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Sundays with Sacco: The Broncos' greatest personnel moves

The Broncos' Ring of Fame honors those who have most impacted the franchise to be cemented in team history. (All photos from Denver Broncos photo archives unless noted as from AP Images)

As the NFL enters the thrilling free agency period, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the greatest personnel moves in Denver Broncos history.

For the purposes of this column, I am not including the actual NFL draft itself, in that every team gets a chance to choose and when it is your turn, you can take any player you want.

But finding a gem in a more unconventional and more competitive way often constitutes a major personnel move.

After all, in trades and free agency, each team is competing with every other team, and in the case of free agency, the competition even includes the personal desires of the player as well.

That said, here we go.

The five greatest moments in team history absolutely have to include the three world championships, as winning the ultimate title is the ultimate reason to play any game that has a scoreboard.

But I believe the other two greatest moments in team history came as personnel moves, with number one being the trade for and signing of John Elway.

I doubt there could be any argument that the acquisition of Elway is not the greatest trade in Broncos history. Like any great moment in history, I still have the details of how that unfolded seared into my memory. What a fantastic time that was for the team, city and Broncos Country.

And of course Elway, the current general manager, is responsible for the second greatest personnel move, that being the signing of Peyton Manning to a Broncos contract.

That contract, incidentally, is the only one in history bearing the signatures of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, as it is signed by both Elway and Manning, with the latter's eventual induction into Canton something of a formality withheld merely by year of eligibility.

After Elway and Manning, there have been a great many trades and free agent acquisitions, but I think you have to look at Ring of Fame membership, since any player in that group has proven his greatness as a Bronco, and hence his acquisition is in that category as well.

The Ring of Fame members who joined Denver other than via the draft are:

  • Rod Smith, who signed with the Broncos as a free agent out of college and played here from 1994-2007, becoming the leading receiver in team history. He was undrafted.
  • Gary Zimmerman, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member who came to Denver via trade in 1993 and is in the rare group of players to have been named to two separate All-Decade teams (1980s and 1990s).
  • Gene Mingo, signed as a free agent in 1960 after playing in the United States Navy. Mingo did not attend college. Mingo was a pioneer in the game as the first African-American placekicker and was the most versatile offensive and special teams player in Denver history.
  • Craig Morton, whom the Broncos got in a trade with the New York Giants in 1977. Morton led the Broncos to Super Bowl XII that season.
  • Haven Moses came to the Broncos via a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 1972. He became part of the "M&M Connection" with Morton. They entered the Ring of Fame together in 1988.
  • Kicker Jim Turner also entered the Ring in 1988, who came via a trade from the New York Jets.
  • The Broncos brought in quarterback Charley Johnson from Houston by trade in 1972, and he led Denver to the team's first winning season.
  • When the franchise began in 1960, retired NFL and Canadian Football League quarterback Frank Tripucka was brought in as a coach, and he is the only person in football history to join a team as a coach, then become a player and make that team's Ring of Fame.
  • Wide receiver Lionel Taylor, the first Bronco to catch 500 career passes, joined the team in 1960 after being cut by the Chicago Bears — where he was a linebacker. He was signed as a free agent after a tryout in the middle of an road trip out east.
  • The first trade the Broncos ever made produced a Ring of Famer. After the first draft in 1960, the Broncos traded draftee Jack Spikes, a fullback, for Austin "Goose" Gonsoulin, who became an All-AFL safety and had 43 career interceptions in Denver.
  • And one of the few bad trades Al Davis ever made for the Oakland Raiders came in 1967 when he traded a linebacker-defensive end, Richard Jackson, to the Broncos. Rich "Tombstone" Jackson was regarded as one of the two greatest defensive ends of his era, along with Deacon Jones of the Los Angeles Rams, and was named by Paul Zimmerman, the illustrious "Dr. Z," to his starting unit for pro football's first 50 years.

The Broncos continue to have great players, and they come here in many different ways, but these are some of the most prominent acquisitions who reached their peaks after coming to the Mile High City by trade or free agent scouting.

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