DENVER — Mark Sanchez is getting a change of scenery and a new job description: replacing Peyton Manning.
Instead of being buried deep on Philadelphia’s depth chart, the veteran quarterback has a chance to lead Denver’s defense of its Super Bowl title.
He proved early in his career that he can take a team with a great defense on a deep playoff run and he’ll be asked to do the same in Denver if he emerges as the starter.
The Broncos acquired the seven-year veteran from the Eagles on Friday, a move Denver general manager John Elway calls the first step toward replacing Manning.
The Super Bowl champions were left without an experienced quarterback this week when five-time MVP Manning retired and Brock Osweiler signed with Houston as a free agent. So they have turned to Sanchez, who was acquired for a conditional 2017 draft pick.
“He brings veteran leadership &will compete,” Elway tweeted. “This is the 1st step in our process.”
Sanchez, 29, is due $4.5 million next season in the final year of his contract.
He spent his first five NFL seasons with the Jets, helping them to the AFC championship game in his first two years by winning four road playoff games. But the fifth overall pick in the 2009 draft lost his job in New York and spent the last two seasons with the Eagles, starting 10 games and going 4-6 filling in for Nick Foles and later Sam Bradford.
The former star at Southern California has a 37-35 record as a starter in his seven NFL seasons. He joins Trevor Siemian, who took one snap last year as a rookie, as the only quarterbacks on Denver’s roster.
The Broncos had hoped to hand things over to Osweiler, Manning’s longtime apprentice. But they were outbid by the Texans, who signed Osweiler to a four-year, $72 million contract Thursday. That deal includes $37 million in guarantees for a quarterback who suffered four injuries in seven career starts, all in 2015.
Sanchez became expendable in Philadelphia when new coach Doug Pederson lured longtime Chiefs backup Chase Daniel with him to the Eagles from Kansas City for $21 million over three years. Pederson said Sam Bradford, who signed a two-year, $36 million deal this month, would remain his starter.
Of course, Sanchez will have to win the starting job in Denver and Elway isn’t done addressing his QB needs. He’ll likely obtain another experienced passer and almost certainly will grab a QB in next month’s draft.
The Broncos won it all despite having the league’s second-lowest cumulative passer rating behind only the Rams.
In Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson, they’ve lost two starters to free agency from their dazzling defense that led the way to a 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50. But behind game MVP Von Miller, who received the Broncos’ franchise tag, Denver should be in position to remain among the league’s elite defenses in 2016.
Elway isn’t just scrambling to replace his iconic quarterback. He’s facing the possibility of replacing 10 players who started in the Super Bowl, including lead running back C.J. Anderson, who signed a four-year, $18 million offer sheet from the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.
The Broncos have five days to match Miami’s offer or they’ll lose him without compensation because they only placed the low-round tender worth $1.671 million on him. The higher tender would have paid Anderson $2.355 million in 2016 or required another suitor to give them a second-round draft pick to pry him away.
Although he battled foot and ankle injuries last season, Anderson rushed for 720 yards and five TDs. He started in the Super Bowl and rushed for 90 yards and Denver’s only offensive touchdown.
The Broncos placed the higher tender on another one of their key restricted free agents, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall, who tweeted Friday: “So everybody’s getting a big contract except me I see.”
Of the 11 offensive starters in the Super Bowl, only center Matt Paradis, right tackle Michael Schofield and receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are locks to return. Schofield likely will move to guard or back up newly signed free agent Donald Stephenson.
The Broncos learned Friday they’ll have three compensatory picks in next month’s draft.