ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In many ways John Elway hopes Chris Harris Jr. is the first domino, the one that knocks over a few more.
As the Denver Broncos' chief football decision-maker, Elway will face plenty of decisions in the coming offseason, with a list of impending free agents that features many of the team's highest-profile players.
"Yeah, we have a bunch of guys coming up, and so we're hoping that we can get everybody," Elway said. "It's never going to be easy, but Chris was the target to start with and we were thankful to get that done, so we hope that we can continue to do that and keep this team together."
Harris Jr., who signed a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, was signed because he wanted to sign. Harris Jr. said he didn't want to wait until the offseason and when negotiations stalled a bit in recent weeks, Elway got a little more involved as the two sides found some common ground.
But Harris Jr., who first made the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in 2011, is just one of many free agents who will be part of several negotiations in the coming months, after whatever becomes of this season. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, safety Rahim Moore, wide receiver Wes Welker and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton are among the Broncos' regulars who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.
The Broncos made a five-year offer to Demaryius Thomas this past summer, but the two sides could not close the gap. A gap that hasn't gotten any smaller given Demaryius Thomas is second in the league in receptions (96), third in receiving yards and tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (11).
The Broncos also have a franchise player tag available with Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas being the most likely candidates. The Broncos are expected to expend far more energy trying to re-sign their own free agents this offseason as Elway continues to pursue a "homegrown" agenda with the roster.
So, while last offseason's spending spree was designed to re-vamp the defense by bringing in players from elsewhere, like DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, the Broncos will look at their own depth chart this time around when it comes to divvying up their free agency dollars.
"That's key because we've obviously had a lot of success over the last four years," Elway said. "When you win four division titles, you've had a lot of success, and as soon as you've had that success, it means you've got a lot of real good football players on your team. So that's the battle is to continue to do that. We've got to continue to draft well. We've got to continue to retain the guys that we can retain that give us the opportunity to continue to win like this. I didn't get in here to win part of the time. I want to win all the time. And I think the mentality of the type of guys we have, they have the same mentality. So when you're good, it's tough, but we're going to continue to try to be as good as we can and continue to draft well and try to keep as many as we can, and Chris is a start for us."
Harris Jr. said Monday he believed he could have likely gotten a bigger contract elsewhere, but that he had decided he wanted to stay with the Broncos, saying "this is just where I wanted to be, it was my goal and I'm happy it worked out. I'm happy with the whole thing."
Of the Broncos' most prominent free agents, only Knighton and Welker were not draft picks by the team. But Knighton, in particular, has become an important locker-room voice despite signing a two-year deal in 2013.
Knighton is a team captain and came to the Broncos after four seasons in Jacksonville when the Jaguars finished 7-9, 8-8, 5-11 and 2-14 without a playoff appearance.
"I talk to a lot of guys and I told Chris, just coming where I came from, the grass is not greener on the other side," Knighton said. "And sometimes it means a lot more to be in a winning organization and making money than being in a losing organization and making money and playing for two years and thinking you're gone or you're going somewhere else. So he'll be a Bronco for the rest of his life, and that's good. Sometimes winning overshadows how much money you make. Because I'm pretty sure there are guys that wish they were on winning teams that would sacrifice a few million dollars to be in the position we're in … Absolutely. I don't want to leave. I want to be here. But I've been in the position before and I know how it works. So you've got to do what's right for your family. But you've also got to do what's right for your career."