Could Eddie Royal Reunite with the Broncos?


Free agency is still over a month away and Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal is set to become an unrestricted free agent. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

Eddie Royal, as most of you know, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Royal played his first four years here before bouncing to the AFC West rival San Diego Chargers.

Royal left the Broncos after a year of just 19 catches, 155 yards, and a touchdown. Royal showed in San Diego this wasn’t due to a reduction in his talent, rather the type of offense that Denver ran with Tim Tebow. In 2011, the Broncos ranked 1st in rushing attempts and last in passing attempts. With Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker as his teammates, he wasn’t going to see the ball much. So it made sense that he would leave. Unfortunately for him, five days after he signed with the Chargers, the Broncos signed Peyton Manning.

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Probably the last time you all remember seeing Royal in a Bronco uniform, he was catching a diving over-the-shoulder touchdown pass from Tim Tebow in the 2012 NFL Playoffs in an overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, that wasn’t his last game for the Broncos, but let’s not bring up bad memories.

In his six-year career, Royal has tallied 338 receptions, 3,750 yards, and 25 touchdowns. Now his contract is about to expire and the Broncos may be looking for a receiver to get in free agency. Could Royal be a target for the Broncos?

First let’s look at the status of Royal.

At the beginning of the 2015 NFL season he will be 29 years old, starting his seventh season. He’s a veteran in every sense of the word. He’s also been very productive. Since his days in Denver, in three years with the Chargers, Royal tallied 132 receptions, for 1,643 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Fifteen of those TD’s have come in the last two years in San Diego.

Before the season started in 2013, Royal suffered a concussion and a bruised lung in practice, causing an ambulance to come get him and take him to the hospital. Later that year in week six, he suffered a toe injury that caused him to miss one week and most practices throughout the year. In week six of 2014, he left a game with a rib injury. Royal missed seven games with the Chargers, but none last year, so it seems as if his injuries shouldn’t be something to be worried about.

Overall, Royal’s improved as a receiver. According to Pro Football Focus, 2013 and 2014 were the first times in Royal’s career where he’s received a positive grade (7.7, 1.0). This past year, his 1.0 grade was 43rd in the league out of 110 receivers. He was 16th in the league in percentage caught (72.1%), 19th in YAC per reception, and tied for 31st in missed tackles forced (8).

Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Eddie Royal (11) runs after the catch as New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) defends during the third quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

When Philip Rivers threw in Royal’s direction this past year, his QB Rating was a blistering 117.3, good enough for 12th in the NFL (amongst receivers who were targeted at least 46 times).

Amongst slot receivers, Royal was tied for fifth in number of touchdowns from the slot (4) and was 18th in catch rate in the slot (69.7%). He did have a fair amount of drops, as he was 13th in drop rate (11.5% and six drops total out of the slot).

Grouped with all the receivers in the league, Royal is pretty average, but not bad. Relative to slot receivers, you could do worse than him. In fact, any team that needs one this offseason should be giving him a call.

Which brings me to this next point; do the Broncos need Royal, a slot receiver?

Their current roster may say no, but let’s look at the near future of the Broncos receiver situation.

Demaryius Thomas is set to become a UFA. Whether he re-signs with Denver (which I expect to happen), gets franchise tagged, or signs somewhere else, I don’t expect that to have any affect on what the Broncos do slot receiver wise.

Andre Caldwell signed a two-year deal with the Broncos back in March, so he won’t be a free agent until after next season. If the Broncos decide to cut him, which I wouldn’t mind, he’d save them $1.35 million in cap and cost $200,000 in dead money. So if they wanted to cut him, they could.

Wes Welker will become a free agent this season and most expect the Broncos to let him go. I personally think there is a chance he’s brought back on a one-year deal, but that would be exclusively tied to Peyton Manning coming back. Though Welker has regressed, Manning still trusts him on 3rd downs and in the red zone.

Here’s where it starts to get interesting.

There are two Broncos receivers currently on the roster that I think prevents John Elway from going after a receiver like Royal in free agency. And it’s the fact that the Broncos have both of them that makes me think Royal won’t be a target for the Broncos.

Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) carries the ball with help from wide receiver Cody Latimer (14) during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 43-21. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Emmanuel Sanders signed a 3-year, $15 million contract last offseason and won’t be a free agent until 2017. He and DT alone I don’t think would be enough to prevent Royal from signing. Royal’s been best in the slot his whole career and Sanders is an outside receiver so no players would have to change spots in this scenario. However…

Cody Latimer, who will be going into his second season, is what throws a monkey wrench into this. And I mean that as a compliment to Latimer. He didn’t get nearly the amount of play I (and probably Elway), thought he would. But I (and probably Elway) still believe in his ability and thought he was one of the better receivers in a stacked class last year.

With how much I value Latimer, I expect him to be somewhat unleashed next year. Of course, that all depends on if he has to perfect his third playbook in as many years. Even if Manning comes back, he and Kubiak may prefer to mesh philosophies. It’s a bit unpredictable what will happen with the offense at this point. In a couple weeks we should get a better view as to what will happen.

Even still, I believe in Latimer’s talent, and sooner rather than later I think he’ll be this team’s number two receiver (should DT be re-signed). This would move Sanders to the slot. Even though this isn’t ideal for Sanders, he has played slot before. In 2012, 67% of his snaps were from here and he played 36.9% of his snaps in the slot this past year for the Broncos, catching two of his nine touchdowns from there. I don’t think it would be a hard transition for him.

The lynchpin in this situation is how many receivers Kubiak will use if Manning comes back. Kubiak’s offense is usually run with 12 or 21 personnel (two wide receivers), but again, it’ll be up to Peyton on what to do. Kubiak’s already expressed he would run Manning’s plays if that’s what it took for him to come back. Likewise, Manning said he’d be able to fit Kubiak’s system. There are just so many unknown variables right now for this offense.

Anyway, I don’t think Royal has much interest in being the fourth receiver on a team and probably even taking less money. It’s also possible that Denver becomes primarily a running team even if Manning does come back, just like we saw at the end of this past season. Ultimately, I think Royal stays with San Diego. I think he likes it there, they value him, he values the people around him, and he took a pay decrease last year.