Now that we have all started to get really giddy for the up-coming draft, I think we should start to get exciting about something that is only a month away--Free agency.
Last year, the Broncos were big players in free agency, and while I don't really expect them to go buck wild on the open market this year, I have compiled a list of players I would like the Broncos to sign in order of how badly I want them to be acquired.
212 players this offseason will carry the tag of "Restricted Free Agent" in all likelihood, unless a new CBA can be arranged before the start of the new NFL year which is in early March or the day free agency starts.
A good majority of those 212 players make up what we would consider the "elite" group of this offseason's free agent class, so you can all but kiss goodbye any hopes of the Broncos going for the wide receiver dream team of Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Eddie Royal, and Steve Breaston.
In all seriousness, the free agent class as it stands is relatively weak. There is always a chance that good players will be cut as cap casualties, but don't bank on any franchise-changing players getting shown the door by their respective teams.
Due to the fact that there is no CBA in place, it is reasonable to assume that NFL coaches, players, agents of players, and any working person in an NFL organization will be willing to sign a less than stellar deal in order to be guaranteed job security in case of a lockout in 2011.
An NFL lockout would be a catastrophy for this nation, so I don't foresee it happening, but players and coaches cannot take the risk at this point.
Given the Broncos would clearly like to upgrade the front lines of both sides of the ball, I think it's important to look first to veteran leadership at the position, and then to promising youth. The Broncos have a couple of sound veterans on both sides of their lines, but they could stand to upgrade significantly at some point this offseason, whether it be here in free agency or in the draft.
Who will top Denver's list of priorities?Quarterback
1. Kyle Orton, RFA (Broncos)
Kyle Orton will likely be willing to sign a reasonable two or three year deal with the Broncos. He is all but guaranteed a starting spot, and he needs the job security. He could go be the backup for a lot of teams, but he has steadily improved every year he has started, and he played his best season to date as a Denver Bronco. Look for him to re-sign.
2. Chad Pennington, UFA (Dolphins)
I like Pennington a lot this offseason, for some reason. I know his arm isn't strong whatsoever, but all the guy has to do is throw short-intermediate routes in case of injury. I would love to have him as a backup despite his injury history. Pennington under center would keep me a lot more at ease than Chris Simms, that's for sure. I think he'd be willing to sign a two year deal for $4-5 million, which isn't out of the question if Denver cuts Simms.
3. David Carr, UFA (Giants)
Honestly, just going with the best available UFA after Pennington. Carr has played decent in spot duty for the Giants, and I see no reason he wouldn't be able to pick up this offense and hold a clipboard for a year if we needed him to. Again, I like him better than Simms.
1. Chester Taylor, UFA (Minnesota)
I have a strong feeling Taylor will return to Minnesota, but if he tests the market, the Broncos would be an ideal situation given McDaniels' love for versatile players and those who qualify as team leaders. Taylor is exemplitive of everything McDaniels wants in a running back, and I think he'd be a nice compliment to Moreno.
2. Kevin Faulk, UFA (New England)
I think the writing is on the wall with this one. Faulk not only knows the offense, he has made a living in this league by being "that guy" on the Patriots' offense who just does everything from this position. He does whatever is asked of him, and he is tough. I think he is a real possibility here.
3. J.J. Arrington, UFA (Cardinals)
I think there was serious interest by the Broncos in Arrington last year. We have really no reason to believe the interest won't be there again now that he's healthy and his price tag has dropped. If he can work out well, I'm sure the Broncos would at least bring him to camp.
1. Brandon Marshall, RFA (Broncos)
Marshall and Dumervil will be top priorities this offseason. I think we will work out a deal with one, and let the other go. Conventional wisdom says we let Marshall go to the highest bidder and retain fan favorite Dumervil, but I have no reason to believe McDaniels won't just flip flop it. Marshall should attract a lot of media attention this offseason, and Denver has to get a deal done with him whether it be an extension or trade, cause I'm sick of his lip!
2. Terrell Owens, UFA (Bills)
Owens kept his mouth shut in Buffalo, and did all the right things on and off the field despite terrible production from the QB position. He can still make plays, and in this class of free agents he will probably be the best. I think he'd come at a reasonable $4-5 million per season for a two or three year deal to finish his career with the Broncos.
3. Chris Chambers, UFA (Chiefs)
I really admire what Chambers did for the Chiefs this year. He gave them a viable receiving option opposite Dwayne Bowe, and he really proved to me that he can still do a lot of things well in the NFL. He is a tough veteran who is smart and can adapt to a new offense. I think he would be a solid addition for us as well.
