As sad as it is to see a legend like Champ Bailey leaving the Broncos, it’s a really critical move for the team’s plans in 2014, specifically for how they are going to re-tool their roster.
The Broncos of 2014–as is the case for many Super Bowl teams–will look vastly different. They have started by letting go of Champ Bailey, but other names you can pencil in as ‘gone’ are WR Eric Decker, LB Wesley Woodyard, and RB Knowshon Moreno. These guys have all grown up Broncos, and they were part of the building of a franchise that led to a Super Bowl berth. It’s not going to be easy to replace them in the locker room, or on the field.
That being said, the Broncos will have plenty of cap space to play with this year and next. They were already sitting decent enough to make an impact move or two before the salary cap increase. With the reported $133 million salary cap number set, the Broncos were at just shy of $20 million in cap space. With the release of Champ Bailey alone, that number jumped to nearly $30 million.
It’s a far cry from the amount of money the Raiders have (over $60 million, reportedly), but the Broncos will pretty much be free to do what they want in free agency, which is add a starting middle linebacker (D’Qwell Jackson), likely a starting safety, and a good pass rusher.
The Broncos would also like to re-sign Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of their own who is now a must-sign after the letting go of Bailey. The Broncos will also tender Chris Harris at a high level as a restricted free agent so the asking price is too high for any team to snatch him away.
The biggest fish on the free agent market as far as the Broncos are concerned–out of house–would be safetie Jairus Byrd (Buffalo) and T.J. Ward (Cleveland). Byrd has said that playing for Denver would be ‘a great opportunity’ and is reportedly seeking an annual salary of at least $9 million. The Broncos just freed that up and then some.
Ward has connections to Denver in Tom Heckert, as well as D’Qwell Jackson if he signs. Ward would be a welcome physical presence at strong safety for the Broncos and obviously now the team can afford him.
The Broncos are likely to fill out the roster with other veteran players that can make solid contributions, such as at wide receiver, possibly offensive line, and also at defensive end.
Either way you cut it, this year’s Broncos team is going to look vastly different from last year’s so you can expect a very active free agent period for this team.