Denver Broncos: Top 5 free agents that impacted the franchise

The Denver Broncos, historically, have been very active in the free agent market. Which players made the most impact on the team from free agency?

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DENVER, CO - AUGUST 20: Safety Brian Dawkins #20 of the Denver Broncos storms out of the tunnel and smoke before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 20, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Free agency is set to begin when the new league year starts on Wednesday. That is assuming that there is no hiccups. But with the new Collective Bargains Agreement completed, it seems that the Denver Broncos and the rest of the NFL are ready to go.

For me, free agency is one of the most exciting times in the offseason other than the schedule release. Having the option to see if the team can get better with players who have expiring contracts. Being on a new team could do wonders for the player.

New scheme that fits them or just the idea of having the chance to compete at a higher level or starting could be a huge confidence booster.

We have seen it plenty of times with various players in the over 100 years that the NFL has existed. But which players have been impacted the most when they came to the Mile High City to play for the Broncos?

Well, I take a look at five players who have come to Denver and made a significant, if not huge, impact on the Denver Broncos.

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

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DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 17: Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos warms up before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field at Mile High on October 17, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Emmanuel Sanders

When Sanders came to Denver in 2014, the team was removed from their first Super Bowl appearance since the late 1990s. And it was a nightmare. Denver needed help on defense. But perhaps the biggest underrated impact was signing Sanders.

With Eric Decker left in free agency, the Broncos needed a second wide out to help them out. Sanders filled that role and more. He would record over 5,000 receiving yards in his five and half seasons in Denver.

He would help the Broncos win Super Bowl 50 with some of his key receptions.

Brian Dawkins

In what was a dark time around the time he arrived in Denver in 2009, Brian Dawkins was one of the bright spots on the team as a leader. He played for the entire Josh McDaniels era. Hence the dark times. A true leader on the defense before his retirement, Dawkins was a player that you can get really excited to watch.

Perhaps one of my favorite moments of his was his epic Monday Night Football speech in 2009 after the Broncos suffered their first lost against the Ravens. While it did not do a lot in a loss, it truly showed me how passionate he is about the game.

Alfred Williams

While his NFL career was not very long, he made the most impact during his time with the Denver Broncos. He arrived in 1996 and provided some big moments defensively for the Broncos. In just his first season, he was named All-Pro.

Neil Smith

When I found out (I was young and did not have any knowledge) that Neil Smith switched from Kansas City to Denver, I gave him my ultimate applause. As a nose tackle, Smith made some big time moves as he was looking for his first championship. Despite only being in Denver for a short time, he did quite a bit in Denver to help the team get their first two titles.

Mark Schlereth

Before the offensive line began making such a huge impact, Schlereth was one of the few right guards that made a huge impact on the game. His ability to protect John Elway was what led the team to their two Super Bowls.

3 of 7

Ed McCaffrey

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Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey (87) jets past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle (58) during Super Bowl XXXIII, a 34-19 Broncos victory over the Atlanta Falcons on January 31, 1999, at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by E. Bakke/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

I thought about putting Emmanuel Sanders at this point on the list. It truly was a toss up. But with how much of an impact McCaffrey made for the Broncos during their first two Super Bowl titles, he gets a bit of an edge.

In his nine years with the Broncos, he recorded 6,200 yards receiving and 46 touchdowns. His biggest impact came during the two Super Bowl years. During those postseasons, he recorded 361 yards receiving over the playoff games on 23 receptions. Not too bad.

He continued to make an impact after Elway's retirement, recording two straight 1,000 yard seasons. His final season would be in 2003 before he called it a career.

He was well liked by many Broncos fans and continues to make an impact in life after football.

4 of 7

Jake Plummer

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DENVER, CO - JANUARY 14: Jake Plummer #16 of the Denver Broncos turns to hand off against the New England Patriots in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Invesco Field at Mile High on January 14, 2006 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Patriots 27-13. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

When John Elway retired from football, the Broncos did not have a lot of options at quarterback. Brian Griese ended up becoming the successor to Elway, but did not perform well in his three years as a starter. He would lead the Broncos back to the postseason after a 6-10 1999 season. However, they were soundly defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.

