INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to stealing the gem of the free-agent market, John Elway and the Denver Broncos have been there, done that.
It was St. Patrick's Day week 2012 when the fortunes of the Broncos shifted thanks to Peyton Manning accepting Denver's pot of gold -- $96 million over five years -- and immediately changing the direction of the eventual Super Bowl champions.
Here sits Elway with enough cash to be dangerous and an unmatched drive to answer the riddle left with Manning's retirement: Can the Broncos land a franchise quarterback?
"I think we are, since Peyton retired, trying to look for that guy. It's a tough position to fill," Elway said Tuesday at the Indiana Convention Center adjacent to Lucas Oil Stadium on the first day of the NFL Scouting Combine. "Where we are, we're excited about Drew (Lock). It's nice to have a young guy to be able to build around and feel like you got a guy that has the potential to be a long-time starter for you. The sky's the limit for him. It depends on how he continues to improve. We feel better in that situation."
And with Elway, there's always the qualifier. He didn't disappoint.
"Obviously, it's a unique quarterback class, too, this year. I think you're seeing that happen, too, because guys are playing so much longer," Elway said. "You're talking about late 30s and early 40s with (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom (Brady). They're playing much longer and can still play at a high level."
Which is not a statement the Broncos can make about Lock.
A hand injury helped derail Lock's rookie season. But after another swing-and-miss contender for the franchise QB chair -- Joe Flacco, acquired from the Baltimore Ravens -- fell instead into the rocker and onto injured reserve, most of Lock's reps came well after the Broncos' 2019 fate had been decided.
Lock, who at 23 is a full 20 years younger than Brady, went 4-1 as the starter to wrap up a season that foreshadows good things ahead. Elway doesn't find comfort in maybe.
"I think where we sit right now there is no question that Drew is the guy that we're looking to," Elway said. "Obviously, you want to be able to improve as a football team, get him some weapons on the offensive side, but also do some things on the defensive side. The process begins now. It's begun. We've been in evaluations of the free-agent class. Now we're here getting the numbers on the college kids. From this point on, we'll start developing that plan and getting better on both sides."
That's not unlike the position the team was in with a first-round pick at quarterback, Tim Tebow, in 2012. Tebow won a playoff game, was a fan favorite and of course, Elway "liked what he had" at quarterback.
So, what if the Broncos can get that audience with Brady -- or Drew Brees, Jameis Winston or Cam Newton -- this March?
"We'd always talk to him," Elway said with a smile. "But I think we're happy with what we have in Drew."
--By Jeff Reynolds, Field Level Media