4. Kevin Walter, UFA (Texans)
Just a solid complimentary receiver, and a player I would probably only pursue if I retained Marshall. He's got great route running skills, and was overshadowed a lot by Andre Johnson, though who wouldn't be?
5. Kelley Washington, UFA (Ravens)
Played under McDaniels in New England, and he has great size. Could be a solid veteran replacement for Marshall, albeit a very quiet free agent signing that wouldn't probably amount to a whole heck of a lot, though he did make some nice plays for the Ravens this year.
1. Tony Scheffler, RFA (Broncos)
I think we need to work out a trade for Scheffler. He just doesn't fit into this offense, and the Broncos need to continue to develop Richard Quinn and Marquez Branson. If the Broncos cannot obtain a third round pick for Scheffler, I think they should keep him at a cheap price for one more year. Just not worth the fourth, fifth, or sixth round pick.
2. Daniel Graham (Broncos)
Graham should be willing to restructure his contract with the Broncos, but you never know. He is a great blocking TE who fits this system, but I think the Broncos could let him go as a cap casualty if he is not willing to lower his salary this season.
1. Chris Kuper, RFA (Broncos)
I think Kuper is an underrated player who fits this offense, he just needed more time. I definitely wouldn't oppose Denver bringing him back on a four or five year deal, as he is one of the better RG's in the game in my opinion.
2. Nick Kaczur, UFA (Patriots)
A veteran who knows the ropes of this offense. I think he will attract some attention from the Broncos this offseason if his market is quiet otherwise.
3. Mike Gandy, UFA (Cardinals)
Another big body who would add depth to our line. I can't see him as a starter unless we opt not to draft a left guard high come April, but he would be able to start if need be.
1. Julius Peppers, UFA (Panthers)
I don't think the Panthers will be able to find anyone to take on even the prospect of a $20 million contract for a 30 year old defensive end, so the tag probably is not in the cards for the pass rushing phenom. Peppers has stated his desire to play in a 3-4, and I think his versatility will speak volumes to McDaniels and the rest of the front office crew. He would be a nice add, but probably high priced.
2. Vince Wilfork, UFA (Patriots)
Likely to be franchise tagged, but if he's not, the Broncos could certainly be in the mix for his services given his ties to the Patriot organization.
3. Richard Seymour, UFA (Raiders)
See Vince Wilfork.
4. Casey Hampton, UFA (Steelers)
Has a ton of experience in the 3-4 defense, and is a massive space eater in the middle. I'd love to add him to our defense even though he's 32 years old. He's still a very good player.
5. Aubrayo Franklin, UFA (49ers)
Really emerged this year as a space eater for the Niners. I think at 30 he has a few good years left in him, and would be a nice add to our defensive line.
6. Ryan Pickett, UFA (Packers)
Made a very healthy transition to the nose tackle position in a 3-4 scheme in Green Bay, and is an absolutely massive player at his position. I think the Broncos will really look hard into signing this guy following a nice season with the Packers.
7. Jarvis Green, UFA (Patriots)
Every Pats player is an option here, so keep an eye out for Green who is a pretty good backup defensive lineman.
1. Elvis Dumervil, RFA (Broncos)
I really hope the Broncos retain Dumervil, but they might part ways with him sadly. The reigning sack king is sure to draw interest from Mike Nolan and Miami, and could go to them as the highest bidder. The Broncos would be wide to bring him back, but I can't see them bringing back both Marshall AND Dumervil.
2. Karlos Dansby, UFA (Cardinals)
Probably a long shot, and an expensive one, but it would be worth a try at least.
3. Keith Bulluck, UFA (Titans)
Probably would be just like signing another Andra Davis, but Bulluck has paid his dues in the NFL and is a great leader on the field.
1. Champ Bailey (Broncos)
The guy has one year left on his deal, and we don't want him to be worrying about his financial situation heading into a possible lockout year. Denver: re-sign this superstar, and keep him in Denver for the rest of his career.
1. Matt Prater, RFA (Broncos)
Prater had a great season both in kicking field goals and kickoff duty. Bring the kid back for the long term, he looks like a keeper.
Obviously this list would have to be modified if there were any unexpected cuts or anything the Broncos might look into. For now, it's a solid preliminary list of UFA's who could potentially be on Denver's radar. Nothing is official, but keep some of these names in mind over the next month or so.