Vasquez a quality investment strategy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since he stepped into the mess that was the Broncos' football operations in early 2011 as the team's newly minted executive vice president, John Elway has always said the draft has to be the cornerstone of team-building to be good over the long haul.

But he's also said he wants to be open to the right free agent along the way. Maybe some will sign for the long term, maybe most will sign one-year deals, maybe some will raise an eyebrow or two elsewhere along the way.

Either way, Elway has said, the player has to fit on the field and in the locker room. "They don't have to be high on everybody's list, but they will be high on ours," Elway said.

And other than the franchise-shaping move that was signing quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012, guard Louis Vasquez continues to be the next best foray into free agency in Elway's tenure.

The Broncos jumped out early last March to snag Vasquez. They dropped the longest deal (four years) and the biggest money ($23.5 million, $13 million guaranteed, split over the first two years) of anybody in last year's free-agency class.

The Broncos' pro personnel department liked what Vasquez had done in his four years in San Diego, but they thought there was room for vocational growth in a big, powerful player who filled an immediate need in the Broncos' front, a notion Vasquez agreed with when he called signing in Denver "kind of a no-brainer."

Turned out everybody was right.

In a season in which the Broncos scored a league-record 606 points as Manning threw for a league-record 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns and was sacked a league-low 18 times, Vasquez was one of two Broncos to be named first-team All-Pro.

Manning was the other, a unanimous choice at that, but Vasquez' choice was a testament to his play, how quickly the Broncos got him acclimated to their offense, his teammates and a quality projection. He is the first Broncos guard to be named first-team All-Pro since at least the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

"Peyton just makes you want to elevate your game," Vasquez said. "Again, it's humbling, can't thank my teammates enough … I kind of knew what I was getting into right from the get-go, as soon as I got here it was like a whole different world. Just how Peyton works."

And while teammates and opposing coaches will often talk of the 6-foot-5, 335-pounder's power or ability to lock on with his hands and not let the defensive lineman escape, Vasquez' technique is sound. So sound he rarely draw flags.

In one of the more remarkable runs by an offensive lineman in the league Vasquez has been flagged just five times in his entire career -- now 70 games and counting -- and only four of those penalties have been assessed.

He has been flagged for three penalties this year-- two false starts and a holding penalty -- but none since Week 7. He has been flagged just twice before this season -- a false-start penalty on a field goal attempt Oct. 24, 2010, against the Patriots to go with a holding call in Week 6 of his rookie season that was declined.