The future of the Denver Broncos revolves around Peyton Manning. We know that.
As Manning goes, now go the Broncos, and as Manning’s supporting cast gets stronger, the better the chances of the ultimate goal: winning a Super Bowl.
Here are four names that will go a long way toward determining what that supporting cast looks like in 2013: Nate Irving, Quinton Carter, Omar Bolden and Philip Blake.
So, why would this foursome, a seemingly rather nondescript group, be so important to the Broncos?
Money, that’s why.
John Elway, Denver’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations and the guy who has the grand plan, says his vision is for the team to be built around the draft, built from within.
Individual success from members of this foursome would go a long way toward making that goal a reality.
Irving, Carter and Bolden are all defenders, with linebacker Irving and safety Carter heading into their third seasons, while cornerback Bolden is heading for his second. Irving and Bolden played backup and special teams roles throughout the 2012 season, while Carter missed most of the season with a knee injury.
Blake, a center/guard hybrid, will also be in his second season. He went on injured reserve two weeks into the season with a thumb injury.
The player who could make the most monetary impact is Irving, a third-round pick from North Carolina State in 2011. He is a 240-pounder who tied for the team lead in special-team stops in 2012.
He was drafted because he was a tackling machine at NC State, even after battling back from a serious auto accident in 2009.
Irving is now completely healthy, knows the system – and is scheduled to make $555,000 next season.
The people he could replace in whole or part would include D.J. Williams (scheduled to make $6 million next season), Joe Mays (scheduled to make $4 million) and/or Keith Brooking (a free agent who made $1 million last season).
If any or all of those returnees were to be jumped on the depth chart by Irving, the team’s budget could be significantly impacted. A number of other roster spots could be addressed if the Broncos already had their middle linebacker and his name was Irving.
The same goes for Carter and Bolden in the secondary.
Carter, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2011, was a starter for the Broncos and recorded two interceptions in two playoff games in 2011. While he may not be a starter next season, he certainly provides depth at both safety spots and comes relatively inexpensively at $555,000.
Carter’s development could impact Bronco thinking on veteran Mike Adams, scheduled to make $1.75 million this season, and free agent Jim Leonhard, who made $875,000 last season and could be brought back for roughly that same amount for next season.
Bolden, a fourth-round draft pick last season from Arizona State, mirrored Irving in a couple of ways: First, he was a special teams standout last season with the Broncos, ranking just behind Irving in tackles. He also suffered a severe injury in college, missing all of his senior season with a knee injury.
His mission, at $480,000 next season, will be to step into the rotation as a nickel back. He may even move to the cover corner opposite Champ Bailey and allow Chris Harris to move to the nickel spot he excels at.
Bolden’s development could impact Denver’s thinking on free agent Tony Carter, who made $615,000 last season and would be in line for slightly more if re-signed.
Then comes Blake.
Elway has already said he believes Blake, a 6-3, 320-pounder drafted in the fourth round last season out of Baylor, will be in the mix for playing time on the interior. Blake took over the starting center job at Baylor his junior year from the graduated J.D. Walton, Denver’s starting center this season until derailed by injury.
Blake, who recorded 82 knockdowns and 10 touchdown-resulting blocks his senior season while blocking for and protecting Robert Griffin III, may be in the mix for a starting job at right guard if incumbent Chris Kuper can’t recover from a now-chronic ankle injury. And he could allow starting right tackle Orlando Franklin to stay put.
He could also become the hybrid interior line backup at both guard and center slots, all the while slotted to make $480,000 and put veterans like free agent center Dan Koppen, guard Manny Ramirez and/or tackle Chris Clark (all of whom made significantly more last season than Blake will make next season) on the bubble. While unlikely, Blake could even replace Walton or Koppen as starting center.
Yes, imagine the possibilities – think dollar signs – next season as the Broncos start building their roster. Any or all of this foursome may provide answers as to which players are brought in via the draft, free agency and/or trades.