ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In John Elway's first three years as executive vice president of football operations, his focus was fortifying the hollow roster he inherited by any means necessary -- which included heavy free-agent investment.
But with homegrown players maturing, the focus has changed in the last two years to keeping as many of those players as the constraints of the salary cap allow.
That defined their moves last year, with WR
Friday's re-signing of defensive end
"We always like to sign our own people, and obviously Derek, we drafted him in the second round four years ago, and so it's important for us to keep our own," Elway said.
The remaining members of the 2012 draft class have expiring contracts, and after some stops and starts, the maturation of that group of six has become crucial to the Broncos earning the AFC's top seed this season.
Wolfe's contributions are obvious, particularly in the last 10 games of the season, beginning with his AFC Defensive Player of the Week performance in the 29-10 win over Green Bay on Nov. 1. But it's just the tip of the iceberg of what the 2012 class has brought to the Broncos this year.
All are unrestricted free agents, along with Miller, a 2011 first-rounder. Three non-drafted 2013 acquisitions -- RB
And there is plenty of value among the team's six exclusive-rights free agents, a group headlined by kicker
This is the NFL's version of a "first-world problem." Even though the salary cap could rise as much as $10 million, the Broncos will have to make some tough choices on who to retain -- and will have to continue trusting their draft-and-develop system for reinforcements when needed.
Elway has pointed to keeping Miller as a priority, and if no long-term deal can be reached by next month, it will likely take the franchise tag to do it.
But the Broncos have signed all three franchise-tagged players in the Elway era to long-term extensions: Matt Prater (2012),
The offseason task list is long. But by agreeing to an extension with Wolfe, Elway got off to a good start by keeping a player in whom patience has provided a handsome reward -- for the player and team alike.
"Derek was the first step, and now we do have several other free agents that we'd like to continue to work with, and hopefully can get him back here in Denver," Elway said.