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Broncos add venom, vigor to the trenches

By: ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
March 13, 2017 Updated: March 14, 2017 at 6:13 am

ENGLEWOOD — Domata Peko was drawn to Denver by family and familiarity.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph was on Marvin Lewis' staff in Cincinnati, where Peko spent his first 11 seasons "and he and I had a really good relationship," Peko said Monday after signing his two-year, $7.5 million contract.

Peko also is reuniting with his cousin, Kyle Peko, a second-year nose tackle, in Denver.

"That also had a little bit to do with me coming here," Peko said, chuckling. "Kyle's my little cousin. His dad and me are first cousins. So, it's good to have another Peko in the house."

That's exactly how general manager John Elway was feeling Monday when he signed both Peko and Zach Kerr, a fourth-year D-tackle from the Colts, to beef up his D-line.

The signings grew in importance hours later when star pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware announced his retirement from the NFL after 12 seasons and 138½ sacks, eighth-most all-time.

The Broncos needed to beef up the middle of their defensive line because it proved the weak link last year after they lost Malik Jackson to free agency and Vance Walker to a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

The Broncos fell from top-5 against the run to bottom-5 and that negated their strengths: the Von Miller-led pass rush and a secondary led by All-Pro cornerbacks Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib.

"Well, the NFL's kind of turned into a passing league a little bit but you still got those teams like Peko just came from the AFC North, they still like to run the ball," Kerr said.

"The Steelers will run the ball all day on you. I think that's important to be stout in the run game and have big size. ... We're trying to get some guys like Peko and myself to beef up the front.

"Obviously we've got the guys on the back end who can cover all day. You got an animal like 58 (Miller) coming off the edge. So, what we need now was some bigger guys, guys like us just to beef up the front and kind of take charge in the run game."

Although Peko and Kerr aren't the kind of splashy free agent signings Elway has become known for, his focus in free agency this year was in adding vigor and venom to both of his lines after watching the Broncos get pushed around too much last season.

On Friday, he lured guard Ron Leary out of Dallas and tackle Menelik Watson out of Oakland , grabbing two players off two of the league's best offensive lines. On Monday, he signed Peko and Kerr to two-year deals.

"It's been a focus for us ... getting more physical on both sides of the ball," Elway said. "We feel like we've done that and so it's been a good start."

Also Monday, the Broncos signed unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Kasim Edebali to a one-year deal. The fourth-year player appeared in all 48 possible regular-season games in his first three seasons with the Saints.

LEFT TACKLE: The Broncos still haven't settled on their left tackle after jettisoning Russell Okung. They restructured right tackle Donald Stephenson's contract over the weekend, giving him $2 million now and another $2 million if he makes the 53-man roster in camp. Stephenson can play on the left side as can Ty Sambrailo, who's been bothered by injuries the past two years.

"It's still open and we're not done," Elway said. "Watson's played some left tackle and we're going to take a peek at Stephenson there. And so we feel like we have some different options. We're not done yet. Last time I heard we don't go to camp until July, so we don't have to have that fixed just yet."

ROMO RUMORS: Once again, Elway demurred when asked if he'd be interested in acquiring Tony Romo.

"Tony's under contract still," Elway said, avoiding any hint of tampering with the Cowboys QB. "Nothing's changed since the combine (when Elway said he likes young QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch but would "kick the tires" on any available veterans).

"I'll just tell you this: there's a lot of things out there that aren't true as far as what's going on with our quarterbacks," Elway said. "That's what happens. Everything gets frothed up. We just continue to go down our path and that's to continue to stay open and when things come available, we'll look at them at that point."

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