ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — John Elway hates cut-down day, although probably not as much as the 20 players he called into his office Saturday.
"Today is obviously the toughest part of my job," the Broncos GM said. "It's hard breaking dreams."
Elway added depth to his defense through free agency and the draft in the aftermath of Denver's Super Bowl debacle, and two veterans who paid the price Saturday were Kevin Vickerson and Duke Ihenacho.
Vickerson, a nine-year veteran defensive tackle and Ihenacho, a third-year safety who had nine tackles against Seattle in the Super Bowl, were among the Broncos' cuts as they trimmed their roster to 53 active players.
Among them were 14 players who weren't on the team when they lost to Seattle in the Super Bowl, including six free agents, five draft picks, two college free agents and a trade acquisition.
"This is by far the deepest team since I've been here and the toughest decisions we've had since I've been here," said Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback who rejoined his beloved Broncos in 2011.
Ihenacho started 17 games last season. But he was the odd man out in a crowded secondary that features free agent acquisition T.J. Ward at strong safety along with Quinton Carter, who's made a strong comeback after spending the last two years on IR and rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery.
"At the end of the day, always remember business is business. For both sides. On to whatever is next," Ihenacho tweeted.
Another feel-good story was that of Ben Garland, who made the roster after switching from defensive line to offensive guard following a two-year military commitment and a two-year stint on the practice squad.
"Ben's a guy that's got that determination like no other and ... he's very bright," Elway said. "He's tough and he just worked his tail off to earn a spot on the team."
Slow to recover from a dislocated hip that sidelined him down the stretch in 2013, Vickerson was unable to fend off free agent Marvin Austin, a former second-round pick who had a stellar camp after undergoing back surgery late last year, and Mitch Unrein, who's younger, cheaper, healthier and more versatile.
"We owe Vick a lot," Elway said. "He played well when he was here."
Vickerson said he felt fine after playing 39 snaps in the Broncos' preseason finale, where he had five tackles. He's played in 71 NFL games with Denver (2010-13), Tennessee (2007-09) and Miami (2005-06) in addition to a season in the old NFL Europe.
"Sad day man," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted. "Hard to build relationships in this business. Blood thicker than water tho."
Unrein tweeted: "Very thankful to make this team. Sad to see Big Vick go. He taught me so much during my years here in Denver."
Also let go was third quarterback Zac Dysert, who made the 53-man roster last year.
Others who didn't make the AFC champions' roster were: linebackers Shaquil Barrett and L.J. Fort, defensive backs John Boyett, Jerome Murphy, Louis Young and Jordan Sullen, defensive end Brian Sanford, defensive tackle Sione Fua, receivers Bennie Fowler and Nathan Palmer, running back Kapri Bibbs, tight ends Jameson Konz, Gerell Robinson and Cameron Morrah, guard Ryan Miller and tackle Vinston Painter.
The only member of this year's draft class that didn't make it was center Matt Paradis.
With Matt Prater suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, Brandon McManus is the Broncos' kicker even though he missed two of four field goals in Dallas last week.
That extends Denver's streak to 11 straight seasons with an undrafted college free agent making the 53-man roster.
Elway said he personally expressed his gratitude to each of the 20 players that were cut.
"They all come and see me and I thank them," Elway said. "That's something that I feel like is important."
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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