INDIANAPOLIS -- As the Denver Broncos prepare themselves to make major changes at quarterback, John Elway said the team's plan is to keep its top two receivers for any new quarterbacks to throw to.
The Broncos' president of football operations/general manager said at the scouting combine Wednesday that "the plan'' was to keep both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the roster. With the Broncos expected to make some salary-cap room with the release of a notable veteran player or two in the coming weeks, there had been some speculation Thomas and Sanders could be among the players let go.
"The plan is to have them back,'' Elway said.
Asked if that meant the Broncos would pay a $4 million option bonus to Thomas in the coming weeks that would keep the final two years of his deal (2018 and 2019) in place, Elway said: "That is the plan, yes."
Elway was critical of the team's quarterback play last season when the Broncos used three different starters and threw the second-most interceptions in the league (22), and he didn't absolve the top two receivers from that, either.
Elway said both players must be better in the coming season.
"We want to have them come back and play the way they're capable of,'' Elway said. "They still have a lot of football and still (are) a top receiving pair in the league, so we have got high expectations, but they've got to come back and play a lot better.''
Thomas led the Broncos with 83 receptions for 949 yards -- his first season with fewer than 1,000 yards receiving since 2011 -- while Sanders finished with 47 catches and 555 yards in an injury-marred season. Sanders, who missed four games with an ankle injury, did not have a touchdown reception after Week 2.
Thomas currently has the second-highest salary-cap charge on the team for 2018 at $12.033 million, while Sanders is fourth at $10.938 million.
The return of the two receivers, however, could help the Broncos lure a free-agent quarterback. Because of the league's tampering rules, team officials cannot openly comment on their desire to sign prospective free agents until the start of the new league year on March 14.
"Anybody that's not under contract right now or won't be under contract,'' Elway said.
Asked if that included every quarterback who would be on the market, Elway said, "Yes.''
Then asked if he believed the Broncos had enough salary-cap room -- expected to be about $27 million with another $10 million or so rolled over from last season -- to handle any scenario with quarterbacks in free agency, Elway quickly said, "Yeah.''