You are currently viewing Broncos free-agency history in focus: Ed McCaffrey reunites with Mike Shanahan

Broncos free-agency history in focus: Ed McCaffrey reunites with Mike Shanahan

  • Post comments:0 Comments

With the start of the league season less than a week away, we’re taking an in-depth look at some of the finest free-agent acquisitions in team history since the advent of modern free agency in 1993. From the first Super Bowl in 1997 to the most recent in 2015, the Broncos have relied heavily on free agency to develop their squads.

In this session, we look back at one of Mike Shanahan’s first acquisitions as head coach in Denver: wide receiver Ed McCaffrey.


How it happened

Shanahan wasted no time in making changes to enhance Denver’s squad during his first summer as head coach.

In the 1995 free-agent period, dubbed “March Madness” by Adam Schefter in a Rocky Mountain News article, the Broncos signed more than a dozen new players over the course of several weeks, including seven anticipated starters.

McCaffrey, who previously played under Shanahan as the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in San Francisco, was a gangly, agile athlete with sure hands but limited opportunities. He only had 14 targets in 16 games with the 49ers, but he was one of Shanahan’s free-agent targets the following offseason.

“Anytime you have a player with that size and quickness, it makes it much simpler for a quarterback,” Shanahan remarked in a Denver Post piece in 1995. “He’ll be able to play a variety of positions. He’s played wide receiver, tight end in a three-wide formation, and halfback in a four-wide formation.”

Reuniting with Shanahan was a key selling factor for McCaffrey.

“With Mike here, it was a lot simpler,” McCaffrey remarked. “Mike is the one head coach in whom I have complete faith. He’s shown what he’s capable of in San Francisco, and I expect the same outcome here.”

McCaffrey was hardly the most notable signing of that era. That distinction went to defensive end Michael Dean Perry, a five-time Pro Bowler, and two-time first-team All-Pro who joined the Broncos after being released by the Browns. McCaffrey was anticipated to take over as the Broncos’ third receiver.

High expectations accompanied the surge in expenditure. The group’s ability to meet them would be determined over time.


The outcome and impact

The 1995 season would be one of growing pains for Denver, as the team struggled to an 8-8 record in Shanahan’s first season. McCaffrey finished as the team’s third receiver, behind Anthony Miller and tight end Shannon Sharpe, with 39 receptions for 477 yards and two touchdowns.

Shanahan and McCaffrey, on the other hand, would round into shape in Denver in the years that followed.

With a 13-3 record in 1996, the franchise enjoyed its most successful regular season in team history, and it followed it up with back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

Over that three-year period, McCaffrey progressed from rotating receiver to a full-fledged starter, with wide receiver Rod Smith serving as the other starter. At that period, McCaffrey scored 25 touchdowns, had his first 1,000-yard season, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 1998.

“I feel extremely lucky,” McCaffrey stated at the pinnacle of his career. “It wasn’t long ago that I was out of work, desperately trying to find work as a musician. I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had playing football right now.”

McCaffrey’s visage became one of the team’s most identifiable. McDonald’s engaged him to appear in television advertisements. During a 1998 visit on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee,” McCaffrey received a pass from Regis Philbin in downtown New York City traffic on Columbus Avenue.

McCaffrey continued to play at a high level even after John Elway retired. In 1999, he had another 1,000-yard season, and in 2000, he established a new career high with 101 catches for 1,317 yards. While McCaffrey’s next season was cut short due to a significant leg injury, he returned in 2002 with 69 receptions for 903 yards.

McCaffrey retired after the 2003 season, ranking fourth in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions in team history.

“He was known as Mr. His middle name was dependable, and consistency was his middle name “Steve Watson, a former Broncos wideout and receivers coach at the time, stated at the time. “When you needed a huge play when you needed someone to set someone up with a double move when you needed someone to work the entire game to move the chains, Ed was your guy.”

Looking back on that free agent class, McCaffrey was likely the greatest signing of the lot. Perry was named to another Pro Bowl in 1996, but the organization let him go midway through the 1997 season. Guard Mark Schlereth, who was also signed that summer, was selected to the Pro Bowl and was an important part of a powerful offensive line that opened the way for Terrell Davis and kept John Elway safe.


Leave a Reply