The Denver Broncos are heading into what could be a tricky 2014 NFL offseason. The Broncos have 16 players set to enter Free Agency at the end of the league year. 9 of the 16 Free Agents were starters for the Broncos this season. So this team could look a bit different in 2014.
Some of the notable Broncos Free Agents are Receiver Eric Decker, Running Back Knowshon Moreno, Guard Zane Beadles, Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Defensive End Robert Ayers, and Linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
The Broncos cannot afford to bring all of these players back, so lets take a look at who may stay, and who may leave.
1. WR Eric Decker:
As I wrote yesterday the Broncos plan to let Decker enter Free Agency. The reported Broncos plan is that they will let Decker go out and receive offers from other teams, and when he gets an offer he likes they want/hope he returns to them with the contract, and gives the team an opportunity to match it. That's a lot of wishful thinking if you ask me.
Here's what Decker said today about the possibility of returning to Denver next season...
Eric Decker says "today is tough. You build a brotherhood. I would love to come back." #Broncos— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) February 4, 2014
One thing to keep in mind is that Eric Decker is good friends with fellow receiver and teammate Demaryius Thomas. Decker was married this past June, and fellow receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker were both groomsman. It will be interesting to see If Decker gives the Broncos a hometown discount to play alongside his close friends.
How Much Will Decker Cost?:
He won't be cheap. Decker is the top receiver in Free Agency, and figures to get a big payday from somebody. Negotiations usually start around last years top paid player at the position, and that player would be Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace.
Wallace received a 5 - year, 60 million dollar contract. 30 million of it being guaranteed, and a 11 million dollar signing bonus. So I would expect Decker to get something near or above what Wallace received from the Dolphins.
Does Decker Stay Or Does He Go?:
I have a hard time seeing Decker in a Denver Broncos uniform next season. It's been reported that the Broncos only view Decker as a number two receiver behind Demaryius Thomas, and I do not expect them to offer him number one receiver money. I expect some team like Kansas City, Buffalo, Baltimore, New England or Detroit to target Decker this offseason.
The Broncos also have the contracts of Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas expiring at the end of the 2014 season, so that figures into the equation as well.
2. RB Knowshon Moreno
Like Decker, the Broncos plan on letting Moreno enter Free Agency and do not expect him back. Moreno did have an option for 2014, but that was voided for some reason. It will be interesting to see what kind of market there is for Moreno.
Knowshon Moreno says "hopefully I'm still here. I'll let my agent take care of things." #Broncos— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) February 4, 2014
I do think Moreno would like to stay here, but I believe he'll get more money elsewhere.
How Much Will Moreno Cost:
Lets take a look at what the top Free Agent running backs received last year.
Falcons signed Steven Jackson to a 3 year, 12 million dollar contract. 4 million guaranteed, and with a 3.5 million dollar signing bonus.
The Detroit Lions signed Reggie Bush to a four-year, $16 million contract. The deal included a $4 million signing bonus.
I would expect Moreno to target something around what Jackson received from the Falcons. It will be interesting to see the market for Moreno. He's only completed one full healthy season are a pro, had a checkered injury past, and had a breakout year during a contract year. Those things could hurt Moreno going forward. Plus there's a perception that Moreno is a product of Peyton Manning's success. Moreno faced a lot of six man box's this season, and that could have made him look a bit better then he really is.
Do I expect Moreno Back?:
I think there's a much better chance of Moreno being back then Decker, but I still don't see it.
The Broncos did draft Montee Ball in the second round of last years NFL draft, and he showed some glimpses of being a workhorse back for the Broncos going forward. Also it's much cheaper to draft a running back in the NFL Draft then signing a veteran to a multi million dollar contract. Backs are a dime a dozen in today's NFL.
The only way I see Moreno back is if teams don't value him as high as some think. I think some of the things i noted above could come back to hurt Moreno on the market. Time will tell of course.
3. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
DRC made some news last week when the cornerback hinted that he could retire at the end of the season. He did back off those comments, and plans to continue playing.
DRC had an excellent year for the Denver Broncos. Pro Football Focus rated Cromartie as their 5th highest corner behind Revis, Brent Grimes, Tyrann Mathieu and Vontae Davis.
DRC told me last night he wants to play next year. And he wants to play for the Broncos. I consider him their top FA priority.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) February 3, 2014
DRC should be the Broncos number one priority this offseason. Champ Bailey won't be back with his 10 million dollar cap number, Chris Harris is recovering from an ACL injury and a restricted Free Agent, Tony Carter and Quentin Jammer are also Free Agents. That leaves Kayvon Webster as the only healthy and under contract cornerback on the roster.
How Much Will DRC Cost?:
He won't come cheap.
I took a look at the highest paid cornerbacks in the league currently and I would expect DRC to get something along the lines of a 4 or 5 year contract pushing 50 million dollars
In 2012 the Dallas Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract. The deal contains $25.5 million guaranteed. In that same year, the Ravens signed Ladarius Webb to a six-year, $52.742 million contract. The deal included a $10 million signing bonus, and Rams signed Cortland Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million contract. The deal contains $27 million guaranteed, including a $5 million signing bonus.
Those are a few of the notable contracts that some of the top Free Agent corners have signed in recent years. I would expect Cromarties contract to be something close to those.
Do I Expect DRC Back?:
I really hope he is.
As I mentioned prior, the Broncos are really hurting at Corner and DRC is coming off a very impressive year. I really do believe the Broncos will make him their top priority this offseason.
Back in 2011 when John Elway joined the Denver Broncos organization he listed what he feels are the the four most important positions on a NFL team. They were 1. QB, 2. Edge Rusher, 3. LT, and 4. A Cover Corner. Elway has three of the four on the roster.
