ENGLEWOOD - John Elway reached a point, shortly after hoisting his second Super Bowl trophy at age 38, where his body just couldn't handle the rigors of playing quarterback in the NFL any longer.
Now 53, Elway is running a team led by a 37-year-old quarterback and hopes Peyton Manning can play longer than he did.
"His arm looks good and from 36 to 37, he got better," Elway told USA TODAY Sports. "Who knows what's going to happen from 37 to 38. Only (Manning) knows."
Manning is in the second season of the five-year contract he signed last year, one that will take him through his 40th birthday if he plays out the entire deal as currently structured. During the offseason, the Broncos incorporated an insurance policy to the pact should Manning suffer a serious non-neck injury this year even though he didn't show any ill effects from the numerous surgeries he underwent in 2011.
"I think the five years was hopeful, but we'll kind of see how it goes. One year at a time," Elway said. "We just couldn't be on the hook for that long, because we didn't know how the first year was going to go. We needed answers from that first year, and he needed them. We couldn't put ourselves in the position to risk that kind of money if things didn't work out."
That it has worked out so far with Manning - he finished second to Adrian Peterson in MVP voting last season after leading the Broncos to 13 wins and the AFC West title - is the biggest reason for optimism in Denver despite a difficult offseason and preseason that included a messy divorce from defensive end Elvis Dumervil, a pair of front-office DUIs and now the six-game suspension of linebacker Von Miller, the team's best defensive player.
Elway and his staff did make some big moves, first signing slot receiver Wes Welker and then locking left tackle Ryan Clady into a long-term contract. The Broncos have made preliminary inquiries to the agents of wide receiver Eric Decker and guard Zane Beadles, who are both entering the final year of their rookie contracts, but real negotiations will likely wait until 2014. Elway will also soon face decisions on new contracts for Miller and receiver Demaryius Thomas.
"We have to look at everything, we can't look at just this year. We look at next year and the year after that," Elway said. "That's part of the planning stage. We will get to that."
But Elway understands that plenty of questions remain in the short-term, especially on the field as the Broncos must figure out how to replace Miller to start the season.
"I get it. Anytime you lose a guy like Von Miller, it's going to affect you, because he's that kind of player," Elway said. "But I believe we got better in the secondary, and with us getting better in the secondary, you can do things to manufacture a pass rush."
Elway said the Broncos tried to add linebacker depth by signing veteran Paris Lenon earlier this week. Vocal defensive leader Wesley Woodyard has moved from weakside linebacker to the middle amid news Stewart Bradley, who had been leading the competition to start in the middle, will miss four to six weeks after undergoing wrist surgery this week. Second-year linebacker Danny Trevathan replaces Woodyard outside, and Elway now hopes that will give the Broncos' a more versatile group in Miller's absence.
"We didn't have any depth as far as a guy that can play nickel," Elway said. "(Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio) will do a good job of combining different things to be able to help us."
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)