ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' third consecutive playoff miss might be a rather big red flag for some of the team's veterans.
"When you don't go to the playoffs here, they're not going to sit around and just stay the same," is how cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it at season's end. "We haven't been to the playoffs in three years, I think they might think they gave this group a chance. They're going to go young, that's what I think. They're going to go young. ... I've said it before, everybody who won the Super Bowl is on a non-guaranteed contract, we'll probably have two or three vets on this team and that's it."
The 2018 Broncos were already a fairly fresh-faced bunch. With nine picks already in hand for the 2019 draft, they likely have their collective eye on another roster youth movement.
The Broncos had 12 rookies on their Week 17 roster, and 11 of those were in uniform for the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Chargers. In all, 13 rookies played in a game for the Broncos this past season, and the aim is to build on that class with another solid group in 2019.
"We're going to bust our tails to get better, to get back competitive, to get back where we want to be," Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "Our young guys did well this year, we're going to continue to try to do well in the draft, that's key to what we want to do."
It's why many of the Broncos' veterans adjourned with plenty of uncertainty tucked away in their luggage.
The season-ending roster, not including those players who had been moved to injured reserve at some point in 2018, included just 18 players with four or more years of experience. The injured players included Harris, who just finished his eighth season, and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who just finished his ninth.
Among the unrestricted free agents expected to move on are linebacker Shane Ray and cornerback Bradley Roby; both are former first-round picks by the Broncos. Ray said the fact he had been a game-day inactive over the season's final three weeks made it clear to him he will play elsewhere in 2019.
Nose tackle Domata Peko, who just finished his 13th NFL season, is also among the Broncos' impending free agents, as are tackle Jared Veldheer, cornerback Tramaine Brock, center Matt Paradis, guard Billy Turner, guard Max Garcia and defensive end Zach Kerr. Of that group, Paradis, who finished the season on injured reserve, and Garcia are former Broncos draft picks.
"You never know," Peko said. "Of course I want to be back, I love it here, love these guys, you don't know what they're going to decide. But I feel good, like I can play."
And there are players like defensive end Derek Wolfe, linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety Darian Stewart, who had the second-, fifth- and seventh-highest salary-cap figures on the team, respectively, this past season. They're big-money veterans who don't know yet if they're going to get caught in a roster makeover brought on by back-to-back seasons of double-digit losses.
"You know they're going to do something," Wolfe said. "When you lose that's what happens."
For his part, newly hired coach Vic Fangio said he and his staff will look at the current roster in the weeks to come and see how the players fit with what Denver wants to do on offense, defense and special teams. There will be several holdovers on the coaching staff, including defensive-line coach Bill Kollar, linebackers coach Reggie Herring and special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon, who can offer some background on the roster.
"But until you hear something yourself, you don't know," Marshall said. "You know there's going to be a lot of change because we didn't make the playoffs the last three years. Yeah, we won a Super Bowl, but it just hasn't been right the last couple years. For me I say it's up the in the air, you don't know what the new coaches want, what they're going to do upstairs. I would love to finish my career here, but it's up the air. Not just for me, but probably a lot of guys here."