Gary Zimmerman will rejoin the Denver Broncos for John Elway's farewell season, the Rocky Mountain News reported Wednesday.
The newspaper, citing NFL sources, said the 36-year-old offensive lineman will postpone retirement for the second straight year, although his return to training camp probably will not come until next week.
The decision came after Elway visited Zimmerman at a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. Other teammates have been holding out hope Zimmerman would come back.
"I think it says a lot about our veteran players," coach Mike Shanahan said. "They'd like a guy back that has helped our football team that they know is healthy. I have not discouraged it, but at the same time, I have not encouraged it as well. That's up to them."
Zimmerman, who has protected Elway's blind side for the past five years, announced his retirement after the Broncos won last season's Super Bowl. He made a similar announcement after the end of the 1996 season but returned after training camp ended last year.
"I wasn't surprised John took a little side trip," Broncos center Tom Nalen said. "It was just a little earlier than usual because we're still in camp."
Elway returned to practice Wednesday. Zimmerman has to return to his home in Oregon and was not available for comment.
Even before Wednesday's report, many Broncos felt Zimmerman's resolve to retire may have been weakening.
"I talked to him and he said no, he wasn't coming back, but it wasn't as adamant as it was earlier," lineman Mark Schlereth said. "There was a slight glimmer of hope. So anytime I feel like he's starting to waver a little bit, then you wonder. So we'll see."
Friends say Zimmerman did not use a personal trainer in the off-season this year as he has in the past, but Shanahan said Zimmerman could get back in shape in short order. P>"The thing that's a plus is, he's been through so many scenarios, it's not like a young guy or a first- or second- or third-year guy coming in and not knowing what to do. He knows what to do. It's getting his body back in shape. But it doesn't take long."
If Zimmerman does return, the Broncos likely would have to restructure the four-year, $12 million contract he signed last September. That deal calls for him to receive just $200,000 in base salary this season.
The Broncos have made plans for Zimmerman's return and have about $3 million left under the NFL salary cap.
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