Enter Jake Plummer, who joined Denver in 2003. After a mediocre six seasons with the Cardinals, "Jake the Snake" became the new starting quarterback with the Broncos. He would lead the Denver Broncos to one of their most successful seasons in the post-John Elway era.

in 2005, Plummer lead the team to a 13-3 record, their best win-loss record since 1998. Not only that, the Broncos won their first playoff game in the post-Elway era as the Broncos would beat the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots 27-13.

What made that 2005 season so successful was Plummer's ability in play action. The way it was ran was so crisp and so beautiful. While his time in Denver ended on a sour note, there was no doubt that he showed a lot of success in leading Denver to a playoff victory.

5 of 7

Aqib Talib

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CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Aqib Talib #21 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 29-17 at Paul Brown Stadium on September 25, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

In what was a very successful 2014 free agency period, the Denver Broncos were able to sign Aqib Talib away from the New England Patriots. I remember in the AFC Championship game the year prior as the Broncos were facing against him that he was a dangerous corner. Imagine the excitement when the team acquired him.

The Broncos needed another corner when they decided that they were not bringing back Champ Bailey (a move that made me really sad) and wanted someone opposite Chris Harris Jr.

If not for Aqib Talib's ball-hawking abilities, the Broncos might not have won as much. His 2015 season was one for the books as he would return two interceptions for touchdowns against the Ravens and Browns. He was one of the more amazing examples of what a shutdown corner is. Talib recorded a pick six in at least one game of every season that he played as a Bronco.

There were times where his play could have or did put the Broncos in hot water. But there is no doubt how much of an impact he made on the field.

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DeMarcus Ware

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SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07: DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after a play late in the fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers during Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

It was a real tough decision picking between Talib and Ware at this spot. But I gave it to Ware due to his veteran leadership and becoming like a big brother to Von Miller when he was young and trying to figure things out in the NFL.

Coming off a shortened season where he was suspended his first six games and then suffered a season ending ACL injury, Von Miller got the guidance he needed from DeMarcus Ware. Being the person to guide and help Miller get better was something that I would never forget if anything about Ware.

His play backed it up too. He was consistently getting to the quarterback. He was also responsible for helping the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl. He would record some key sacks and recover some key fumbles en route to some huge wins to give the Broncos their third Lombardi and his first.

While his time in Denver was short, he made such a huge impact on the defense in his three years.

7 of 7

Peyton Manning

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SANTA CLARA, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos looks at the Vince Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Did you expect it to be anyone else? Perhaps one of the best quarterbacks to play in this generation of players, Peyton Manning spent his first 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. Every time the Broncos played him in the postseason, it was a nightmare. But I know I did not have any bad feelings towards him.

After his neck surgeries, the Colts decided to release him. He became probably the most sought after free agent in years. He ultimately chose to play for the Denver Broncos. They were coming off an 8-8 season that saw them win a playoff game in pure Tim Tebow magic. But it was apparent the team needed a strong quarterback.

My friends will always remember me as the one who was upset not because of acquiring Manning but that it led to Tebow's release. But as I will mention, it did lead to something amazing.

In his four years as a Bronco, Manning led the team to a number one seed in the AFC playoffs in three of the four years he was there. He also helped the Broncos win four AFC West titles, two AFC Championship titles, and one Super Bowl win.

Next: Top Shelf Free Agent Targets for Broncos in 2020

Manning got to go out on top as a champion. It truly helped bring Broncos Country the title that they had been looking to acquire again for nearly two decades. All of his time with the Denver Broncos involved breaking records and bringing the Broncos back to promise for a while. That is why Peyton Manning will always be the Broncos free agent that had the most impact on the franchise.