It was a huge year for the Denver Broncos organization in 2012.
With John Elway as executive vice president of football operations, the Broncos were able to lure future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning to Colorado. After several major neck surgeries, followed by months of extensive rehabilitation, Manning returned to the NFL donning blue and orange.
After two seasons of steadying improvement from 2010-2011, the Broncos burst onto the season in 2012, putting together a 13-3 record and locking up a first-round bye. With Peyton Manning starring on offense and Von Miller starring on defense, this Broncos team bulldozed through their schedule, ranked in the top 5 on both sides of the ball.
Manning went on to be an MVP candidate and won NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
"I can't tell you how happy I am to be back playing the game of football that we all love so much. I am very grateful to the Broncos organization, coaches, teammates, trainers for allowing me to come back & have a successful season. I can't tell you how thankful I am for so many people. I've thanked them all personally, but I really can't thank them enough family members, doctors, trainers in various teams and colleges - I just thank them all from the bottom of my heart," Manning said.
Although their journey ended short of the Super Bowl, a lot of pundits believe this team is on the brink of its next championship.
Biggest Need: Safety
Mike Adams and Rahim Moore were exposed in the postseason and, in this harsh football world, one could suggest that both are expendable. There are starter-worthy players cut and traded all the time, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Elway aggressively rebuild this safety group.
The safety market shrunk a bit when George Wilson and Jairus Byrd went off the board, but Elway will have options such as Ed Reed and Dashon Goldson. The most intriguing of the bunch has to be Goldson, who is looking for a big deal from San Francisco that he might not get. Goldson could step in and be a leader and dynamic playmaker in this secondary.
He would also help provide this team with a fierce, hard-hitting identity that would help them in the winter months.
Others Needs: WR, LB, DT, CB, RB
While the Broncos have made tremendous strides, there are still areas for improvement that remain. Fortunately, they solved the issue at quarterback by adding Manning, but now they need to build around him. In his first year, No. 18 did great things with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but there is room for more talent in this receiving corps.
Brandon Stokley is 36 years old and can't be relied on for much longer. The Broncos should look to the draft or free agency for a super-athletic slot receiver. It would be a solid roll of the dice by Denver to get Manning a toy similar to Randall Cobb.
Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno are also winding down in their careers, which has created instability in the backfield in Denver. They could look to bring in a tailback as well, alleviating some of the pressure off Manning. This was a well-balanced attack and Denver has shown that they will lean on their run game, with or without Manning.
Finally, their defense was exposed in the postseason; especially the secondary. They struggled to hang with bigger, faster receivers and were burned by the deep ball. They did receive pretty decent play out of Tracy Porter, but Champ Bailey's age appears to have caught up with him.
LB Keith Brooking, 37, is also aging out of the league.
And while the Broncos have the speed off the edge, the need a disruptive big body to anchor this defensive front. They need a wide-bodied lineman comparable to Vince Wilfork or B.J. Raji to create pressure inside.
NFL Draft Outlook:
The Broncos have brought in a number of solid contributors in the draft, particularly rush linebacker Von Miller. However, now saddled with a winning team, they will not be picking as high anymore. This front office has to be prepared to adjust its strategy to fit the team needs while considering its new draft position.
With a 13-3 record, the Broncos possess the 28th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. If they stay put, a safety or defensive lineman may fall right in their lap. Names like Kenny Vaccaro (S - Texas), Eric Reid (S - LSU), John Jenkins (DT - Georgia), Jesse Williams (DT - Alabama) and Sharrif Floyd (DT - Florida) would all be ideal candidates for this Denver roster.
Salary Cap Situation:
The Broncos took care of a their priority, handing left tackle Ryan Clady the team's franchise tag. He is widely considered one of the best blindside protectors in all of football and Manning needs the assurance that he's well guarded. The only drawback is that he will come with a heavy price tag for next season: $9.828 million.
Otherwise, the Broncos are not in terrible shape financially but may ask some of their higher-paid players to restructure given all of the needs they have to fill. They are expected have between $14 million and $15 million in available cap space, which is below average. They have enough room to make smart, bargain moves during the free agent period, but not enough to look at top-end players.
Between the NFL draft and the depth of this free agent class, the Broncos should be able to fill just about all of their team needs.