John Elway has never been a shy guy. His bravado and bold attitude exudes from his big frame wherever he goes. As a player it brought him the confidence to test the limits, take chances and it ultimately won him championships. As an executive he still has much to prove yet the same bravado may now be getting in the way.

In the chess game that is running a NFL franchise there are many moves a general manager can make. Sometimes you have to set up for a long, complicated process in order to win and sometimes you are just one move away from victory. The Broncos have claimed to be on the cusp of a championship and have been very close, yet with four former Bronco starters signing elsewhere it looks more like 2015 is headed in the wrong direction.

In an era of Broncos football that is constantly described to be as a “win now” time period how can free agents Orlando Franklin, Julius Thomas, Rahim Moore and Terrence Knighton be expendable? As starter after starter has left the Broncos this week a question continues to come up. Why has Elway not tried harder to sign any of them last season or in free agency? The biggest question is why, this week, were none of them even given offers?

The easy answer is that the Bronco spent like crazy the last few season, in 2014 in particular. The signings of Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware were blockbuster moves that have handcuffed the team. The roughly $19.5 million in cap space is Elway’s easy out for frustrated fans but it is not that simple.

To sign all, three or even two of the aforementioned free agents would be difficult but the question is why was no effort made?

Julius Thomas was made an offer in training camp that was slightly less than he received yesterday. According to the Denver Post’s Mike Klis the proposed deal prior to the season was 5-years and $40 million dollars. Yesterday Thomas received a deal that would pay him $9.2 million a year.

While the team refused to renegotiate with Thomas throughout the season they made a big deal with Chris Harris Jr. and saved a lot of money by paying him before he reached the open market. The same strategy could have been used with Thomas. Slightly more guaranteed money for the same base salary could have solved the problem before it really became an issue.

As a result of soured negations it appears that Thomas reconciled the fact that, despite his desire to stay in Denver, he was headed out of town immediately following the season. It appears that his attitude and play reflected that notion. Now, as a professional that can’t be condoned but it is understandable that if a team makes it known they don’t want you; it creates a tough work environment during the grueling season.

Knighton and Franklin seem have been in that same boat. The two leaders of the defensive and offensive line for multiple seasons played well in 2014. Franklin was a mainstay on the line since his arrival in 2011. He ranked high as both a run blocker and pass protector, yet no deal could be made in 2014 and this week there was no news of negotiations between the Broncos and his agent. Tuesday, after signing a five-year, $36.5 million dollar deal ($16.5 million guaranteed) Franklin once again stated his love for Denver and his desire to stay with the Broncos but seemed saddened that his former team didn’t show more interest.

“The fact of the matter is when you don’t get offered a deal, they’re telling you they don’t want you. They didn’t even humor me with an offer,” Franklin told Klis of the Denver Post Tuesday.

Knighton was shown little to no interest by the Broncos. Much like Franklin he held his unit together in 2014 and was an outspoken leader, yet Knighton agreed to a reasonable and low-risk one-year, $4 million dollar deal from the Washington Redskins.

Knighton was vocal about his disappointment with an offer from the Raiders earlier this week. Ealrier in the week Knighton reportedly told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that broncos and Raiders were out of the running for his services. It seems that somewhere along the way communication between Knighton and the Broncos completely and inexcusably broke down. As a result the Broncos signed Vance Walker, also a six year NFL veteran to a two-year, $4 million dollar deal. It is safe to say that Walker has been inconsistent and unreliable as a starter.

Lastly, Thursday afternoon four-year veteran safety Moore agreed to a four-year, $12 million deal. Although Moore had been quiet about his negotiations with teams it seems that once again the Broncos did not make an offer to the safety they drafted in 2011. His price tag also turned out to be lower than expected.

Now it is easy to say that a team must be constantly rebuilding and unfortunately these players, most of whom they drafted were commanding too high of a salary but as the say goes, it never hurts to ask.

At every turn these former Broncos vehemently stated their love for the team and their desire to return. Thomas and Franklin in particular, since the day of their awful loss to the Indianapolis Colts to their contract signing this week, said they wished they could have stayed Broncos but the free agency period proved the feeling was not reciprocated.

The damage is now done and the Broncos can only move on but in the future they are setting a bad example for free agent dealings and in the immediate future they have questionable and inferior solutions for the departing player’s vacancies.

First off seeing the way Bronco free agents are treated can and will creep into players’ minds. It surely did for Thomas. Another Thomas, Demaryius Thomas must now try and shelve any doubts of his team’s opinion of him. Yes he is making $13 million this season but is future is not secured due to the franchise tag and a lack of commitment from Elway.

Next, the simple fact remains that the Broncos signed a ten-year, 32 year-old tight end, Owen Daniels to $4 million dollars a year Wednesday and there are three huge questions along the line.

Elway’s answer for letting Franklin go and reportedly other veteran lineman at guard, center and right tackle is to let Paul Cornick, Ben Garland, Matt Paradis and Michael Schofield take over. Of those four, only Cornick has started a NFL game (six in his career) and according to Pro Football focus they combined for only 356 snaps in 2014.

Much like the o-line, Elway is hoping Sylvester Williams and Marvin Austin Jr. can fill Knighton’s role despite little proof that that can be accomplished. At free safety, Kayvon Webster, Omar Bolden or a free agent will have to do, after Moore left for the same price as Daniels was signed for.

The Broncos could not have feasibly kept all the talent they cultivated the last few seasons. That much is certain but the failure to reach out to players who adamantly enjoyed their time in Denver was an arrogant move and a big mistake. Whether the costly decline in performance first shows at tight end, left guard, nose tackle or deep down the middle of field on defense, it will surely turn up. Signing one of them would have been far better than ignore the lot of them.

Running a football team, like chess is complicated and full of pitfalls but simply ignoring possible moves instead of studying and considering all of them is how you lose. Elway has created the high stakes he is pursuing and letting go of quality talent may prove to be the downfall of the 2015 season before it even starts.

Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick.

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