ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Through all the starts and stops, ups and downs and punts and turnovers the Denver Broncos' offense has experienced this season, coach Gary Kubiak has routinely spoken about how tight ends could help unlock touchdowns.
Owen Daniels and Virgil Green combined for 105 yards receiving in the win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, offering a glimpse of that as the Broncos piled up 500 offensive yards and moved to 7-0. Denver decided to push the envelope a little more Monday afternoon when they acquired two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis via trade.
Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway called it “an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up." In return for Davis and a 2016 seventh-round pick, the 49ers will get the Broncos' sixth-round picks in 2016 and 2017.
Since Davis is due to be an unrestricted free agent following this season, the Broncos have the potential to receive a compensatory draft pick down the road if Davis performs well and is not re-signed. It is almost a no-risk deal for the Broncos.
The only mild risk is adding a new player to a locker room filled with players who already have expectations about their playing time. But Elway said the Broncos did their homework and still see the player who had 13 touchdown receptions as recently as 2013.
“I think what we know of Vernon and all the stuff that we've heard of him being a leader with the [49ers] and qualities that he has as a person, I think that he's going to fit perfectly," Elway said. “That was definitely something that we worked on and was important to us."
Kubiak saw the production potential from tight ends in Sunday night's offensive explosion and wants more. He has steadfastly maintained the Broncos need to be a two-tight end team more often, and they have run out of three- and four-wide receivers sets so often (they've been in three-wide at least 28 snaps in each of their games) because of necessity rather than desire.
A two-tight end look could balance out the formation -- making it difficult for defenses to decide which is really the strong, or weak, side -- and add some more bulk up front, creating quality matchups against linebackers and safeties in the passing game as well as protecting Peyton Manning better. Just two of the team's 12 sacks allowed this season have come in two-tight end formations.
Essentially, the Broncos see this as a win-win-win-win proposition.
The work of the tight ends Sunday seemed to open up the run game, increase wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' production -- he finished with a season-best 168 yards receiving -- and keep Manning from being sacked.
“The biggest thing, and you guys notice, we played in some two-tight end stuff tonight," Kubiak said. "We played in the base offense instead of all of the three-wide and four-wide. ... We were able to expand on some of the things we were doing because of getting a third tight end on our roster [Richard Gordon]."
The Broncos thought Gordon could contribute and believe Davis can help them dominate. Davis arrives to the Broncos with 18 receptions for the 2-6 49ers -- second on the team. That work is more impressive considering that the 49ers are 29th in the league in passing and tied for 30th in passing touchdowns.
Manning has seven touchdown passes this season, or the same number he had in the 2013 season opener. Three of those have gone to tight ends -- two to Daniels, one to Green. The Broncos need something to stop teams from bunching defenders in the middle of the field, so they made the move for Davis less than 24 hours after they dismantled the Packers.
“[Davis] will be a great addition, a big weapon for us because of the speed that he has,’" Elway said.
“I think we’re always trying to get better, and if we have an opportunity to get better, if the compensation is fair ... we’re not going to mortgage the future to do it, but obviously if we can add to our football team now and feel like it makes us better, we’re going to look at opportunities like that."