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2015 Denver Broncos Free-Agency wrap-up: Upgrade or Downgrade?

With the free-agent period slowing down and yet another Bronco leaving for greener pastures, it is time to take stock of the roster and more importantly follow the money. Are the Broncos better or worse off after NFL Free-Agency?

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Who were our UFA?

Forget about the ERFA or RFA. These players have no power whatsoever in negotiations. Our UFA or unrestricted free agents are free to engage in open negotiations with any team in the NFL. Ultimately, they have the power to sign wherever they choose. Here is a list of players that were entitled to test the open market:

Julius Thomas, Orlando Franklin, Wes Welker, Terrance Knighton, Rahim Moore Jacob Tamme, Virgil Green, Mitch Unrein, Will Montgomery, Nate Irving, Quinton Carter, Aaron Brewer.

Notice the absence of Demaryius Thomas. He was never allowed to hit the open market. Instead he was designated the Broncos "Franchise Player" which means he will be playing under a 1-year 12.83 million deal next season (fully guaranteed), that is unless the Broncos and he can agree to terms on a long term deal.

Another player not on this list but who bears mentioning is Chris Harris Jr. who signed a contract extension last season before becoming an UFA. His deal and more importantly the structure of payout for guaranteed money not only made the contract as a whole a bargain, but it also saved a lot of cap space in 2015 by only counting 3 million against.

I count 12 players on the list. As of the signing of Nate Irving by the Indianapolis Colts, only Virgil Green and Aaron Brewer were resigned by the Broncos. From their "big list" heading into this round of Free Agency, the Broncos essentially got deals done with Demaryius Thomas, Chris Harris Jr., Virgil Green, and Aaron Brewer. 67% of their UFA were allowed to walk and sign deals with other teams.

The deals

Julius Thomas and Orlando Franklin signed deals that made them among the highest paid players at their position. Nate Irving and Rahim Moore both received "starting" money with other teams meaning they received fair market value to be a starter elsewhere. Terrance Knighton took terrible deal with Washington after over-estimating his value on the market and ruining his chances on a 2nd round of deals with teams via social media. Mitch Unrein received a slight raise in order to continue his current role in SD as a rotational DL. Jacob Tamme signed a little more than the vet's minimum for an opportunity to start for Atlanta next season, while Will Montgomery and Quinton Carter are still on the market.

Upgrade or Downgrade?


Peyton Manning accepted 2-year 34 million dollar restructure that put his 2015 base salary at 15 million. In return, the contract also included a no-trade clause. Manning may earn 2 million in performance based incentives by winning the AFCCG and the Super Bowl.

This move was a win-win for the Broncos who held little or no leverage


Demaryius Thomas was designated the Broncos franchise player in 2015 meaning if no long-term deal is consummate before the beginning of the 2015 season, Thomas will be paid a fully-guaranteed base salary of 12.83 million.

Though Thomas was never going to be allowed the open market, the lack of a deal for the Broncos top-receiving target is a bit disappointing. This could carry on all offseason and coiuld potentially spell a holdout.


Broncos Signed:

Virgil Green - 3 yr, 8.4 million, 3.2 million guranateed (2015 base salary guaranteed, 1.5 million signing bonus, 2015 700k Roster Bonus)

Production: 403 snaps, +5.7 (+4.4 blocking), 8 targets, 7 receptions, 78 yards, 50 YAC, 1 TD, 1 Drop

Owen Daniels - 3 yr, 12.25 million, 4.75 million guaranteed (2015 base salary guaranteed, 3.0 million signing bonus)

Production: 832 snaps, -0.9 (+2.1 receiving, +1.1 pass block, -4.0 run block), 88 targets, 56 receptions, 638 yards, 230 YAC, 5 TD, 3 INT, 5 Drops.

Joe Don Duncan (For an excellent write-up on this prospect click here) - 3 yr, 1.575 million, 435K base in 2015

Total Production: 1235 snaps, 96 targets, 63 receptions, 716 yards, 280 YAC, 6 TD, 3 INT, 6 Drops

Broncos Lost:

Jacob Tamme - (details unknown, reportedly 2 yr up to 4 million)

Production: 294 snaps, -0.8 (-2.7 pass, -0.5 run block) 28 targets, 14 receptions, 109 yards, 22 YAC, 2 TD, 1 INT, 1 Drop

Julius Thomas - 5 yr, 46 million (2015 base salary guaranteed, 2016 base salary guaranteed, 6 million signing bonus)

Production: 715 snaps, +5.4 (+3.9 pass, -4.7 run block), 67 targets, 49 receptions, 542 yards, 187 YAC, 12 TD, 2 INT, 4 Drops

Total Production: 1009 snaps, 95 targets, 63 receptions, 651 yards, 199 YAC, 14 TD, 3 INT, 5 Drops


Julius followed the money out of town. As you can see, his main value was in the redzone where it became 2nd nature for Adam Gase and Peyton Manning to conjure favorable matchups. It has be said that Owen Daniels was a far better blocker in the run game but the numbers do not corroborate that sentiment.

