Even Peyton Manning, the quickest draw in the AFC West, might have to hurry it up this season.
If the 2014 season started today, he wouldn't have a left guard.
The Broncos have filled several needs by investing $124.5 million in four new players — defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, strong safety T.J. Ward and receiver Emmanuel Sanders — during the first week of NFL free agency.
But with the budget now severely squeezed, finding an interior offensive lineman has been a challenge. The Broncos visited Monday with center Will Montgomery, but the former Washington Redskin left Dove Valley without a contract.
The two sides negotiated but couldn't reach an agreement. The Broncos will continue their search for an interior offensive lineman who can replace left guard Zane Beadles, who became a free agent and signed a six-year, $30 million deal with Jacksonville.
Had the Broncos signed Montgomery, who started all 16 games in each of the previous three seasons with the Redskins, he would have been the leading candidate to become the starting center, while 2013 center Manny Ramirez or right tackle Orlando Franklin could have moved to left guard.
The Broncos also tried to sign former Green Bay center Evan Dietrich-Smith, but he signed with Tampa Bay.
The Broncos can now either try to sign another free-agent center such as Samson Satele or Brian de la Punte, attempt to sign an older guard such as Travelle Wharton or Willie Colon, or wait for the May 8-10 draft and use their No. 31 overall pick on Colorado State's Weston Richburg, considered by many to be the best center prospect.
While the Broncos couldn't close the deal with Montgomery, two former Broncos — cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and kick returner Trindon Holliday — reached agreements Monday with the New York Giants.
Add former Broncos center J.D. Walton, who signed a two-year, $5 million contract with New York last week, and the Giants have become Broncos East.
Rodgers-Cromartie became a Giant only after negotiations with the Broncos broke down last Tuesday. When Rodgers-Cromartie balked at a six-year, $54 million deal, the Broncos instead signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million contract.
With the Giants, Rodgers-Cromartie received a five-year, $35 million deal that includes a whopping $10 million signing bonus. He can make an additional $4 million through escalators and incentives. A case can be made Rodgers-Cromartie wound up with a better deal with the Giants because the enlarged signing bonus carries future salary cap ramifications that makes it difficult for the team to release him in the first three years.
Rodgers-Cromartie's deal with the Giants calls for $10.75 million in 2015, $16 million through 2016 and $22 million through 2016. The Broncos' offer was $10 million, including a $5 million signing bonus, in 2014, $16 million through 2015 and $22 million through 2016.
Rodgers-Cromartie played last season on a "make good" one-year, $5 million contract with the Broncos.
Holliday had been an explosive kick returner for the Broncos after they claimed him off waivers from Houston following Game 5 of the 2012 season. Counting playoffs, Holliday had six touchdown returns — three on punts, three on kickoffs — through his first 15 games with the Broncos.
One of those touchdowns was an 81-yard punt return against the Giants in Game 2 of the 2013 season at MetLife Stadium.
But Holliday's hot streak quickly turned cold as he struggled with ball security.