After the Denver Broncos added Peyton Manning last offseason, they wasted little time in then signing veteran receiver Brandon Stokley, a trusted target for Manning over multiple seasons in Indianapolis.
Fast-forward to this offseason, and the prospect of Denver adding Dwight Freeney and Austin Collie -- a couple more of Manning's old Colts buddies -- is very much alive.
The Colts announced last week that they would pass on re-signing either Collie or Freeney. Collie has dealt with concussion issues and missed most of 2012 with a knee injury, but he caught 118 passes in two seasons with Manning as his quarterback -- and he could take over for Stokley, a pending free agent.
Then, on Wednesday, Freeney said he's already heard a pitch from Manning:
Freeney, 33, has seen his production drop in recent seasons, down to five sacks in 2012. However, he still has enough pass rushing ability to generate interest on the free-agent market. And he might even be in line for a bit of a late resurgence, if given the opportunity to play alongside (or to rotate with) Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.
That duo combined for 29.5 of the Broncos' 52 sacks last season, with DE Derek Wolfe (6.0) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (5.5) next in line.
With all of those players set to return, the pressure would be off Freeney to be a game-changing performer up front. Instead, knowing that Freeney has lost a step against the run, the Broncos could take advantage of the skills that helped Freeney lead Indianapolis with 34 QB hurries last season.
Freeney played with Manning for 10 seasons in Indianapolis, and the pair celebrated a Super Bowl championship together at the end of the 2006 season. The Manning-led Colts also fell a game shy of another championship during the 2009 campaign, and the team has gone 0-2 in the postseason since. Given that Freeney likely only has a couple of years left before he calls it a career, he could not be faulted for trying to land with a contender again.
The Broncos entered the offseason in solid salary cap shape, sitting about $15 million below the estimated cap of $121 million (a number that now sounds as if it may rise slightly). Even if Freeney asked for $5-plus million per season, the Broncos should be able to swing it.
Freeney should find himself with plenty of suitors once free agency opens in March -- several teams could use a veteran capable of creating havoc along the D-line.
Only Denver, though, has Manning playing the part of recruiter. If all things are equal, and the Broncos opt to make a run at Freeney, Manning's presence could be a deciding factor.