Free Agency this year looks as though it is going to be an exciting time, not just for Bronco fans, but for NFL fans as a whole, as a number of young top tier talent and experienced veterans hit the open market. Whilst building through the draft has proved to be the most prudent way to develop your roster the Broncos huge cap space and a number of excellent players in positions of need provides them with a golden opportunity to make a number of key moves this March. There have been a number of good posts and an excellent series from Kaptain Kirk on this topic but I hope I can contribute to those discussions with this post by taking a look at every position on the roster and assess which players the Broncos should move on, taking into consideration the required skills sets, salaries, future cap space and experience. This may not result in popular decisions but I think it could be the best way for the Broncos to move forward.
It is safe to say that special teams play has improved considerably over the last couple of years and that is in no small part to the excellent play of both Britton Colquitt and Matt Prater. It is not controversial or really worth of any debate so I will simply say they both need to be resigned to multiple year contracts.
I will start with the defense as this is the area of the team in which the biggest signings and resignings need to be made.
This is the position more so than any other which the FO need to focus their attention. The players currently under contract were either on IR for most of the season, Ty Warren, Kevin Vickerson or were a bit part player, Mitch Unrein or on the practice squad, Sealver Siliga. Whilst last years starters Brodrick Bunkley and Marcus Thomas are FAs and the next player on the depth chart at defensive tackle Ryan McBean is a RFA.
Although question marks hang over the futures of Warren or Vickerson they are still under contract and along with Unrein and Siliga should be around for camp. McBean's status means that it should not be too difficult to sign him to a one year contract expending very little cap space. This however is where it could get tricky.
Both Thomas and Bunkley had good seasons against the run, in Bunkley's case an outstanding season but neither generate much pressure on the QB and on this basis I think only one of these players should be brought back.
The main reason for this is because I think one of the Broncos first priorities in FA should be to go and sign Jason Jones the Tennessee Titans DT. Jones although being lighter than your average DT at 275lbs, has the ability to generate an interior pass rush and get after the QB, this alone sets him apart from any of the players currently on the roster and would upgrade one of the weakest parts of the defensive game this season, the interior pass rush. Ideally I would favour resigning Bunkley over Thomas and with Warren and Vickerson with only a year left on their contracts I think there is room to do this, but I accept that this may not be possible and would happily resign Thomas if a favourable deal with Bunkley could not be found. In the event of missing out on Jones, Bunkley would become the priority signing as well as looking to add Derek Landri to provide the missing pass rush.
The biggest story of this FA is going to be where Mario Williams lands, he is player still in his prime with a number of years left in the league and will be offered a salary to reflect that. Because of this the Texans, with limited cap room and two young pass rushing linebackers, will not be one of those teams and with the performance of Elvis Dumervil and his huge contract, $10million plus for the next 3 years, neither will it be the Broncos.
There will be interest around the league if the likes of Avril and Mincey hit the market but with the FA moves at DT and Dumervil's large contract I think this is one position where little is done aside from the resigning of Jason Hunter. It is here I think they will be looking towards the draft or for any cuts later down the road. Derrick Harvey may return later on in the off season but wont receive any offers initially.
The Broncos have three players currently at the end of their contracts in Mario Haggan, Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard. I think Haggan gets resigned, he is versatile, experienced and performed well at the SAM position when Miller was out.
Mays has real issues in coverage and I can completely understand why a lot of people are calling for the FA signing of Dan Connor. I would have no issues with this signing, actually he is the only one of the other FA Mikes I would sign, and would not prove to be an expensive signing allowing Nate Irving to step up if he is ready. Yet if Irving is seen as the starter as Andrew Mason has suggested then I dont see any reason not to bring Mays back as he can play a role in special teams and against the run.
Woodyard is the one player I cannot see returning to the Broncos. I think he is a great guy and a real asset as a leader but his performances on the field do not convince me he is worth starter money. I would hope they offer him a deal based on a back up rotational role, slightly inflated to reflect his leadership role and it would be great if he signed on that basis but I think he will see it in his best interest to test the market and try and get a starting gig elsewhere and if he gets that I will wish him the best of luck in his future.
Yesterdays move by the Chiefs to sign Stanford Routt looks set to see Brandon Carr, another of those young talented players, hit FA. Carr has been popular on this site with very good reason and I hope that the Broncos make a move to sign him. I know that the draft is deep for Corners but very few of them have the physical make up, 6ft and 207lbs, that he does. A starting duo of Bailey and Carr with Harris at the Nickel and a choice of Goodman, Vaughan or Thompson for depth would not only improve the team but allow DelRio to get creative with where he uses Carr and Bailey.
However, I think there is one problem standing in the way of this and that is Andre Goodman's contract of $4.62 million this year and $3.96 million next. I think Carr's contract will not be far off that of Bailey's, whose is $9 million over the next 3 years. Because other players in secondary take up very little cap room without Goodman Bailey and Carr on these size contracts would not be a problem. Even if Goodman's contract was for just one year I think it could be workable but because his contract goes into 2013 it could limit future roster moves. I hope Mike Sullivan is working on what to do with Goodman as we speak which will result in the signing of Carr and no dead money which would cause similar problems for the future.
