What a difference one signing can make.

By inking All-Pro guard Evan Mathis to a one-year deal, the Denver Broncos showed why they are constantly a team to be feared in the John Elway/Peyton Manning era.

Make no mistake; it wasn’t so much that their erstwhile left guard, rookie Max Garcia, was doing a poor job. It was that the burden of having three first-year starters along the offensive line was too much to put on Peyton Manning as he learns a new system under Gary Kubiak and continues the twilight stages of his career.

The fact that Mathis is widely considered to be one of the top three guards in football didn’t hurt either.

But it’s not that the Broncos signed Mathis that’s surprising. Any fan with half a brain could see that the team had been on the lookout for offensive linemen for months since Ryan Clady went down, first bringing in Ryan Harris (currently the starter at right tackle) and then working out free agent Jake Long at the beginning of training camp.

No, the surprising part of the Mathis signing is the reaction that no one, least of all the present author, knew that they would have.

On Monday, this was a Broncos team in flux. A puzzlingly mediocre showing by the first team offense against the Houston Texans on Saturday night had fans worried.

“Stick to the system,” was the refrain from James Merilatt’s column on Monday, one that was echoed by numerous fans irritated with what initially looked like a hybrid offense being catered to Manning. And the Broncos did little to quell the notion that if the team was going to be markedly better than the past few years, it was going to be because of the coaching staff, because they weren’t better on paper.

Fast-forward to today and it’s amazing how the narrative has changed.

With the addition of Mathis, the new favorite stat in Broncos Country is that the team will boast 12 players on their roster who have been to a Pro Bowl in the last three seasons, and that doesn’t even include recent first round selections Bradley Roby and Shane Ray, both of whom figure to be major contributors in 2015.

When you think about it, it’s not out of the question to discuss the idea that this is the most talent that the Broncos have ever had on paper at the beginning of a season (although a healthy Ryan Clady would probably be a better tipping point). But before Mathis’s signing on Tuesday, not a soul was making that argument.

So what changed?

On Monday, no one had seen anything over the weekend that made one think that Kubiak would reverse course on his assertion that the offensive line would stay together and jell as a unit. What’s more, everyone was optimistic that it wouldn’t be an issue. Yet on Tuesday when the signing was announced, it was as if the entire city breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The truth is, despite the bravado, Broncos fans have been wringing their collective hands over the offensive line since the aforementioned Clady injury. While everyone likes to believe that Peyton Manning can be a Band-Aid for a weak unit up front, at the end of the day we’re talking about a guy who is 39 years old and whose current explanation for a total departure from everything that had made his team’s offense click over the previous two-and-a-half seasons basically came back to a stomach bug he caught from his daughter. That’s not to disparage Manning’s abilities; it’s simply to say that he’s still only human. The celebration over Mathis’ arrival suggests that deep down even the most stubborn residents of Broncos Country must’ve known that to be true.

Broncos fans have been optimistic that this team was still all-in on and capable of competing for a Super Bowl. After acquiring Evan Mathis, they can instead be confident of that.

What a difference one signing can make.