The retirement of Peyton Manning and free-agent departure of Brock Osweiler left the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos with only one proven quarterback -- John Elway, the team's 56-year-old general manager and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was around when the Broncos last went through a similar transition -- at least to get his Super Bowl ring when he retired after the 1998 season -- and watched the remnants of his former team plunge from first to worst with Brian Griese moving in at quarterback.
But this time it is a different scene. While Elway quarterbacked his team to a Super Bowl with an offense rated No. 2 in points scored and No. 3 in yards gained -- with the help of running back Terrell Davis -- the Broncos' title run last season was almost in spite of an offense that ranked 19th in points and 16th in yards.
And the dearly-departed Manning and Osweiler managed a combined passer rating that was second worst in the league.
The defense, however, was the league's stingiest in giving up yards and No. 4 in points allowed. And while Elway was the MVP of that Super Bowl XXXIII, as he was the Super Bowl the previous season, the Broncos' defense stole Super Bowl 50 and linebacker Von Miller was the MVP.
So, while the hand-wringing continues over this year's quarterback challenge, it is more important that when full training camp opens July 27, the team's second-year head coach, Gary Kubiak, welcomes nine returning starters from that defense.
Most important, that includes Miller, who negotiated until the July 15 signing deadline before agreeing to a six-year, $114 million contract that includes $70 million guaranteed, significantly higher than original offers said to total about $39 million.
"Von's earned this contract not only for what he's done in the past but for what we believe he'll do in the future," Elway said.
After a sigh of relief with that signing, the Broncos refocused their primary attention at quarterback, where Kubiak and Elway agree there will be open competition.
Going into camp, the starter appears to be veteran Mark Sanchez, a former first-round pick who led the New York Jets to the playoffs his first two seasons, but a penchant for turnovers led to his move to Philadelphia, from where the Broncos took him in an offseason trade.
The team's future quarterback seems to be 6-foot-7, 244-pound Paxton Lynch, drafted in the first round (No. 26 overall) after showing ample raw talent at Memphis, albeit in a no-huddle offense with calls made from sideline posters. He is athletic with a strong arm and great touch on deep passes.
Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round draftee in 2015, is the lone returnee at quarterback.
Also unsettled is the offensive line, where center Matt Paradis is the only returned starter at his position. The Broncos traded tackle Ryan Clady to the New York Jets. He was a first-round pick in 2008, but began to have injury issues in 2013 and was sidelined for the Super Bowl. Denver received a seventh-round pick, with which they drafted Syracuse punter Riley Dixon, who will challenge Britton Colquitt for the privilege of booting the ball at the mile-high altitude.
The Broncos tried to fortify the line with two free-agent signings -- tackle Russell Okung (Seattle Seahawks, $53 million, five years with a team option after one year at $5 million) and tackle Donald Stephenson (Kansas City Chiefs, $14 million, three years, $10 million guaranteed).
In the draft, Denver added versatile Missouri guard/tackle Connor McGovern (Round 5, No. 144).
An improved running game is also expected to help the offense. Incumbent C.J. Anderson signed an offer sheet with Miami worth $18 million over four years and the Broncos matched it.
The team added interesting prospects in the draft with persistent running back Devontae Booker (Utah, Round 4. No.136) and Nebraska fullback Andy Janovich (Round 6, No. 176), who has surprising explosiveness.
Almost lost among the hype of signing Miller was a deal with defensive end Derek Wolf, a potential free agent who agreed to stay for $36.7 million over four years with $17 million guaranteed.
The defense was not without issues, losing three players in free agency: defensive end Malik Jackson (Jacksonville, $85.5 million, six years), inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (Chicago, $24 million, four years) and safety David Bruton (Washington, $9 million, three years).
Also, cornerback Aqib Talib's recovery will be monitored after a gunshot wound in June put him on crutches.
Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the Broncos' 2016 team:
TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE
SITE, LOCATION, ROOKIES, VETERANS
Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre, Englewood, CO, 7/24, 7/27
2015 RECORD: 15-4
DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2
COACH: Gary Kubiak
2nd season with Broncos
15-4 overall; 3-0 postseason
9th season as NFL head coach
78-70 overall; 5-2 postseason
15; 6 offense, 9 defense, kicker, punter
OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Running back C. J. Anderson
--Anderson has more asked of him now than ever before after the Broncos matched the four-year offer the Dolphins made to him. During OTAs, he showed why he might be able to deliver. Anderson was in shape and settled in as the No. 1 back the past four weeks. His precise cuts and ability to read blocks in the zone-read scheme was far ahead of where it was last year. If Anderson can avoid the early-season injuries that led to his slow start last year, he appears poised to pick up where he left off -- as one of the NFL's most efficient runners down the stretch of the Broncos' championship season.
