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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the 2013 Broncos gathered for their final team meeting and to clean out their lockers, it represented the last time that group of players would be together.
Roster change in the NFL is inevitable, regardless of the team's success that year. So this year will be no different for a Broncos club that has 18 players set to become unrestricted free agents and three that will be restricted free agents.
“It’s always a hard meeting, regardless of when you have it," Head Coach John Fox said. "That’s the reality of this league. We’re shifting gears now—we’re not all the way in yet from the in-season to the offseason. That is the business part of it. A lot of decisions to be made that are hard decisions. All decisions that are going to be made to improve our football team.”
Of the 21 players who will become free agents of some sort, nine started at least five games for Denver in 2013. Two of them -- Zane Beadles and Eric Decker -- were 16-game starters, while Knowshon Moreno opened 15 contests, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie started 13 and Shaun Phillips 12.
“You know, just coming in and just my past experience of this day, of being the last time you see the same locker room, it’s tough," said Decker, who will be a unrestricted free agent this offseason. "To know it’s not going to be the same next year – for me, I would love to come back. I don’t my future either. It makes it more real. And you just appreciate again what this year has meant to all of us.”
Moreno was the team's leading rusher, setting a career high with 1,038 rushing yards to go with 548 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns. Decker was the team's second-leading receiver, catching 87 passes for 1,288 yards with 11 receiving scores. Beadles, a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2010, has played all 64 possible regular-season games to open his career, starting 62 of them. He earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2012.
“I’m a Bronco," Moreno said. "We’ll see what happens in the offseason and hopefully I’m still here with this team.”
On defense, Phillips led the team with 10 sacks. Rodgers-Cromartie tied for the team lead with three interceptions, while his 15 pass breakups led the club.
"I feel like I came here and had a good year," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I love our secondary and the way things are going. I would love to be here.”
Middle linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Paris Lenon, who started 10 and 6 games respectively at that position this year are both set to become unrestricted free agents. Woodyard finished second on the team with 83 tackles, while adding 1.5 sacks, one interception, three tackles for a loss and four pass breakups this year. Lenon made 20 tackles with two pass breakups in 2013.
Also on the free-agent list is veteran safety Mike Adams, who ranked fifth with 61 tackles and added one interception, one fumble recovery and seven pass breakups.
Robert Ayers, who was drafted by the Broncos along with Moreno in the first round of the 2009 draft made 29 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits this season.
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"I understand that there is a business side of things – there’s cap numbers and a lot of different things that play into it," Ayers said. "This is definitely a place that I would love to continue my career. I have a home here and it’s a great place to live. It is a great organization, they treat the players like family. You love that, but at the end of the day it is a business. A lot of people that loved it here and that would have loved to be here and that the coaches would have loved to keep here aren’t here. I understand the nature of the beast.”
Now that the season has come to an end, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway and his staff will turn their attention to the future.
"We know that we have a lot of guys, a lot of good football players, though," Elway said. "We’re going to look at all the options and see where we are—and also look at our cap situation. And we’ll develop that plan here in the next two or three weeks.”