Last Thursday, the Broncos inked half of their draft class to their rookie contracts, and before long, the other five will surely join them.
This annual process hasn't always felt like such a routine, and if you go back far enough, you can find a time when the routine was Denver not signing their draft picks.
Before the implementation of the common AFL-NFL draft in 1967, the Broncos and other AFL teams struggled to beat out their richer NFL counterparts in trying to sign draft picks. Denver was particularly unsuccessful; until 1967, the Broncos remained the only AFL team not to have signed at least one first-round pick.
That changed with the advent of the common draft when, 54 years ago, Floyd Little signed his rookie contract with the Broncos on May 17, 1967.
"[I]f a telephone interview with the personable 24-year-old is any indication," The Denver Post's Dick Connor wrote the following day, "he's almost as happy as the Broncos to have some two months of contract negotiations wrapped up."
According to Connor's article, he reached the star running back at a restaurant in Syracuse in the middle of his bachelor party. Little had received a set of golf clubs as part of the occasion, and he told Connor that he looked forward to using them in Denver.
"I can use the extra yards I hear a ball carries in your air," he said. "I'm very happy to have this completed. I want to play in Denver. I want to play for Lou Saban. … I like the way he handles himself and business. It will be a pleasure to play for a man like that."
In a true testament of the era, Little also told Connor that he was hoping to get a second job during the offseason in public relations.
The signing was momentous for the organization. Even before he was given the all-too-fitting nickname, "The Franchise," Little's arrival signified bigger and better things to come for Denver.
Pointing to his signing and the Broncos' hiring of Saban as head coach, the Post's editorial page wrote days later, "There is a good deal of evidence that the Broncos mean business on the football field."
Little, of course, went on to become a five-time Pro Bowler and a 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee. At the time he retired, he ranked seventh in NFL history in career rushing yards and he was the Broncos' all-time leading rusher for more than 20 years. Today, his mark is second in Broncos history.
Little died earlier this year, on Jan. 1, 2021, at the age of 78.
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With the NFL's 2021 schedules unveiled last week, the Broncos will prepare for 2021 with the fourth most-forgiving schedule, according to NFL.com's Nick Shook. "The ideal start (in terms of opponents) and an opportunity to string together some wins before the final stretch makes this one of the most forgiving schedules," Shook wrote.