The season is over for the Denver Broncos, so it’s time to start looking toward March 10th and the start of the new league year with the class of 2015 free agents. The Broncos have plenty of notable names on the list, so let’s get cracking. Here are the Broncos’ 2015 free agents in order of their 2014 salary.
WR Wes Welker – UFA
WR Demaryius Thomas – UFA
DT Terrance Knighton – UFA
TE Jacob Tamme – UFA
C Will Montgomery – UFA
DT Mitch Unrein – UFA
S Rahim Moore – UFA
OL Orlando Franklin – UFA
LB Nate Irving – UFA
S Quinton Carter – UFA
TE Julius Thomas – UFA
TE Virgil Green – UFA
LB Steven Johnson – RFA
LS Aaron Brewer – RFA
CB Tony Carter – RFA
LB Brandon Marshall – RFA
OL Ben Garland – UFA
OT Paul Cornick – ERFA
DE John Youboty – ERFA
That’s a lengthy list of players but obviously with a lot of expiring contracts comes plenty of cap space. The Broncos have structured the cap that they are currently in really good shape, but obviously they can’t keep everybody having to look forward to the expiring deal of Von Miller next offseason as well.
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With Chris Harris Jr. already locked in long-term, the Broncos will have some decisions to make and some prioritizing to do. There are players on this list that are going to be easy to re-sign, and players that are no-brainers for the Broncos to bring back. Guys like Brandon Marshall (RFA) and Virgil Green are significant players for this team that won’t command a lot of money on the open market, in all likelihood. The Broncos should easily be able to keep those kind of players around.
The bigger names are the ones we have to look at here. Obviously Marshall and Green have played well enough to earn a significant raise, but the Broncos can’t go overboard because they have other players they have to pay. Here’s how I would prioritize the current list of guys to bring back, and what might end up happening.
1. Demaryius Thomas
This is for obvious reasons. Demaryius Thomas is a top five or six receiver in the NFL depending who you ask. He had some drops this year, but who doesn’t? This is an elite player and if the Broncos don’t lock him up to a really rich contract, they’ll franchise tag him. Obviously he’s going to be back in orange and blue next year, one way or another.
2. Terrance Knighton
Apart from the obvious, I think the Broncos need to make Knighton priority number two behind DT and maybe even a 1a. Knighton has given the Broncos a formidable run defense that helped the team lead the NFL in three-and-outs this year. He is a beast in the middle, athletic, and a team leader. He said if the Broncos get in the ballpark, he’ll be back.
3. Orlando Franklin
Franklin recently stated his desire to come back to the Broncos, and I think that’s a must. The Broncos also need to keep him at left guard, where he excelled and played the best season of his career. Franklin should come at a pretty reasonable price, but we’ll have to see. The team let Zane Beadles go last offseason, hopefully so they could retain Franklin this year.
4. Julius Thomas
Ankle injuries aside, I’ve been getting fed up with Orange Julius. He is too good to have cold stretches like he did to finish off this season. I hope that diminishes his value on the market significantly and he is forced to come back to Denver on a prove-it type of deal. That would be great for the Broncos, who obviously love having him, but he doesn’t do enough to warrant big money. He isn’t a blocker or every down player, as evidenced by the final few weeks of the season with Virgil Green in the starting lineup over him.
5. Rahim Moore
Moore is a good coverage safety, and proved it this year by setting a career high in interceptions. Regardless of the varying opinions of Moore, the Broncos aren’t going to get someone immediately better for the price. If T.J. Ward is commanding $5 million per season, Moore should come in at about $3 million and that’s a bargain over the next three or four years for a capable starting safety who can create turnovers.
I fully expect — as I previously stated — that the Broncos will be able to re-sign guys like Virgil Green, Brandon Marshall, Nate Irving, Quinton Carter, really any of those guys. The price should be right in the range of reason and I can see the Broncos wanting to bring them back as key role players on this team.
The reason why Marshall is not on the above list is due to the fact that he’s a restricted free agent. The Broncos can tender him at the highest or second highest level and try to bait a team into giving them a high draft pick for him, or they can keep him at a really good price (under $2 million per season). I don’t see Marshall going anywhere at the tender level he’ll get from the Broncos.
Virgil Green should be promised a bigger role in next year’s offense, and I think that and a nice pay raise will entice him to stay. Irving and Carter are injury prone, so they should be willing to come back at worst on one-year deals.
For the veterans that are free agents like Welker, Tamme, Montgomery, etc., you have to think it’s either the end of the line for those guys or they are going to come back and play for the veteran minimum again. Welker was the highest paid player on the list this past season, and that’s a complete joke given his contributions to the team. He needs to seriously consider retirement, but if he does want to keep playing, the Broncos on a one year deal for the veteran minimum seems most likely.
In the end, I think ultimately the Broncos will give Julius Thomas a take it or leave it deal and he strikes me as the type of guy who will leave it. Some team will probably overpay for his services, but I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be a very good team. He declined a lucrative offer from the Broncos before the season that he probably shouldn’t have.
There will be a lot of change in Denver over the next couple of months, and you can expect these guys to be the focus of discussion as well as a big free agent fish or two. Oh yeah, and some guy named Peyton Manning.