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Denver Broncos RFA Priorities: One and two on opposite sides?

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We interrupt the latest Peyton Manning news with a breakdown of the final two MUST-SIGN UFA that will hit the market.

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#2 Orlando Franklin

2014 Salary: 969 K base + 417 signing bonus

2015 Projected Salary: 6-8 million per season

2014 Role: LG

2015 Projected Role: ???

Analysis:

Only two Denver Broncos linemen finished the season in the green (according to PFF)...one of them was Orlando Franklin. Nevermind that Franklin had last played guard in college, the Broncos wanted to get more athletic on the edge and the result was to kick Franklin inside to the guard position that is most active in the running game. Think of Zane Beadles and all the pulling he did from that position. While Franklin was a bit slow to begin with, he ended the season as probably the most productive member of a maligned Broncos offensive line that was sloppily pieced together.

Looking at the market for guard, the top players will earn anywhere from 6-8 million. Right tackles top off at slightly less than the guards with a high annual average of 7 million per season. If I'm going to say one thing about where Orlando winds up, whether it be inside or outside, it really has little bearing in the situation. Franklin has proven he can play both outside and inside at a high level and he's proven he can succeed as a pass blocker and run blocker in both situations.

If the Broncos were to sign him, they may only need one other body plus Michael Schofield. Gives them a lot of flexibility, and I'm all for leaving the center position manned by Will Montgomery.

There were rumors earlier that the Broncos could pursue G Mike Iupati. In this instance, you can consider either signing Iupati or Franklin, but not both. Both would price the Broncos out of other areas of need.

Orlando Franklin might very well end up being the 2nd highest priced UFA the Broncos should resign. Who's #1?

#1 Demaryius Thomas

2014 Salary: 3.275 million base + 1.756 million signing bonus

2015 Projected Salary: 12-14 million per season

2014 Role: 1 WR

2015 Projected Role: 1 WR

Analysis:

Tag or not to tag, that is the question?

1) The Broncos DO NOT want to let Thomas hit the open market.

2) The Franchise tag will lock up Thomas for one season at about 13 million--fully guaranteed.

Of course the fun will start from there as Thomas will have oodles of time to sign the tender....or not. There could be a prolonged hold out, but given the demeanor of the player and past experiences, indications are that a deal of some sort will get done before that point.

Thomas has produced like a top tier WR regardless of who has thrown him the rock. Under Manning, Thomas has become just the 3rd WR in NFL history to record three straight seasons of 90+1400+10. Demaryius is not your typical diva, and he won't cause issues in the lockerroom, and he plays hurt.

The only knock on the big man? Sometimes he disappears in big games. Cue up any number of games the past few seasons where a really good defensive team has been able to press Demaryius into a realm of non-factor. It is the one glaring smudge on an otherwise impressive early career.

Manning may raise all ships, but Demaryius is a top 5 talent at his position. He will be in a position to help the Broncos win games long after Peyton has shuffled off into oblivion.

Tough Decisions Loom:

Looking at our top 5 must sign UFA:

5) ILB Nate Irving 1-1.5 million

4) TE Virgil Green 2-3 million

3) DT Terrance Knighton 5 million

2) OL Orlando Franklin 6-8 million

1) WR Demaryius Thomas 12-14 million

Totals: 26-31.5 million

To sign these five players, it's going to eat at almost the entire Broncos current/projected cap space. Even after prioritizing our list, we are still left with a cash dilemma. After all the numbers are crunched and the balances are due, you're likely to see one big name walk. Who do you think that is MHR?