The draft -- A closer look at the Broncos' picks (8):
--Round 1/26 -- Paxton Lynch, QB, 6-7, 244, Memphis
Lynch was the Broncos' primary draft target, given that Carson Wentz and Jared Goff were out of reach at the top of the draft. The Broncos would like to give him a year to develop behind Mark Sanchez, which would allow him to refine his work under center, which he did rarely at Memphis. But the Broncos are sold on his potential and his ability to feel the pass rush, extend plays and maintain his accuracy under pressure.
--Round 2/63 -- Adam Gotsis, DE, 6-4, 287, Georgia Tech
Gotsis is still raw and developing pass-rush moves, having only taken up American football the last four years after growing up playing Australian Rules Football in Melbourne. But he's already a stout run defender, and will be ready during training camp after recovering from a torn ACL. If he can harness his athleticism, Gotsis could be a steal.
--Round 3/98 -- Justin Simmons, S, 6-2, 202, Boston College
An outstanding Combine workout cemented Simmons' status after a five-interception senior season. The Broncos see him as a replacement for free-agent departure David Bruton Jr. He will battle with holdover Shiloh Keo to slide into Bruton's sub-package role, allowing T.J. Ward to continue moving into the box when the Broncos use their three-cornerback, three-safety dime package.
--Round 4/136 -- Devontae Booker, RB, 5-11, 219, Utah
Head coach Gary Kubiak had two effective running backs in Houston in 2011 with Arian Foster and Ben Tate sharing the load, and he hopes that Booker can form a similar partnership with the re-signed C.J. Anderson. A torn meniscus hurt Booker's draft stock, but he had recovered by the end of OTAs.
--Round 5/144 -- Connor McGovern, G/T, 6-4, 306, Missouri
The strong, versatile lineman with quick feet is a good fit for the Broncos' zone-blocking scheme. McGovern started at right guard and both tackle spots at Missouri, including left tackle last year. He has a good chance to emerge as a swing backup on the offensive line this year.
--Round 6/176 -- Andy Janovich, FB, 6-1, 238, Nebraska
Head coach Gary Kubiak was looking for a productive fullback to work into the offense, and he expects Janovich to be that man. Janovich was the lead blocker for Ameer Abdullah in 2014 and in 2015 displayed some explosiveness of his own, with two 50-yard gains in his 44 touches. He will also factor on special teams right away.
--Round 6/219 -- Will Parks, S, 6-1, 204, Arizona
Parks' stock jumped after he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, while carrying 10 pounds of muscle above his previously listed weight. An aggressive safety who can go in the box, Parks earned praise during OTAs from coaches and could back up T.J. Ward with a strong camp.
--Round 7/228 -- Riley Dixon, P, 6-5, 221, Syracuse
One of the best placement punters in college football last year, Dixon could push Britton Colquitt out of a job. Colquitt has a $4 million cap figure, and the Broncos could save $3.25 million if they released him. Will Johnson is also on the roster to provide competition, but if Dixon proves worthy, he could land the job.
--DE Jared Crick: Knows the scheme from playing under Wade Phillips in Houston.
--TE Garrett Graham: Will compete for depth spot at tight end.
--T Russell Okung: If he stays healthy, should fit well in zone-blocking scheme.
--WR DeVier Posey: Ex-Texan gets another chance under Gary Kubiak, his original coach.
--QB Mark Sanchez: Did enough with defense-first Jets teams in 2009-10. Can that equation work again?
--T Donald Stephenson: Should fit the zone-blocking scheme; penciled in at right tackle.
--DL Phil Taylor: Broncos took a flyer on former first-rounder after solid tryout.
--LB Dekoda Watson: Could be in the running as backup help.
KEY LOSS: QB Peyton Manning (10/9)*
--Even though Manning struggled last year, the Broncos will miss his leadership, presence, and unparalleled ability to read defenses, which shined in the playoffs. Their quarterbacks have the unenviable task of following a legend.
--S Omar Bolden (9/0), LS Aaron Brewer (16/0), S David Bruton Jr. (13/3), S Josh Bush (8/1), WR Andre Caldwell (14/0), T Ryan Clady (0/0), TE Owen Daniels (16/16), TE Vernon Davis (11/4), T Ryan Harris (16/16), DE Malik Jackson (16/16), G Evan Mathis (16/12), LB Lerentee McCray (11/0), QB Brock Osweiler (8/7), T Tyler Polumbus (13/0), DE Antonio Smith (16/0), LB Danny Trevathan (15/15), G Louis Vasquez (16/15), WR Kyle Williams (0/0)*
Total games played/started lost: 224/114
*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015
-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.