ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Amid the exodus from Denver, Donald Stephenson couldn’t wait to join the Super Bowl champs.
"I just want to join the party, man," the versatile offensive lineman said after signing a three-year, $14 million deal with the Denver Broncos on Thursday. "The year right after the Super Bowl, I get to be a part of something special. Maybe do it again. I’m excited."
Stephenson signed on the same day Denver running back C.J. Anderson signed an offer sheet with the Miami Dolphins and came 24 hours after Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan bolted the Broncos.
Not knowing whom he’ll be blocking for — at quarterback or running back — wasn’t a deal breaker for Stephenson, who played his first four seasons for AFC West rival Kansas City.
"I put a little bit of thought into it and I feel like anytime you’ve got a (general manager like John Elway) that quarterbacks are going to come running," Stephenson said. "So, I’m pretty sure they’re going to find a guy that can play."
What they found in Stephenson is a guy who can play up and down the line.
Stephenson said he’s just what coach Gary Kubiak wants up front in his zone-blocking schemes, saying he likes athletic linemen, "so I think I’ll fit in perfectly."
The Broncos are looking to bolster an O-line that was riddled by injuries in 2015, losing tackles Ryan Clady and rookie Ty Sambrailo to season-ending injuries early on and suffering through injuries to guards Louis Vasquez and Evan Mathis all season.
The Broncos and Clady are working to restructure his contract, but Vasquez was released and Mathis might retire. Sambrailo is still recovering from left shoulder surgery.
Stephenson said he drew interest from more than a dozen teams and was ready to move on from his hometown of Kansas City. He called Denver the perfect landing spot even with so much uncertainty about whom he’ll be blocking for when the off-season program starts in less than six weeks.
Osweiler signed a four-year, $72 million deal with Houston, where he was introduced as the Texans new quarterback Thursday. His departure 48 hours after Peyton Manning’s retirement left the Broncos scrambling for a quarterback.
Amid the speculation of free agents, possible trade acquisitions and college quarterbacks available in next month’s draft, Emmanuel Sanders joked on Twitter that he could be catching heaters from Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico next season.
Denver’s dazzling defence took a hit with the departures of Trevathan and Jackson.
Trevathan landed in Chicago, where he was reunited with former coach John Fox. Jackson cashed in with the Jaguars, then took a potshot at the Broncos, suggesting: "They could have gotten me done, could have gotten Danny done, could have gotten Brock done for less than nothing" had Denver dealt with them earlier.
The Broncos didn’t have the financial flexibility, however, to get deals done with all their pending free agents last month or even last season, and their formula did work, after all, as evidenced by their new Lombardi Trophy.
Osweiler also took what could be perceived as a shot at the Broncos when he said at his introductory news conference that although spurning the Broncs was the hardest call of his life, "I feel like the Houston Texans give me the best opportunity to be successful."
Jackson and Anderson scored Denver’s two TDs in their 24-10 win over Carolina in the Super Bowl following game MVP Von Miller’s sack-strips of Cam Newton.
Jackson smothered the first one in the end zone and Anderson capitalized on the second one to score the game-clinching TD in the closing minutes.
Anderson will move on, too, if the Broncos don’t match Miami’s front-loaded, four-year, $18 million offer within five days of its filing.
Anderson ran for 849 yards and eight TDs in 2014, when he became the fifth undrafted running back in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl. He got off to a slow start last season because of a toe injury, but finished with 720 yards and five TDs. He started in the Super Bowl for the first time since Oct. 18 and rushed for 90 yards.
The Broncos expect to lose unrestricted free agent Ronnie Hillman, too. So, they could be without their top two quarterbacks and top two running backs as they begin defence of their title in 2016.