We're all aware by now of the big-name free agents the Broncos need to either sign, tag, or let hit the free agent market. Demaryius Thomas leads the list, but right behind him run headlining Broncos Julius Thomas, Terrance Knighton, Orlando Franklin, Rahim Moore, Nate Irving and more.
There's an interesting subplot to some of these decisions Elway has to make. Many of them involve members of his first draft class as Executive VP of the Broncos in 2011 - specifically J. Thomas, Franklin, Moore, and Irving.
At the time, Elway said he wanted to find "three, four starters right away out of the group." Mission accomplished, and since then, six members of that draft class have started for the Broncos - J. Thomas, Moore, Irving, Franklin, Von Miller (upon whom the Broncos exercised a fifth-year option, so he's under contract), and Virgil Green.
Does the fact that Elway himself drafted these guys make him more attached to their stay in Denver?
It seems not. Elway has repeatedly said that Demaryius Thomas - who he did not draft - is the team's top priority, and will be franchise tagged if the team and the player cannot reach an agreement before the start of free agency. There's some belief that the Broncos want to keep Julius Thomas too, but Demaryius is clearly the priority.
Still, the success of this first draft class of Elway's has to give the Hall of Famer a swell of pride. Surely he wants to keep a handful of these players. It's just that, he drafted so well, some of them will demand a hefty price tag.
The start of free agency is just over a week way. The time to decide whether these members of the Broncos' 2011 draft class are worth the price it will cost to keep them.
Denver Broncos Horse Tracks
Unrein hopes to return to Broncos
"Hopefully I can be back in Denver because this is the place I want to be and the only place I want to be," Unrein said. "Only time will tell, but it's been a good offseason. It hasn't snowed too much—it's snowing tonight, obviously, but it's just good to be in Colorado, no matter what it's doing outside."
Broncos 2015 Salary Cap Outlook - Over the Cap
Julius Thomas is looking for big money and there is really little reason to justify it. While he has been a great touchdown player, his overall numbers are not impressive and he is constantly injured. With the team eventually needing to re-sign Von Miller to a high priced contract, I can’t see allocating premier money into a position like tight end.
Kiszla: Time for Peyton Manning, John Elway to saddle up again - The Denver Post
Manning and Elway should stop haggling over nickels, suck it up and go out together in a blaze of glory.
Mason's Mailbag: 3-4 run D, draft trades, and orange as Denver's identity
Beyond nose tackle, you switch things up from a fairly successful philosophy on the whole -- second in yards per play allowed and third in yardage per game since 2012 -- you're taking a risk. But the Broncos are counting on seeing improvement in sack rate (despite the presence of pass rushers like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware in 2014 and Elvis Dumervil in 2012, it is seventh-best in the last three years) and points allowed (10th-best since 2012). So there is room for the growth.
Miller, Ward see potential in aggressive 3-4 defense
That kind of creativity is something that Ward is quite keen on seeing, especially as a versatile safety. "First off, we’re transitioning from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, and that’s a lot different in itself," he said, breaking down the changes they'll be going through. "You have four backers and three D-linemen, but sometimes it can look like you have a five-man defensive line and only two linebackers so there’s a lot of things that can be done within a 3-4: disguising, blitzing and things like that. So I’m looking forward to what Wade Phillips has and his creativity with it."
Denver Broncos have stuck to the profile in free agency - ESPN
In short, the Broncos prefer players heading into their second NFL contracts, or the kind of players who usually aren’t getting released before the start of free agency.
Jerry Butler, Broncos player development director, jumps to Bears
The Denver Broncos didn't renew Jerry Butler's contract as the director of player development. He has moved on to the Chicago Bears and John Fox.
Todd McShay has DenverBroncos looking defense in latest mock draft - ESPN
So, in his latest mock draft , Todd McShay believes all of that expected work in free agency to surround quarterback Peyton Manning with better protection could point the Broncos toward defense in the draft’s first round. McShay made Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman his pick for Denver.
Recent releases alter the free-agent market
As teams make moves to create salary-cap room, the offseason market takes on a different form with players like Reggie Bush, A.J. Hawk and Jacoby Jones available.
Ranking the free agents: 76-100
No position on offense or defense is more fallow than QB, which is why the only two passers in Mase's top 100 are in the bottom quarter of the list.