It seems everyone is speculating about free agency… and why not? For those of us who live, sleep and breathe the NFL this is one of the few things available. The other past time is to somehow accurately predict how the draft will shake out.
We spent some time last week checking out the Denver Broncos’ balance sheet and discussing some of the internal moves the organization should make. We broke down who the Broncos most need to hold on to, who they might consider keeping for the right price and who they definitely should let go. Only briefly were free agents mentioned or draft picks referenced. Over the next few weeks, however, it’s time to take a look at the players outside this storied franchise that can make a difference. The idea since John Elway returned to the club was to build a champion and there are definitely three free agents in particular that can make that a reality.
Exhibit A. Richard Seymour. Seymour’s injury last season and subsequent recovery have made him a free agent in a year that otherwise would have seen him once again suit up for the silver and black. Fortunately for the Broncos, he won’t have to return to the Bay area and it would be foolish to let him play anywhere else. Defensive Tackle is an area of urgent need for this Broncos team. Mitch Unrein, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson are all free agents this year, Bannan and Vickerson being the crucial pieces that could move. Unrein will most likely be back in orange and reports suggest Bannan wants to stay. However, both he and Vickerson had terrific years and will definitely test the open market.
Enter, Richard Seymour. Even at 34, Seymour has plenty to give. His experience would immediately elevate the defensive line and although there are those who suggest he is long in the tooth, statistics prior to his injury suggest otherwise.
ProFootballFocus rated him the 14th best defensive tackle in 2012. Statistically he was better than any option the Broncos possessed last year even if those stats come with the asterisk of an injury shortened season. Furthermore, in a year when the draft is absolutely swollen with talent at the DT position, Denver should find itself with multiple advantages.
First, Seymour may not get the type of offers he was once accustomed. Simply put, teams are going to elect to find answers via the draft leaving the acquisition of Seymour at a more palatable financial level. He would likely only be offered a 1-2 year deal at $4 million per as a worst case. Additionally, the Broncos should go out and get a solid DT prospect in the draft anyway. Adding a top prospect to provide depth while allowing that prospect to develop under a veteran like Seymour is good not just for the Manning era Super Bowl sprint but the long term health of the team.
Exhibit B. Dannell Ellerbe. The Broncos will be getting a lot of bad money off their books this off season or at least, they should. Joe Mays and D.J. Williams will either be removed or restructured. For depth, restructure would be preferred but keeping them at their current contracts seems very unlikely. Keith Brookings may be willing to come back for less money and function as a safety valve for this unit. That would be terrific but wouldn’t solve the real problem.
The Broncos need someone special in the middle, someone who can equally compliment Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard. Ellerbe is that player. He is young, dynamic, has a high football IQ and learned under none other than Ray Lewis. You may have heard of him? Ellerbe held up beautifully in Lewis’ absence mid-season and should come at a decent price too. Sure, the Ravens want him back and need him now that Lewis is riding off into the sunset but Baltimore is a team with serious cap issues and a big time free agent quarterback to sign. Ellerbe might come with a $5-6 million/year contract attached but he is perfect for the present and the future.
Exhibit C. Chris Ivory. Don’t the Broncos have three running backs already? Yes, they do. Are any of them the present or future answer for the franchise? No.
Ronnie Hillman doesn’t look like anything more than a change of pace guy. He’s got lots of heart and really did all he could do in the AFC Divisional game but that clearly was not enough. His pass blocking doesn’t appear to be up to par especially for a Peyton Manning led offense.
Willis McGahee was a fumble machine and had most definitely lost a step prior to literally losing his step due to injury last season.
Knowshon Moreno resurrected his career over night by performing almost identically (from a statistical standpoint) to McGahee. However, McGahee wasn’t performing remarkably well. Disappointingly, Moreno is six years younger than McGahee and despite some injuries, comes with very little wear and tear. So why didn’t he play even better? Moreno seems serviceable but doesn’t appear to be a reliable and dynamic back. Don’t forget, he got hurt, again, at the most critical time and has been an injury liability throughout his Denver career.
The Broncos do not have an answer on the current roster but there are plenty of very sexy names out there. Steven Jackson is one. Reggie Bush is another. Rashard Mendenhall, Shonn Greene and even Felix Jones are some other marquee names that are floating around.
Why have very few mentioned Chris Ivory? He seems like a player that is poised to break out. Is it that he is a restricted free agent? Perhaps. That comes with some complications and would require some kind of trade. However, that part shouldn’t prove to be too painful. Ivory is fourth on the Saints’ depth chart and comes with $2 million in salary. The move would help the Saints as well. A deal could certainly be struck.
Imagine a Bronco defense with a veteran like Richard Seymour sharing his expertise with Derek Wolfe and possibly the likes of a Kawann Short and hopefully either Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson or both.
Envision a linebacking corp consisting of Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard and Dannell Ellerbe. Three young, intense, football savvy players all in the up swing of their careers playing for a championship together with Peyton Manning on the other side of the ball.
Finally, see that same Peyton Manning with an upgrade at running back. Chris Ivory is a 25-year-old power back that can catch, block and currently averages 5.1 yards per carry. Standing at 220 pounds he still can manage to run a forty in less than 4.5 seconds. As a 5’11″ back who wasn’t even drafted, you might say he bares at least one thing in common with Terrell Davis. He didn’t go high in the draft. However, there are some physical comparisons to make as well. They are both the same height and certainly have a similar running style. Of course, Ivory is bigger and faster (TD RAN A 4.7 forty). Perhaps the Broncos will give him a chance to lead them to a Super Bowl.