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Merilatt: Manning needs to make his sales pitch

Peyton Manning fancies himself as a pretty solid recruiter. When it comes to convincing football players to join his team, he considers himself the best salesman in the business.

And there’s some evidence of this fact. When he was atTennessee, every player Manning hosted during their visit toKnoxvillesigned on the dotted line and became a Volunteer.

In the coming weeks, Manning will once again be asked to put his art of persuasion to use. And the Broncos are certainly hoping he hasn’t lost his magic touch when it comes to convincing guys to don orange jerseys, this time getting free agents to come to Denverinstead of high school kids to sing Rocky Top.

The Broncos are already a Super Bowl contender. Their 13-3 regular season record last season proved that point. Now, they simply need to add a missing piece or two, players who can help putDenverover the hump in the playoffs.

That’s where Manning’s recruiting skills come in. Veteran players with a little left in the tank and their sights set on a Super Bowl run will be on the free agent market; the Broncos quarterback needs to make sure Denver is able to sign those who can help them bridge the gap from theAFC’s No. 1 seed to a championship team.

This isn’t a novel idea. The Broncos have been in this situation before.

After a disappointing end to the 1996 season, one that saw the top-seeded Broncos upset at home in the playoffs, John Elway knew his window of opportunity for winning a Super Bowl was closing rapidly. At 37 years old, the future Hall of Fame quarterback only had a couple of seasons left; time was of the essence.

Sound familiar?

So No. 7 went into full-on recruiting mode. And he helped land two of the key pieces to the Broncos championship teams.

First, Elway decided to help the Broncos offense and defense in one move. When Chiefs defensive lineman Neil Smith hit the free agent market, he was instantly in Denver’s plans. His pass rushing ability would provide an immediate upgrade in the trenches, while his departure from Kansas City would also weaken a team that the Broncos would have to face twice per season.

Elway restructured his contract so the Broncos would have the salary cap space to sign the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. And he convinced his former nemesis to join him in the Mile High City.

“The reason I picked Denver is simple: Since I’ve been in the league, I’ve played against a guy who has brought out the best in me; that’s John Elway,” Smith said in April 1997. “Now, John is in the same family. It wasn’t a hard decision.”

Signed, sealed and delivered. That’s called closing the deal.

But Elway wasn’t done recruiting. A few months later, he made an even more persuasive pitch.

After the loss to Jacksonville, Gary Zimmerman was done with football. The Broncos left tackle still wanted to play, but both of his shoulders were shot, he had a bad knee and his left hip was in constant pain. As much as he wanted to pursue an ever-elusive championship, Zim just didn’t think he had another season in him.

And then, Elway called. Two weeks into the 1997 season, Zimmerman was back on the field, manning his post at left tackle for Denver’s remaining 14 games, plus all four postseason battles, despite not being able to lift his arm above his head at times.

His motivation was simple, as summed up before the Broncos 12th game of the season. When trainer Steve Antonopulos said that Zimmerman’s shoulder was going to prevent the left tackle from playing, the future Hall of Famer’s response spoke volumes.

“As long as No. 7 is on the field, I’ll be there,” he said, prior to Denver’s 31-3 victory over Oakland.

Zimmerman had made a commitment to Elway, one that he intended to honor no matter what. That’s an all-in recruit.

Why was the Broncos quarterback so effective when it came to convincing veterans to play alongside him in Denver? Because he had a track record.

Players throughout the league respected him, so they wanted to help him win a championship. And they also knew he could still play, meaning Elway could be their ticket to a Super Bowl run, as well.

Manning carries the same clout. He’s universally considered one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history and he proved in 2012 that he can still play at an MVP-caliber level. Veteran players should be lining up to play alongside the living legend.

So when the Broncos decide if they want Charles Woodson, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed or any of the other big-name free agents who will be on the market this offseason, they should study their history when deciding how to lure them to Denver. They need to call their best recruiter.

It’s time for the Broncos to put the quarterback’s sales skills to use. Sixteen years ago, that was John Elway. Now, it’s Peyton Manning.


OTHER BRONCOS NEWS

By the Numbers: Broncos play it smart with Clady (CLICK HERE)

Three more big-name free agents hit the open market (CLICK HERE)

Broncos likely to use franchise tag on Clady (CLICK HERE)

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