The 2015 NFL free agency is over a month away. It’s never too early to talk Denver Broncos free agents, considering they have about a million players hitting unrestricted free agency.
Okay, not really, but they do seem to have an unusually high amount of quality free agents. The list of UFA’s includes three Pro Bowlers (one of them – Demaryius Thomas – from this year) and nine starters. Then you have guys like Jacob Tamme, Quinton Carter, Mitch Unrein, and Ben Garland who have been quality role players the past couple years for the Broncos. This makes for a lot of tough decisions that John Elway has to make.
All in all, the Broncos will have 14 players heading to unrestricted free agency and four becoming restricted. One guy who’s future is up in the air is one Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton.
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The defensive tackle was a third round pick of the 2009 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars under head coach – Jack Del Rio. Knighton was a starter in every game for the Jags in his first three years. However, when Del Rio was fired as head coach near the end of the 2011 season, Knighton saw a drop in production, became a headache for the team, and lost his starting position the following year in 2012.
Knighton became a free agent in the 2013 offseason and signed a two-year deal with the Broncos, who brought in Knighton’s former head coach Jack Del Rio to be their defensive coordinator. With the help of Del Rio, Knighton revived his career and then some. He’s arguably become a better run defender than he ever was in Jacksonville and has tallied five sacks in two years with the Broncos after 7.5 in four years with the Jaguars.
Now his contract with the Broncos is up and, like 13 other players, Elway will have to decide if Knighton will be part of the plans moving forward.
But before I get into that, let me say that I’m all for Knighton coming back. He’s been one of the more consistent players on the Broncos defense. He’s played a big part in the Broncos becoming one of the best run stopping defenses in the NFL. In just his second year he earned enough of his teammates’ respect to be voted a team captain. Off the field, he’s great with the media and he is was a great follow on twitter (I only deal with hard-hitting topics here, folks).
But who cares if I want him back, it’s if he wants to be back and if that feeling is mutual.
After Del Rio was hired by the Raiders to be their seventh head coach since 2006, I did initially think Pot Roast would be gone. There’s a popular theory that Del Rio is the only one that can get out the best of Knighton. This is something I bought into considering Del Rio is a coach players seem to love. It makes sense that Pot Roast would be connected to the Raiders. Not only is JDR there, but so is the need for a defensive tackle (and almost every other position).
This thought quickly dissipated when Brandon Spano interviewed Knighton over a week ago, after Del Rio’s hire.
Sounds a lot like Knighton is willing to give Denver a “hometown discount.” This also tells me that Knigthon doesn’t need Del Rio to be highly successful. It tells me that above all, he values a winning team and a great organization, both of which the Broncos have, both of which the Raiders – and some other teams – don’t.
It’s obvious Terrance Knighton wants to stay in Denver. Now it’s a question if Elway wants him back and for what price.
Looking at it without context, of course he’d want him back. As a defensive tackle, it’s hard to put up stats for some of the good things he does. At 335 lbs., Knighton takes on a lot of double teams, leaving wide open lanes for guys like Brandon Marshall and Nate Irving to crash down on and make tackles close to the line of scrimmage.
But Knighton’s not just a big pile of mass, he’s got strength and surprising athleticism to back it up. He doesn’t get pushed around and he’s shown good effort in pursuing the ball, something that a lot of tackles his size don’t have the interest, or conditioning, to do.
Knighton’s performance has only increased when the Broncos reached the playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus, Knighton’s second highest grade last year was against New England in the AFC Championship (5.5). This year, the Divisional playoff game against the Colts graded out tied for his third best performance (2.6).
Then you look at the other options for the Broncos that are out there. The first one that comes to mind is UFA Ndamukong Suh, who’s already been a popular subject on Predominantly Orange.
Suh will be looking for a monster amount of money, with one report earlier in the season saying he might command more than J.J. Watt’s six-year $100 million extension with the Texans. Is that something the Broncos would want to dish out to Suh? I have my doubts.
Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) runs the ball in the back field in the second quarter against Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (98) at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Sure, Elway is known to be an aggressive GM and will go out of his way to get the players he wants, but I also think he’s smart enough to know there are cheaper alternatives and that the Broncos don’t need a player of Suh’s caliber to win a championship. Sure, he’d make a huge impact, but so would allocating that money elsewhere and bringing in a defensive coordinator that actually fits his scheme to the players.
There’s no question Suh is a better player than Knighton. PFF’s grades back this up. Suh was 3rd amongst all defensive tackles in the NFL with a grade of 27.5. Knighton was a respectable 12.7, good enough for 12th. Against the run, Suh was 2nd in the league with a grade of 18.1; Knighton 9th with 11.2. And just to show how much of a well-rounded player Suh is, he was also top ten in pass rushing at 7th with a 14.8 grade. For what it’s worth, Knighton, who is basically mostly a two-down player, came in at 39th with a -0.2 grade.
Even still, it might be wiser to take money saved from not spending on Suh to spend it on positions Denver has more of a need. And as we all know by now, Elway has his own free agents to take care of as well. Not to mention, Suh is an extremely dirty player and he’d be replacing one of the more likeable guys in the locker room in Knighton.
Other feasible free agent options include Suh’s teammate Nick Fairley, Miami’s Jared Odrick, and Arizona’s Dan Williams. Fairley may be the best option out of these three, but he, like Knighton in the past, has had character concerns. Depending how much he, and Williams and Odrick want, it would just make more sense to keep Knight. Again, him willing to take a discount to stay with the Broncos is huge and a big part of why I think he stays.
The draft would also be another way to replace Knighton, should Denver choose that path. This year’s defensive tackle class looks promising at the moment. But the fact that Elway used an early second rounder and last first rounder on defensive tackles in the last three years would leave me to believe – or maybe more accurately, want – Elway to stop spending early picks on defensive tackles.
With all these factors involved, not only do I want Terrance Knigthon to remain a Bronco, I think odds are that’s what happens.