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Denver Broncos 2012 Free Agency Primer

Now that the Super Bowl is over, fans from across the NFL can begin to focus on 2012. Over the next month, the Broncos - and 31 other teams - will continue to create their plans for the Reloading Season, and prepare for both the NFL Draft and the start of Free Agency.

Over the next several days we will be focusing on the list of Broncos players that have expired contracts and what the prospects might be for them to return to Denver or move on. Then, we'll look at free agents around the NFL and discuss who the Broncos should be targeting and where some of the holes in the roster can be filled before the 2012 NFL Draft.

Below are some important dates to keep in mind:

Feb. 20 - Teams can begin applying franchise and transition tags to players

Feb. 22-28 - NFL Combine (live coverage on NFL Network and

March 5 - Deadline for teams to apply franchise and transition tags

March 13 - Free agency begins at 4 p.m.

The Broncos have a lot of work to do over the next few months if they are going to build upon their 2011 AFC West Championship. That work starts NOW!

There are different levels of NFL Free Agents:

Restricted Free Agent(RFA): A player whose contract has expired and has fewer than four tenured years in the league. He may sign an "Offer Sheet" with any other team, but his original team has seven days to match any offer he receives. If the original team does not match the offer, compensation will be awarded in the form of draft picks from the signing team. The round and quantity of picks are determined by the "Qualifying Offer" made by the player's original team. If a RFA is tendered a minimum qualifying offer the compensation is the equivalent of the round in which that player was originally selected. If that player was originally a rookie free agent, no compensation is awarded.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT (UFA): A player whose contract has expired and has four or more tenured years in the league. He may sign with any other team with no restrictions. If a team loses more UFAs than it signs, they will be awarded "Compensatory Draft Picks" from the league. The value of the pick is determined by the difference of the contracts signed by the players lost and those acquired. If a team has signed an equal number or more UFAs than it has lost, no "Compensatory Picks" will be awarded.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT (ERFA): A player whose contract has expired and has three or fewer tenured years in the league. His original team must make a contract offer by the league imposed deadline or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. No compensation is awarded for losing EFAs.

There are, of course, the 'TAGS' available to the Broncos to use, if they desire. The Broncos have rarely used the tag, though this season it could have benefits if the team decides to apply it to someone on the UFA list. One of the lesser-known changes in the new CBA agreed to last summer was a change in the way Franchise Tags are calculated. In years past, you simply took the average of the Top-5 salaries at a players position. Now, that average is spread over 5 years - meaning you would take the average of the Top-5 salaries from 2007 through 2011. For quarterbacks alone, that could mean a decrease of around $2.5 million in salary.

This could come into play for, say, Matt Prater, while the Broncos attempt to negotiate a long term deal with him.

Here is a list of current Broncos free agents:

RB Lance Ball WR Matt Willis QB Brady Quinn
OT Chris Clark DT Ryan McBean FB Spencer Larsen
P Britton Colquitt WR Eddie Royal
TE Daniel Fells
TE Dante Rosario
OL Russ Hochstein
OL Manny Ramirez
DE Derrick Harvey
DE Jason Hunter
DT Brodrick Bunkley
DT Marcus Thomas
LB Mario Haggan
LB Joe Mays
LB Wesley Woodyard
CB Jonathon Wilhite
S Brian Dawkins
K Matt Prater