With the 2016 NFL season now in the books, it is time to start looking forward to 2017 and the upcoming offseason. First order of business for Broncos General Manager John Elway and the rest of the team's decision makers is to take a look at their own free agents and deciding who to re-sign and who to let walk.
According to Over The Cap, the Broncos have nine unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents, and nine exclusive rights free agents.
So let's take a look at the Broncos Free Agents.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware
The veteran edge rusher is hitting the open market once again and John Elway and the Broncos have a decision to make on the future Hall Of Famer.
DeMarcus Ware's leadership qualities alone make him a key to the Broncos defense. He helped turn around star pass rusher Von Miller's life around and has helped tutor Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett as well. Ware has become the veteran leader for the Broncos top-ranked defense and his loss could be detrimental to their success in 2017. However, there are some concerns about Ware's health and age.
First, Ware will be turning 35 years old this summer, so he is nearing the end of his career, but the injury concerns are what make this a tough decision for the Broncos. Ware had surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back earlier this offseason and has dealt with back problems multiple times during his short tenure with the Broncos. So this is a red flag for the Broncos, but Ware says he feels like a "new man" after this surgery and wants to continue playing in 2017.
"I definitely want to play. I've got a lot of passion. I'm always chasing that ring," Ware told ESPN. "People say if you get four sacks you pass this guy, or if you get five sacks you pass that guy -- four-this, five-that. But my biggest thing is always I want a ring while I'm sacking the heck out of the quarterback."
Now, will the Broncos want him back? That's the big question.
Ware has missed a total of 11 games the past two seasons, and only had 4 sacks in 10 games this past season. So he is injury prone and his production has started to slip. Also, the Broncos already have star edge rusher Von Miller, former first-round pick Shane Ray, and Shaquil Barrett at the position. So they could let Ware walk and let their youngsters take over.
So do the Broncos bring Ware back? I have my doubts.
While his leadership qualities are great and he's well liked, I'm not sure he's worth the money and roster spot because of his age, declining talent and injury concerns. I think the Broncos should move on instead of keeping Ware for one season longer than they should have.
Defensive tackle/nose tackle Sylvester Williams
The Broncos declined to pick up their former first-round pick Sylvester Williams fifth-year option last spring which allows him to enter free agency this winter.
The Broncos have a decision to make on their former first round defensive lineman. He has been a four-year starter along the team's defensive line but has been a bit of a disappointment since being drafted.
Williams has totaled 67 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2 pass deflections during his four-year career with the Broncos. His best season came in 2015 when he totaled 25 tackles and 3 sacks. This past season, Williams struggled against the run and was routinely pushed backward by the opposing team's offensive lineman. He also failed to sack and put much pressure on the quarterback, so it wasn't a great year for Williams.
I don't see the Broncos bringing back Williams unless they miss out on some of the top free agent nose tackles. I'd expect Brandon Williams, Dontari Poe, Bennie Logan, and Jonathan Hankins to be on Elway's wish list once Free Agency begins.
Defensive end Vance Walker
After the Broncos lost defensive end Malik Jackson to the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency last winter, Vance Walker was expected to take over his starting position. Unfortunately for Walker and the Broncos, he tore his ACL during Training Camp and ended up missing the entire 2016 NFL season. Now the Broncos must decide whether or not to bring back the soon to be 30 year old Vance Walker who is coming off an ACL injury.
First, the Broncos need to feel confident about Walker's health. They have been rehabbing him all season so they will know how he is progressing. If they like what they see they could decide to bring him back, if not they could decide to let him walk.
The Broncos have 2016 second-round pick Adam Gotsis who they probably would like to play more next season, so re-signing Walker as depth would make sense. I am concerned about a soon to be 30-year-old big man coming off an ACL injury's ability, but if he's good he can be a valuable run stuffer for the Broncos.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster
The Broncos spent a third-round pick on cornerback Kayvon Webster in the 2013 NFL Draft. While he never really produced much as a corner, he turned into one of the Broncos best Special Team's players.
Webster turned into a team captain on the special team's side of the ball and replaced safety David Bruton Jr. in that role.
The Broncos already have cornerback Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby locked in as their starting corners, so Kayvon could look for an opportunity to start instead of staying as a backup with the Broncos. This situation is much like David Bruton's situation with the Broncos last year. He was the special team's captain and hit free agency was given an opportunity to start.
Ultimately I think Webster will follow in Bruton's footsteps and sign with a team who is giving him a chance to start. Hopefully, Webster has better luck than Bruton did in Washington.
Other notable unrestricted Free Agents:
- Running back Justin Forsett
- Long snapper Thomas Gafford
- Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
- Outside linebacker Dekoda Watson
- Defensive end Billy Winn
Restricted Free Agents
Inside linebacker Todd Davis
The third-year player was given the opportunity to replace Danny Trevathan who left in free agency and signed with the Chicago Bears and did a decent job.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Davis totaled 97 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 5 pass deflections, and 1 forced fumble in 2016. He proved to be a good run stopper but really struggled in pass coverage. Ultimately I think Davis is a two-down run stuffing linebacker who will be replaced on passing downs.
I think the Broncos will place a high round tender on Davis and that he will return to the Broncos in 2017. However, I do not think he will be handed the job and will have some sort of competition added whether that be through free agency or the draft.
Kicker Brandon McManus
The Broncos strong-legged kicker has turned into one of the more reliable kickers in the league the past few years and will likely receive a high tender and/or receive a contract extension by the Broncos.
McManus made 29 of his 34(85.3%) field goal attempts this past season and had a long kick of 55 yards. During his career, McManus has made 82.9% of kicks and has a career long 57-yard field goal. He also has been pretty much automatic with his extra points. He has made 108 of his 110 attempts during his career (98.2%) and one of this misses was a block.
Unless something unexpected occurs, McManus will be the Broncos kicker come next season and I'd be surprised if he didn't receive a long-term deal at some point this offseason.
Other notable restricted free agents
- Guard/Center Sam Brenner
Exclusive rights Free Agents
An Exclusive-Rights Free Agent is a player who has no more than two accrued seasons in the NFL. That player may only sign with his prior team, provided, of course, that the team extends a minimum qualifying offer to said player(s).
- Running back Kapri Bibbs
- Center Matt Paradis
- Wide receiver Bennie Fowler
- Inside linebacker Quentin Gause
- Edge Rusher Shaquil Barrett
- Center James Ferentz
- Inside linebacker Zaire Anderson
- Wide receiver Jordan Taylor
- Long Snapper Casey Kreiter
I believe the Broncos will extend qualifying offers to most if not all of these players once Free Agency opens up.
Obviously, Paradis and Barrett are locks to return and Kapri Bibbs, Bennie Fowler, Jordan Taylor, Zaire Anderson and Casey Kreiter could have bigger roles on the team next season so they are likely to return as well.
Center James Ferentz may not receive an offer since he is best suited for a zone-blocking scheme and the Broncos are reportedly moving to more of a power scheme this upcoming season under Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy. So I believe they will bring in someone to backup Paradis and potentially start for him if he has to miss any time due to his hip surgery.
Inside linebacker Quentin Gause was added late in the season so his exact role is unknown. He was added by the prior coaching staff so how the current staff feels about him will ultimately determine if he will return or not. With the offseason rosters allowing 90 players I would expect him to return as offseason depth but we shall see.