ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – One thing is clear: surrounding Peyton Manning with offensive players is not as simple as putting the entire Colts band back together.
Jeff Saturday is a Packer. While Jacob Tamme joined the Broncos, fellow tight end Dallas Clark doesn’t appear to be on Denver’s radar at the moment, and there appears to be no room for the 10-year veteran. And the Broncos didn’t even have a chance to get in on wide receivers Pierre Garçon and Reggie Wayne, both of whom got their deals done in the first hours of free agency.
There can be no better test of whether Manning can bounce back than elevating a new cast of pass-catchers.
The raw materials aren’t bad; tight end Joel Dreessen, the ex-Texan who agreed to terms Friday morning, comes off a season in which he scored a career-high six times. Andre Caldwell has shown flashes of being able to be a solid slot receiver; he had 51 catches in 2009 for the Bengals, and might be a better fit in a more timing-based offense.
Holdover Broncos receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas each enjoyed month-long stretches of 2011 in which they were among the league leaders — Decker in touchdowns during the first four games of the season and Thomas from the Week 12 win at Minnesota through the wild-card win over Pittsburgh.
The draft pedigree and physical stature of Decker and Thomas is also superior to Garçon and Austin Collie, both of whom flourished with Manning as their triggerman. Manning extracted the best of them; if he does the same for Decker and Thomas, he might have another Reggie Wayne-and-Marvin Harrison-esque tandem at his beck and call.
The old Indy band is dead.
What kind of sound the new one has will determine whether Manning’s second act is a smashing success or ill-fated failure.