Broncos Update Insider - Tues. Jan. 11

Mike Shanahan said he doesn't think the Denver Broncos are far from a championship-caliber team.

"I think we were there this year," Shanahan said. "You don't finish up fourth defensively and fifth offensively without being pretty good."

Denver went 10-6 and was blown out by Indianapolis in its playoff opener for the second straight season.

Shanahan said injuries to linemen Trevor Pryce, Luther Elliss and Dorsett Davis and running backs Mike Anderson and Quentin Griffin caused the Broncos to do some shuffling that hurt their continuity.

With Shanahan confident his team is not far away from being on the same level as Pittsburgh, New England and Indianapolis, the offseason could be pretty quiet in Denver.

The Broncos probably won't make as many big-name acquisitions as last year, when cornerback Champ Bailey and safety John Lynch were added. The Broncos won't have a lot of room under the salary cap.

"It's hard to make big splashes," Shanahan said.

The Broncos' key free agents in the offseason will be defensive end Reggie Hayward, guard Ben Hamilton and safety Kenoy Kennedy.

One player who won't be a free agent is Jake Plummer. Shanahan strongly defended Plummer, and even took some of the blame for putting Plummer into bad situations that led to him throwing 20 interceptions in the regular season. Plummer is owed a $6 million option bonus in March and Shanahan left no doubt that he would pay it.


--WR Darius Watts had an uneven rookie season, flashing talent but also dropping some key passes. Coach Mike Shanahan said he liked the way Watts progressed this season and expects Watts to make strides next year.

--G Dan Neil will have surgery on his knee in the offseason. Neil was inactive for most of the second half of the season and probably won't return to the Broncos next year.

--QB Matt Mauck was added to the active roster from the practice squad before Denver's playoff game. The Broncos like Mauck's potential and wanted him to be under contract during the offseason. He could be Denver's backup next year because Danny Kanell isn't expected back.

--RB Cecil Sapp improved his stock in the eyes of the organization over the last few weeks of the season. Sapp, who was a productive tailback in college at Colorado State, impressed Shanahan with his ability to also play fullback and special teams, which will help him win a roster spot next year.

--RB Tatum Bell drew praise from Shanahan for playing the last four games of the season with a third-degree separated shoulder. Bell answered some questions about his durability and toughness by playing through pain. Bell will have an excellent chance to be Denver's starting tailback next season.

"Usually I don't even do this. I wait a day until tomorrow before I do this. But after getting our rear ends like we did, I figured you guys would call me a coward." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on doing his end-of-season press conference Monday after Denver's 49-24 playoff loss at Indianapolis.

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