Essentially, the Broncos lost some of their redzone flexibility while paying a fraction to keep it's overall productivity in tact. They added potential in Joe Don Duncan and may even find creative ways to field a "FB" between he and Virgil Green. In the end Denver paid close to 21 million with about 8 million of that guaranteed to three players while losing two players who were paid close to 50 million with about 23 million of that guaranteed. Considering the inflated value of Julius Thomas' contract, the Broncos did a great job restocking a position that was completely bare when free agency began.



Broncos Signed

Shelley Smith - 2 yr, 5.65 million, (guaranteed money unknown)

Production: 367 snaps, -10.1, (-3.2 pass block, -6.9 run block), 2 sacks, 3 hits, 5 hurries

Broncos Lost

Orlando Franklin - 5 yr, 35.5 million, 15.5 fully guaranteed (4.4 cap hit in 2015)

Production: 1123 snaps, +12,0 (+8.0 pass block, +7.6 run block), 1 sack, 2 hits, 8 hurries


This is the one area I felt the Broncos needed to address and they utterly failed. You get what you pay for. Right now it's Shelley Smith vs. Ben Garland at LG, Matt Paradis or Manny Ramirez at C, and Michael Schofield at RT. Orlando Franklin's contract is very team friendly. In 2015 his cap hit is 4.4 million, in 2015 it goes up to 6. The final two years it reaches close to 8 million but by then the prorated portion of the bonus leaves the team the option to cut and save about 6 million. It is precisely the sort of contract the Broncos would have used in the past.



href="" class="sbn-auto-link">Vance Walker - 2 yr, 5 million, (guaranteed money unknown)

Production: 367 snaps, -10.1, (-3.2 pass block, -6.9 run block), 2 sacks, 3 hits, 5 hurries

Broncos Lost

Terrance Knighton - 1 yr, 4.45 million, 2.95 fully guaranteed

Production: 528 snaps, +12.7 (+11.2 run defense, -0.2 pass rush), 2 sacks, 5 hits, 9 hurries

Mitch Unrein - 2 yr, 1.9 million (guaranteed money unknown),

Production: 46 snaps, -1.1, no sacks, no hits, 1 hurry


The Vance Walker pickup is probably the best under-the-radar move the Broncos made in free agency. He can play anywhere along the Broncos newly minted 3-man line.

Had Pot Roast initially approached the Broncos with numbers similar to his Washington deal, he'd still be a Bronco. From the onset of FA, Knighton's number was closer to 8 million per season, which no one in their right mind would pay for a part-time run stuffing player.

Mitch Unrein was always rotational depth. He probably would not have seen much difference in his 46 snap contribution from 2014.



Broncos Signed

Reggie Walker - 1 yr, 795 K, (50k signing bonus)

Production: 150 snaps, -9.9, (-3.3 Run defense, -3.8 Pass Rush) 1 sacks, 4 hits, 4 hurries

Steven Johnson - 1 yr, 785 K, (100K signing bonus)

Production: 215 snaps, -8.8 (-5.3 Run defense, -4.9 Coverage) 0 sacks, 1 hits, 1 hurries

Broncos Lost

Nate Irving - 3 yr, 9.25 million, (Guarantee unknown)

Production: 353 snaps, +1.1 (+5.9 run block, -4.9 coverage), 1 sack, 2 hits, 1 hurries


Of all the "B" list players that were allowed to go elsewhere, this one hurts the most due to lack of depth at the MLB spot.  Follow the money, this was the only consideration at this spot. The Broncos spent approximately 1.6 million for two players while Nate makes 3.2 in Indy.



Broncos Signed

Darian Stewart - 2 yr, 4.25 million  (2.25 fully guaranteed)

Production: 782 snaps, +3.0 (+2.8 run defense, -1.1 pass coverage) 33 targets, 21 receptions, 293 yards, 120 YAC, 2 TD, 2 INT, 2 PD

Broncos Lost

Rahim Moore - 3 yr, 12 million, (2 million roster bonus, 1 million base guaranteed 2015, 3 million signing bonus))

Production: 1074 snaps, +0.3 (-3.6 Run defense, +2.5  coverage) 22 Targets, 17 receptions, 183 yds, 69 YAC, 3 TD, 5 INT, 2 PD


I know Stewart had a great playoff run, but it doesn't inspire confidence when Elway starts discussing moving your #3 corner in Bradley Roby to safety. Rahim got the sort of contract I pegged him on and though he still catches a lot of flak for the Baltimore incident, he just might be the better deal of the two.


2015 Cap Numbers

D. Thomas, 12.83 million

O. Daniels, 2.75 million

S. Smith, 2.5 million (estimated)

V. Green, 2.2 million

V. Walker, 1.75 million

D. Stewart, 1.5 million

A. Brewer, 845 K

R. Walker, 795 K

S. Johnson, 785 K

J. Duncan, 435 K

K. Schmitz, 435 K

Cumulative Cap Hit (2015): 26.825 million (estimated)

Positions of Need heading into the Draft: RT, C, LG, NT, FS, ILB