The same day the Broncos parted ways with Tim Tebow, they immediately turned their attention to another Gator.
Denver had landed highly prized quarterback Peyton Manning. Next on the agenda was surrounding him with not just weapons, but the right weapons. Then-free agent receiver Andre Caldwell was already involved in talks with the team but the moment Manning agreed to play in the Mile High City, Caldwell’s interests also soared to a new altitude.
“He’s a veteran quarterback who knows how to win games. He knows how to put players in positions to be their best. He gets the best out of his receivers,” Caldwell told The Denver Post. “It got real serious after they got Peyton. It heated up and I was all on board after they signed Peyton.”
As a result, Caldwell signed a two-year, $1.8 million deal with the team. He confirmed that with Tebow under center, the Broncos’ offense wasn’t quite that appealing. At least not as much as playing with the only four-time MVP in league history.
“Everybody knows with Tebow they were more of a running-style team,” Caldwell told The Associated press. “They didn’t spread the ball around as much. Manning was a major impact. Tebow is a good friend of mine. I would’ve loved to have been here with him. But I know how this game goes. I can’t be mad playing with Peyton Manning.”
Manning missed all of last season after undergoing neck-fusion surgery. Many speculated whether the future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl MVP would return to form. Apparently, Caldwell wasn’t one of those doubters. After spending his first four seasons in Cincinnati, “Bubba” quickly took a liking his new home.
“They’ve got a lot of good people in place already,” Caldwell said. “They’re a playoff team. They have the addition of Peyton Manning, which was a great move. I think I have the opportunity to fit in with them.”
There’s no question he can be productive in Denver, considering Caldwell’s chances of being the team’s third receiver and Manning’s track record of spreading the ball around. The 6-foot, 190-pound Caldwell is a possession receiver who will line up in the slot alongside emerging wideouts Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Caldwell will also try to fill the punt- and kick-returning duties vacated by Eddie Royal, who bolted to join the AFC West-rival Chargers.
A third-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Caldwell never gained a solid foothold in Cincinnati’s receiving corps. He caught a career-high 51 catches in his second season but only managed 124 receptions in his four years there. In 13 games for the Bengals last season, Caldwell caught 37 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns before ending the season on injured reserve because of a groin injury.
But Caldwell is expected to be ready to start the season, one that he feels will be the breakout season he’s been waiting for.
“I think I have a long ways to go,” said Caldwell, whose older brother, Reche, played receiver for San Diego, New England and Washington. “I think it’s going to happen here in Denver. They’ve got some great coaches. They’ve got some great players around. It’s going to help me improve every day.”
Caldwell was only the first of a few pass-catchers Denver picked up in the offseason. The Broncos signed tight end Jacob Tamme two days later and then signed Brandon Stokley in mid-April, giving Manning two players he developed great chemistry with in Indianapolis.
Former Jets and Texans tight end Joel Dreessen was also signed the same day as Tamme. Virgil Green and Julius Thomas, two more tight ends drafted in 2011, will battle for roster spots with Dreessen, Tamme and third-year man Cornelius Ingram.
Ingram, a fellow Gator who came into the NFL a year after Caldwell, was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad on Dec. 27, 2011.