DENVER — The Denver Broncos gave Peyton Manning a new target — Tom Brady’s favorite receiver.
Wes Welker’s signing for $12 million over two years highlighted another busy day for the Broncos on Wednesday.
In addition to bringing Welker on board, Denver also agreed to terms on a two-year deal with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, formerly of Jacksonville, and a one-year contract with linebacker Stewart Bradley, who played with the Cardinals the past two seasons.
Broncos boss John Elway was far from done, though, adding cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on a one-year deal later in the evening.
Once again, the Broncos are being aggressive in free agency.
It worked so well last season when they won the high-stakes contest to sign Manning, which prompted Elway to joke, “Plan B? I don’t have a Plan B. We’re going with Plan A.”
Manning guided the Broncos to a 13-3 regular season finish, only to lose to Baltimore in double overtime during the division round of the playoffs.
Instead of sticking with the same cast, Elway is revamping the roster. Nothing too drastic, just adding some crucial pieces.
He picked up the league’s most productive receiver to play in the slot where Brandon Stokley was last season. Welker’s five 100-catch seasons are the most in the NFL. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his past five seasons and was an All-Pro four of the past five years.
“When you look at Wes in the middle of the field, you can’t cover him,” Elway said. “He does such a tremendous job of getting open, finding seams in zones, beating man-to-man coverage. So, he’ll be a huge asset for us inside.”
Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and scored six touchdowns last year, helping the Pats go 12-4 and make the AFC title game before they also fell to Baltimore. He developed quite a rapport with Brady during his six seasons with the Patriots.
The Broncos are banking the same kind of relationship can blossom between their 37-year-old future Hall of Fame quarterback and his newest target, Welker, who is 31.
That the Broncos are signing a top player away from Brady and the Patriots certainly didn’t hurt, either.
“Anytime you can take a player from a team you have to compete against, it helps, especially the caliber of Wes Welker,” Elway said. “New England is there year in and year out and that’s a team we have to beat to get where we want to get.”
Although the deal with Welker received a bulk of the attention, the Rodgers-Cromartie, Bradley and Knighton deals could also influence Denver’s starting lineups.
Rodgers-Cromartie played for Philadelphia last season and had three interceptions. He’s expected to line up opposite of perennial Pro Bowl Champ Bailey next season.
That means Chris Harris, an undrafted player out of Kansas who’s coming off a solid season, will move back inside.
Not that he’s too bothered by the move.
On the contrary, Harris posted on Twitter: “It’s gonna be some Amazing practices with me and Welker in this slot. Games should be easy.”
Bradley played last season for Arizona, where he didn’t fit in with the team’s 3-4 scheme. His best season came in Philadelphia in 2008, when he had 108 tackles. He will compete with Nate Irving and Steven Johnson for Denver’s starting middle linebacker spot.
“Obviously, the standards on both sides of the ball are high here,” Bradley said. “I think it’s a great combination when you can have a stout, strong defense on a team with a prolific offense.”
One that’s only bolstered by the presence of Welker.
“The Welker deal is a big deal. He’s a great player and just another weapon on an already scary offense,” Bradley said. “He’s definitely a dangerous player because you think he’s covered and you throw the ball to him, he’s going to catch it. He’s so versatile in the slot. He’s a durable guy. He has been as productive of a guy as there is in the NFL in the past five or six years.
“I think he’ll be a great addition to the team.”
Knighton couldn’t agree more.
“Wes Welker, (Eric) Decker, Peyton Manning, (Demaryius) Thomas — that will be hard to deal with for any defense in the league,” Knighton said. “There are a few teams in the league that you could say actually have a chance of playing in the Super Bowl and this is definitely one of those places.”
Knighton was a third-round pick of Jacksonville in 2009, when Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was there. His signing, along with Tuesday’s resigning of Kevin Vickerson, gives the Broncos 600-plus pounds of defensive linemen to plug holes in the middle.
“Jack used the word ‘stout.’ He needs stout,” Vickerson said. “He wants us to be stout. Stout in the inside. No movement.”
Knighton, whose nickname is “Pot Roast,” can definitely help in that area.
Just to be clear, though, he signed at the same time as Welker.
“I’m pretty sure his news is bigger than mine,” Knighton said, laughing. “I’m just excited about the addition and just ready to get things started.”
The loss of Welker caught some in the Boston area a little bit by surprise.
“Say it ain’t so, Wes!” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before their game against Toronto. “He was fun to watch.”
To open free agency on Tuesday, the Broncos solidified the offensive line by bringing in guard Louis Vasquez on a four-year contract worth $23.4 million, with $13 million of that guaranteed.