Super Bowl XLVIII is a matchup of stark contrasts, right down to how the teams were constructed. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks aren't just opposites in strengths and strategy, but also organizational philosophies.
The Broncos are a team built to win in Peyton Manning's championship window. Denver had the least amount of drafted players on their 53-man roster of any team that made it to Championship Sunday, and the oldest average age, according to USA Today.
The Broncos have more than double the amount of unrestricted free agents on their roster in comparison to Seattle. While John Elway has done a nice job drafting since he arrived in 2011, his greatest work has come in free agency.
Everyone knows that Elway was instrumental in recruiting Manning to Denver. That move alone more than validated the Broncos' decision to hand the keys to the organization back to Elway, but he's made a series of brilliant veteran acquisitions since then.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, linebacker Shaun Phillips and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were all signed this offseason and have proven to be incredible bargains. The Broncos' defense could not have survived without them. With stars like Manning and left tackle Ryan Clady taking up so much of the available salary cap space, Elway needed to find value players to fill out the roster.
This isn't a team that can only "build through the draft." They don't have the time. Elway's success largely has been built on identifying weak spots on the roster and aggressively trying to fill those holes.
Let's take a look at the entire roster:
Here are a takeaways from the chart above:
» The Josh McDaniels era is a punchline in Denver, but Elway owes him a debt of gratitude for his 2010 acquisitions. Demaryius Thomas, Zane Beadles and Eric Decker are three home-run draft picks in the first three rounds. (Tim Tebow, taken after Thomas, was a checked-swing single.) Chris Clark, signed off waivers in '10, has proven to be an incredible backup at left tackle and quietly has kept Manning upright all season.
» With all that said, Elway's 2011 draft class is even better. Von Miller and Rahim Moore both are on injured reserve, but Elway drafted four starters and signed two more as undrafted free agents.
» The Broncos needed their 2013 free-agent crop to pan out because they were counting on them to be productive starters, and the team hasn't received much production from their rookies.
» Only five players remain from the Mike Shanahan era, including Clady, who is on injured reserve. The Clinton Portis-for-Champ Bailey trade in '04 paid dividends for an entire decade.
» The Broncos have a lot of key unrestricted free agents this season, so Elway will have to continue to make tough decisions on who to keep. The Broncos have 14 players over 30 years old, and they simply aren't going to be a young roster.
The Broncos don't need to be that young; Elway has shown that they can win with a great mix of drafting, developing and signing undervalued assets.