"I just believe the coverage and the rush go hand in hand. The way you give quarterbacks fits is to get their receivers under wraps and to make them uncomfortable in the pocket."
That just adds to my belief that DRC is a priority for the Broncos this offseason.
4. OG Zane Beadles
The 2012 Pro Bowler is coming off a down season for the Broncos. While the Broncos had the number one ranked offensive line this past season, they did struggle at times. Pro Football Focus gave Zane Beadles a -5.7 rating. Beadles was the weak link of the Broncos line this season.
Zane Beadles says "I'd love to be a Bronco." #Broncos— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) February 4, 2014
How Much Will Beadles Cost?:
Not a whole lot.
I think Beadles could get himself a 2 or 3 year deal getting anywhere from 2 to 4 million a year. This down season is going to hurt him a bit.
Do I Expect Beadles Back?:
Depends what he's asking for. If he expects to get what the Broncos gave Louis Vasquez (4 years, $23.5 million; $13 million guaranteed) this past offseason, then he's hitting the market. If he's only asking for 2 or 3 milion a year then I believe he could be back.
Beadles has shown he can be reliable starter in the NFL. While he was the "weak link" along the Broncos offensive line he wasn't bad by any means. Also playing next to returning All Pro Left Tackle Ryan Clady could help him return to his 2012 form.
Beadles did tweet this out...
Thank you to my teammates for an incredible journey. It's the next steps we take that will define us. #KeepWalking pic.twitter.com/UaVXicpa3g— Zane Beadles (@zanebeadles) February 5, 2014
Is he saying goodbye? We shall see...
5. DE/OLB Shaun Phillips:
After the whole "Faxgate" debacle the Broncos were forced to find a replacement for Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos agreed to terms with Phillips during the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft. Phillips quickly made Bronco fans forget about "Doom".
Phillips had a 10 sack season for the Broncos, and he graded out pretty well according Pro Football Focus. They have him a +6.6 rating. However, according to Pro Football Focus, Broncos DE/OLB Shaun Phillips only disrupted the quarterback on 47-of-443 pass rush snaps during the regular season. So while he did get his sacks, he struggled to apply consistent pressure.
How Much Will Phillips Cost?:
Last season Phillips signed a one year deal where he could earn up too 3 million dollars. I would expect him to get a deal similar to this one next season.
Do I Expect Phillips Back?:
Also from @rapsheet: Broncos will be re-signing Shaun Phillips.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) February 2, 2014
NFL Networks Ian Rapaport says the Broncos will be re-signing him so It looks like he will be a Bronco in 2014.
The Rest Of The Broncos Free Agents:
Linebackers Wesley Woodyard, Paris Lenon, and Stewart Bradley:
I hate to see Woodyard leave, but I don't really see a spot for him on the roster. He struggled inside, and Danny Trevathan has been a stud at the weakside spot. Woodyard will latch on as a starter for a team that needs a 4-3 weak-side linebacker.
I'd be shocked if the Broncos gave Lenon or Bradley a contract.
both Lenon and Woodyard faired poorly according to Pro Football Focus. They gave Lenon a -8.1, and Woodyard a -5.8.
Defensive Ends Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey
I really hope the Broncos bring back Ayers. He'a very good run stuffer who has shown he can get after the QB at times. Ayers should come relatively cheap as well.
One thing to keep in the mind is the health of Derek Wolfe. If the Broncos feel that his condition could be an issue going forward I wouldn't be surprised if they brought Ayers back.
I liked what I saw from Jeremy Mincey when he joined the Broncos at the end of the year. I could see him getting a 1 year prove it deal from the Broncos and let him compete for a roster spot. He has a history with Jack Del Rio as well, so that could help his case.
Both Ayers and Mincey rated out pretty well according Pro Football Focus. Ayers received a 8.6 rating, and Mincey had a 3.1 rating.
Center Steve Vallos, Center Dan Koppen, and Tackle Winston Justice:
I do not believe Koppen will be back on the Broncos next year. I believe he could retire.
The Broncos do lack interior line depth, so I wouldn't be surprised if Vallos came back, same with Justice. Neither would cost much or are a priority.
Cornerback Quentin Jammer, Safety Mike Adams, Safety Michael Huff and Cornerback Marquise Cole:
The only player here that could potentially return is veteran Mike Adams. I believe the Broncos will move on from the veteran safety though.
Jammer, Huff, and the recently signed Cole will not be back with the Broncos.
Receiver Andre Caldwell:
Caldwell could have a big role with the Broncos next season. If the Broncos decide to move on from Eric Decker, Caldwell could have a opportunity to win the number two receiver spot opposite of Demaryius Thomas. Caldwell knows the offense, and should come pretty cheap. It's definitely a route the Broncos could take this offseason.
Restricted Free Agents:
Cornerback Chris Harris:
I believe the Broncos will slap Chris Harris with a 1st or 2nd round tender this offseason. He will back with the Broncos no matter what as they will match any offers sent Harris's way.
Other notable restricted free agents: Linebacker Brandon Marshall, Defensive Tackle Mitch Unrien, and Cornerback Tony Carter.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
Safety Duke Ihenacho and WR/KR Trindon Holliday:
Both Ihenacho and Holliday will be back with the Broncos next season. Holliday will need to fix his fumbling issues if he wants to keep his roster spot.
I am excited to if safety Duke Ihenacho improves this offseason. He's already a solid run defender, but i'd like to see his coverage skills improve this offseason. He's still very raw and very athletic so there's some promise there.