ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It seemed pre-destined before free agency that the Broncos would emerge from March with their receiving complement altered.
No unrestricted free agent wide receiver could match Eric Decker's production in the previous two years, and the contract he received from the New York Jets reflected this, with more guaranteed money than any other wide receiver on the market.
But what remained was still among the best one-two punches in the league. Demaryius Thomas' contract expires after this season, but executive vice president/general manager John Elway noted last month that his looming contract -- and that of tight end Julius Thomas -- was a factor in the team's decision regarding Decker. And Wes Welker has one year left on the contract he signed last year; assuming he stays healthy, he remains an elite slot receiver, and was on pace for an 87-catch, 12-touchdown season before he suffered a second concussion against the Titans in Week 14.
To that, the Broncos retained Andre Caldwell, who lined up at all three positions in a reserve role last
year, and signed ex-Steeler Emmanuel Sanders.
"To be able to get another wideout -- especially a guy of this caliber, we're extremely excited about it," Elway said March 16. "He was the guy that we had targeted from the very get-go and we were fortunate enough to land him."
Sanders can fill multiple roles. With 4.4 straight-line speed, he's fast enough to stretch the field vertically. As one of the NFL's quickest receivers who can gain yardage after the catch, he can work underneath and from the slot. This could prove valuable in the Broncos' long-term planning; if Welker is not re-signed after his contract expires, Sanders has the skill set to move inside if the Broncos see fit.
But Sanders' future beyond 2014 could be determined by what comes in next month's draft. If the Broncos add an outside receiver, Sanders could move inside; if they look for a future slot receiver or choose to extend Welker, it could be status quo.
Competition will come from Nathan Palmer and Greg Wilson, both members of the practice squad last season, along with reserve-future signee Jordan Norwood and Greg Wilson. Norwood had 36 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown in 16 games during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, spent in Cleveland.
It seems unlikely that the Broncos are done at wide receiver; the question is whether they supplement it
in the draft or out of the undrafted pool. With outstanding depth in this year's draft class, there's the potential that a receiver will be the "best player available" at some point when the Broncos are on the clock.
But with four experienced sets of hands under contract for three starting spots, the Broncos aren't forced to draft a receiver even when one is not the best player available. That's what Elway hopes to have at every position, and with Caldwell re-signed and Sanders in the fold, he has that luxury at wide receiver.