For the record if Carr gets tagged then they should not make the trade. If they miss out on signing him they should see if they can get value for Richard Marshall or Tracy Porter but if not wait until the draft. I don't think Jonathan Wilhite should return.
John Fox has been quoted as saying that Brian Dawkins will either return for one more year or retire. If he returns then I do not see the Broncos making anymore further moves at safety during FA. However, if he chooses to retire then I think the Broncos should take a look at Mike Brown from the Cleveland Browns. Whilst he is not a Strong Safety in the mould of Dawkins I think he would do a job at Free Safety and allow Quinton Carter to roam about and make plays as he did in the play offs.
Now for the offense.
Fox has said they will bring in two more QBs this off season. I expect one of these in FA and one in the draft. Whilst a lot people have advocated for Campbell, Garrard, Johnson and Dixon I think these players will all be looking to prove themselves as a starter and could become very disillusioned very quickly if they outperform Tebow in parts of the off season and don't get a chance come pre season or the regular season. That is why I think they should try and resign Brady Quinn, who understands the situation better and is used to the system, or make a move for perennial back up Shaun Hill. (SO MUCH FOR THAT THEORY, THANKS BRADY!)
There are a number of young RBs out of contract this season but those who would interest me Rice and Forte will likely resign with their current teams. The rest of the FAs I am happy for the Broncos to pass on despite there being some talent out there. Lynch's inconsistencies - big season in contract year, Bush's conditioning, Hillis' attitude, and Grant's age and injuries. They should look to the draft to add to their current stable of RBs.
I really like good old fashion FBs like Howard Griffith, I was jealous for years at seeing Lorenzo Neal busting holes for Tomlinson. However there isnt one that one that I think could really bring anymore to the team as a blocker than Spencer Larsen. I understand the popularity of Mike Tolbert but I think he will only be a goal line back and would not really upgrade the roster significantly compared to the threat McGahee and Tebow can be in that area.
I will start by saying that I think Carl Nicks is probably the best guard in the NFL and that he will command a salary to prove it, this will be paid by only one team and that is by the New Orleans Saints who understand that better than anyone else. I think the Broncos need to improve at Center and with Kuper's injury need depth at Guard however I think once you take out the guys who will be resigned by their current teams such as Nicks, Ben Grubbs, Evan Mathis and Scott Wells you have very few players left who would improve the team. I can see the attraction of bringing back Chris Myers but I think he operates well at Texans because of their system and I would not be thrilled at the prospect of bringing in another ex New England Patriot player returning from injury in Dan Koppen.
There are plenty of good interior prospects in the draft so resign Ross Hochstein who can cover both positions and has played in the current system and see what can be done later in the off season, with half an eye on the situation involving Steve Hutchinson. There is talk that he might be released as the Vikings rebuild and I would hope that the Broncos jump at the chance to sign him as he would bring quality and experience to a young o-line.
No one really stands out to me as an OT in FA I think Clady and Orlando Franklin did enough to start next season and that Harris, Clark and Hills can be looked at in camp. I am concerned about Ryan Harris but if he is fit that solves a huge problem for the swing tackle position and to push Franklin if not they should look to off season cuts and hope they will be looking at the draft anyway.
I was impressed with Virgil Green's blocking as the season went on and look forward to see what Julius Thomas can bring to the table next season but there is need for experienced help. I would bring back Dante Rosario mainly for his special teams play but not Daniel Fells as I would be looking for at a more experienced guy who could help make up for the loss of Woodyard and Dawkins and that guy is Visanthe Shiancoe. Whilst he is not the player he was he is still a threat in the red zone and could help Tebow and the young TEs around him develop.
The current WRs which need to be addressed are Matthew Willis, a RFA, and Eddie Royal, a FA. I think Willis' situation, like McBean, will mean that he is retained with little effect on the cap space. However I think Royal will leave, that is not to say he will not be offered a new contract, I think he will, but because the contract offer will be for a returner with some WR duties. I believe he will test the market and get an offer as a more featured WR. This would allow the team to make an attempt at another important veteran signing, that of Reggie Wayne, I would go after hims aggressively, even if they have to slightly pay over the odds. Whilst I think that he could end up where Peyton does I think he could be of real benefit to this young offense and be part of a team who could challenge in the play offs again next season. I would rule out a big name because of the talent of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as well the fact that this is a run first offence and big money should not be tied up in that position. I think Laurent Robinson, Pierre Garcon and Mario Manningham are over rated and will be over paid and the Anthony Gonzalez might prove to be a cheaper and better value alternative than them should they not sign Reggie Wayne.
This FA should be one where the Broncos take the splash and make some big signings not because they have a lot of cap room but because this FA where there are a number of players, young and experienced who could help this team immediately as well as help the Broncos continue their development.
DT - McBean, Jones, Bunkley/Thomas
DE - Hunter
LB - Haggan, Connor/Mays
CB - Carr
S - Dawkins / Brown
QB - Quinn / Hill
FB - Larsen
OL - Hochstein
TE - Shiancoe, Rosario
WR - Wayne