March 11, 2015

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) With Julius Thomas about to hit pay dirt elsewhere, the Denver Broncos needed a better blocker and cheaper option, and coach Gary Kubiak knew just the guy.

Owen Daniels, of course.

Daniels has played for Kubiak his entire NFL career. He spent eight seasons with him in Houston and followed him to Baltimore last year when Kubiak was hired as the Ravens' offensive coordinator following his firing as the Texans' head coach.

Daniels' $1 million, one-year deal in 2014 was one of the NFL's better bargains. With a hip injury sidelining Dennis Pitta, Daniels caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns in helping the Ravens return to the playoffs.

Thomas caught a dozen TD passes for the second straight season last year in Denver but he was limited over the last half of the season by an ankle injury and has never played 16 games in any of his four seasons.

While Thomas was agreeing to a five-year, $46 million deal with the Jaguars, the Broncos re-signed tight end Virgil Green for $7.5 million over three years and then agreed to terms with Daniels on a three-year deal worth about $12 million.

''This is a great, great start these last two days,'' Kubiak said Wednesday. ''We know what type of kid we're getting and what type of teammate the locker room is getting. He's been a fine player for me. And I know he's got a lot left in him.''

Kubiak said he sat down with general manager John Elway three weeks ago to map out free agency and Daniels' name quickly came up. He said he told Elway, ''You know, John, you can look at the film and judge for yourself. But I can tell you two things: he's going to give you everything he has and he wants to win a championship. And that's the type of player you want on your football team.''

Kubiak helped Owens' comeback in 2014 and now Owens is returning the favor.

As soon as Kubiak was named the Broncos head coach, Owens said he knew he wanted to follow him once again.

''It's kind of an ideal situation,'' Daniels said.

The two-time Pro Bowler said the icing was the chance to play with Peyton Manning, whom he said reached out to him Tuesday with an invitation to his annual passing camp at Duke University.

Even though Baltimore is thin at tight end and Pitta's return is uncertain, Daniels said the Ravens didn't make a big push to keep him: ''Not as much as I thought they would. They came late with an offer, but it was after I had already committed to come here.''

Daniels was off to a terrific start in 2013 with two dozen receptions and three TDs when he broke his right leg in Houston's fifth game.

''I looked at it like I got a lot of rest that year. Other people looked at it as `This guy's probably done,''' Daniels said. ''So, that was definitely some motivation.''

Fueling him this year, he said, is the chance to mentor Denver's younger tight ends and adjust to a new offense that's ''a little mashup of what Kube does and what Peyton does.''

The Broncos gained the financial flexibility to address their tight end position when Manning accepted a $4 million pay cut last week. Elway said he didn't believe there were any hard feelings as a result of the revised contract with his quarterback.

''Those discussions are always hard. But it went fine, and Peyton was good through the whole thing,'' Elway said. ''It's just not an easy thing to do. But that's the business part of it, the other side that we have to deal with. We got through that and everything's fine. I talked to Peyton and he's ready to go.''

Manning might not have his top target when the new offense is installed this spring, however.

The Broncos placed their $12.8 million franchise tag on Demaryius Thomas, who could choose to skip offseason workouts as a result.

''I talked to Demaryius yesterday. He's in a great frame of mind,'' Kubiak said. ''That's part of the business. I think he understands that. But he's got a bright future with this organization. I think he knows that and everybody knows that. And I'm just looking forward to him - and us - just getting back to work.''


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