With the sting of their 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII still fresh, the Denver Broncos met for the final time this season at team headquarters on Tuesday before embarking on an offseason that promises to bring significant change to the roster.
“Absolutely not,” left guard Zane Beadles said when asked if the sting from Sunday’s loss has gone away. “I don’t know if it ever will, if it will take time-I don’t know. I’ve never been in this situation before. We’ll see how it goes.”
Beadles, a Pro Bowl selection this season, is among a handful of key players set to become free agents next month. While Vice President of Football Operations John Elway attempts to tweak the roster to make the Broncos more competitive against the elite NFC teams, Beadles, wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno are left to wonder if they walked out of the team’s headquarters for the final time Tuesday.
“You know, just coming in and just my past experience of this day, of being the last time you see the same locker room, it’s tough,” said Decker, who set career highs with 87 catches and 1,288 receiving yards this season. “What we’ve been through this year as far as facing adversity — the ups and the downs throughout the year and just ups and downs of life in general — you build a brotherhood, you build really that relationship throughout.
“To know it’s not going to be the same next year — for me, I would love to come back. I don’t (know) my future either. It makes it more real. And you just appreciate again what this year has meant to all of us.”
The trio of key free agents each expressed a strong interest in returning to Denver, although Decker admitted there is a business side to football that the Broncos and players must each weight. In Moreno’s case, he’s an experienced veteran whose value is greatly enhanced by his ability to help protect quarterback Peyton Manning, but the Broncos were also encouraged by Montee Ball’s development as a rookie.
“You know what, that hasn’t sunk in yet but hopefully I’m still here,” Moreno said of potentially having played his final game as a Bronco. “That’s all that matters.”
Two prominent leaders who figure to return to the fold in an attempt to get the Broncos another crack at a Super Bowl ring are Manning and cornerback Champ Bailey.
Manning said after Sunday’s loss that he intends to play another season, although an examination on his neck in March remains a looming obstacle. There had been plenty of conjecture that Bailey might call it a career, but he reiterated Tuesday that he’s under contract and has every intention of playing in 2014.
“You don’t want to think about that right now,” Bailey said about looking toward the future. “I think it’s obvious for everybody in this locker room. Most people in this locker room have to deal with something coming up. You deal with it when you can. I don’t control anything — I’m under contract for another year, so I’m not concerned with what’s going on, really.”
Bailey said he hasn’t watched the game tape from the Super Bowl, but that it’s clear the Broncos were simply outplayed by the Seahawks.
“We got close, but obviously we just have to be more ready to play,” Bailey said. “I just felt like they were more ready, they wanted it more and the obvious outcome was that they won.”
For now, the Broncos are left to deal with the grim reality of a double-whammy — they were steamrolled in the Super Bowl, and the makeup of the team that attempts to rebound and take that final step next season promises to change significantly by the time the offseason program kicks off.
“You get this far and you’re together this long, it does sting a little more because you built up so many more relationships than you have in the past,” said Bailey. “I’ve been through several seasons and forget some of the guys I’ve played with, but there is not a guy in this locker room I won’t remember.”