to ponder his options. A recent visit to the Titans passed without a contract, but that didn't bother Stokley much; he admits that staying at home for the offseason and then signing a contract before or during training camp is helpful, since that would keep him at home with his wife and children until then.

"We'll see if something pops up later down the road, but I'd still like to play," he said. "I don't believe I'm done. I'd still like to play if the right opportunity presents itself. Right now I'm just enjoying the offseason."

So are the Broncos -- but it's without Stokley, who says he hasn't heard from the team and hasn't talked with Manning since the hours after Welker signed, although Stokley said he has exchanged text messages with the quarterback.

But for now, that's all. Manning and Stokley will always be friends, but the Broncos' Super Bowl hopes may end up resting on how quickly he achieves harmony with Welker, his newest target.
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