ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the wake of the Broncos' Super Bowl XLVIII loss, John Elway didn't waste time.
Just a month later, Denver's general manager made a splash when free agency began.
Over the course of several days, Elway added outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety T.J. Ward to the Broncos' roster.
Two seasons later, the Broncos were world champions.
All four players earned at least one Pro Bowl nod ahead of that Super Bowl victory, and they played critical roles during the Broncos' playoff run following the 2015 season.
Ware, who signed after nine years in Dallas, was the most-accomplished player who joined the Broncos that spring. A seven-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro in Dallas, Ware headed to Denver in search of that elusive Super Bowl ring.
The leader of the Broncos' defense joined DenverBroncos.com to share details of his free-agent decision, reminisce on the accomplishments of the historic class and explain how the team achieved its ultimate goal.
Following a nine-year career in Dallas, the Cowboys decided to part ways with Ware ahead of the 2014 season. The 2005 first-round pick entered free agency for the first time in his career, and Denver appeared to be a solid option. The Broncos' defense had solid defensive talent, but the unit ranked just 19th in total defense in 2013. Still, the team defeated the Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship — and they had Peyton Manning, who had just completed the best season of his professional career.
"There was one thing that really drew me to the Broncos, and that was winning a championship," Ware said. "Knowing that a lot of things were already in place with Peyton being there, they already had a [near] top-five defense, but I knew there were a couple of things that were missing, which were some leadership there and maybe someone with a little bit more bite. What I mean by that is sometimes when you win so many games and you get to the championships and you take for granted that you can't ever get back there again. The Denver Broncos, they were used to winning and getting to that point, but I felt like they needed that edge — that sword — to get them to where they needed to be. For me in my career, you know that I had maybe made the playoffs one time. I was so used to losing and I got tired of it. So I came to the Denver Broncos with the type of edge that I feel like the team needed, and it got us to the point of winning Super Bowl 50."
Ware spoke with Elway when free agency began, and the two-time Super Bowl champion as a player sold the Cowboys great on coming to Denver.
"Coming from the Dallas Cowboys when they released me, it was one of those things where talking to Elway, it's one of those business opportunities," Ware said. "You've got to think of it always as a business. I know it's a sport, but it's also a business that when Elway calls me and he says, 'DeMarcus, I know there are some missing pieces on the team and on the defense, you are the missing piece. You've got Von Miller coming back off of an injury, we're trying to get Aqib Talib, we're trying to get T.J. Ward. … We need some veteran guys to come in and really take leadership on our defense.' … He always said [we were] the Sheriff and the Deputy on offense and defense. He said, 'I feel like we will have everything in place to win a championship.' And he said, 'I know that you still have at least three more years in you, and I would like to really offer you a contract because I know that you're going to give it everything you've got.'
"When you've got a guy that's played before and that's telling you that, it's actually reassuring to you. You get a little bit of a rebirth, because you're at the tail end of your career and somebody tells you what you can't do, [but] it only takes one person to spark that edge again and say, 'You know what? You've still got it.' That's what Elway did for me."
As Ware prepared to fly out to Denver, he kept an eye on other edge rushers around the league. He saw Julius Peppers accept a free-agent deal to sign in Green Bay, and that led him to wonder where he would end up. Then, as he boarded the plane to Denver, he noticed someone on his flight that would help make the decision a little easier.
"I got on the plane and I saw Aqib Talib. I didn't know anything about Aqib Talib coming to the Denver Broncos," Ware said. "And I thought to myself, 'Is he going to try and sign in Denver?' I said, 'OK, then. If I can get Chris Harris and Aqib Talib on the same team, that means I have at least one more second to get to the quarterback.' And then I also said, 'If I can also get right with Von, we can be the best tandem ever at the outside linebacker position to play together.' I was already sold after that.
"I remember sitting in the[locker room] and Aqib Talib was getting dressed … and I was getting dressed as well. You put on your nice gear and your suit and make sure you're presentable at the time to the owners and also to the press if you were going to sign at that time, so you need to be prepared. I remember when we were sitting in [there], I looked at Aqib and Aqib looked at me, and we smiled at each other. Because we knew exactly what we had to do. And that was one of those cool moments where I knew that it was that time."
The Broncos rolled to a 12-4 record during Ware's first season in Denver, but they lost in the divisional round to the Indianapolis Colts. In 2015, the team wouldn't let another opportunity get away.
"Our motto that year of Super Bowl 50 was 'iron sharpens iron, and another man sharpens another,'" Ware said. "We knew what that meant before the season started. We had that motto during OTAs and minicamp and training camp, and it was crazy, but that year everybody stuck with that motto of each person being for another. Me and Peyton got hurt that year, a couple of other guys got hurt that year, but we were still winning football games. We didn't think that we could be stopped. It didn't matter about the name that was on your jersey. We were a living witness of ourselves that the hard work we did in the offseason actually paid off during the season. When me and Peyton came back, it was like full steam ahead after that. That brotherhood that we gained from just the turmoil and anguish that we had during the season, we still have that now. And it's going to last forever."
Six years after joining the Broncos, Ware realizes the unique place the free-agent class holds in NFL history. Four big-name players arrived in Denver in 2014 and departed several years later with Super Bowl rings.
"Being part of that class was an opportunity for me that I can never get back again and I will never take that for granted," Ware said. "I feel like, for me, that was the best defense I've ever played on from a team camaraderie standpoint, from a guys wanting to play [standpoint]. That was one of those memories that's going to last forever, especially with a monumental Super Bowl 50 championship to where each and every day, I can open that box up and see that Super Bowl ring and know how hard each one of us worked throughout the season, from injuries and ups and downs that we had.
"We all stayed together because we had one mentality, and that was to win a championship."