CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Part of the charm of a championship roster is that it provides options. Remove quarterback from the equation and the Broncos can make an argument for having the NFL's deepest team.
But it comes with a dark side. The cuts became painful, leaving the Broncos to part with players they'd prefer to keep. The Broncos shaved 22 off players, reaching 53 in advance of Saturday's 2 p.m. deadline.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez and running back Ronnie Hillman highlighted the moves. After exploring multiple options, the Broncos released Sanchez, unable to work out a last-minute trade with the Dallas Cowboys. Last season's leading rusher, Hillman, was cut -- a victim of Devontae Booker's quick development and Kapri Bibbs' versatility on special teams. Denver signed five-year veteran Austin Davis to serve as the third quarterback.
"There were a lot of options going on with Mark. He handled it with great class," Elway said. "I know he’s disappointed because he wanted to stay here. With where we are, we thought it was best to go in a different direction. Mark was great."
The Broncos continue to look for additions along with the offensive line and tight end. While starting right guard Darrion Weems (concussion) and tight end Jeff Heuerman (hamstring) are improving, they are inexperienced. Rosters freeze from 2 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Sunday.
Sanchez wanted to stay in Denver, but his salary and draft pick compensation complicated his situation. Sanchez was due $4.5 million, and though he was open-minded to a pay cut, the Broncos didn't want to surrender a draft pick. Even if Sanchez had re-signed after Week 1 at a reduced rate, the Broncos would still owe the Eagles draft compensation. The Broncos were close to dealing him to Dallas for draft picks, according to multiple NFL sources. Sanchez signed with the Cowboys as a free agent. His salary can max out at $5.375 million with incentives, according to a source. The Broncos save $3.5 million by releasing Sanchez. And if Sanchez's deal with Cowboys exceeds $1 million, they will owe Sanchez nothing.
"Heading to Dallas," said Sanchez via text after a crazy few hours on Saturday afternoon.
It leaves the Broncos with their top two quarterbacks -- Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch -- boasting no passes on their NFL résumés. Elway said that even with Davis signing, Siemian "shouldn't be looking over his shoulder." He praised Siemian's composure and ability to lead.
"Our guys believe in him," Elway said.
Hillman rushed for 863 yards and seven touchdowns last season, starting 11 games. He rejoined the team on a one-year, $1.8 million deal with a $100,000 signing bonus before the draft. He was viewed as protection, preventing the team from reaching for a pick. However, when C.J. Anderson received a big contract and Utah's Booker fell to the Broncos, Hillman became vulnerable. That vulnerability increased with the Bibbs' improvement. Bibbs, a former Colorado State star, led the Broncos with 138 yards on 33 attempts in the preseason. Bibbs also became a force on special teams, impressing coach Joe DeCamillis with his versatility.
"Joe D loves me so he knows what I can do," Bibbs said. "Some guys stay in the league 10 years just playing special teams."
By cutting Sanchez, Hillman and Colquitt, the Broncos saved roughly $9 million.
"We'd never make a decision on money that hurts the football team," Elway said.
The Broncos' cuts included local defensive back John Tidwell and former Wyoming star Eddie Yarbrough. After the waiver-wire period, the Broncos can assemble their 10-player practice squad. The Broncos placed safety Shiloh Keo on the suspended list, where he will remain for the first two games of the season following his offseason DUI.
Defenisve lineman Kyle Peko, originally told he was cut, survived when cuts were turned in today, according to Elway. He was an undrafted rookie free agent with the highest bonus of $11,000. The Broncos aren't done looking for additions. They worked out veteran receiver Brandon Tate on Saturday. He has experience as a punt and kick returner.
"We are excited about the depth (of the overall roster)," Elway said. "We feel like we're in pretty good shape."
The following is a list of the cuts the Denver Broncos made Saturday:
Quarterback: Mark Sanchez.
Running back: Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson.
Receiver: Moze Frazier, Kalif Raymond.
Tight end: Henry Kreiger-Coble.
Offensive line: Dillon Day, Aaron Neary, Lars Hanson, Justin Murray, Robert Myers Jr.
Defensive line: Henry Melton, Lars Koht, Yarbrough.
Outside linebacker: Kyle Kragen, Dwayne Norman, Sadat Sulleyman, Vontarrius Dora.
Cornerback: Tidwell, Ryan Murphy, B.J. Lowery. Taurean Nixon.