What Should the Broncos Do at Tight End?


It’s no secret that the Denver Broncos are on the verge of having a busy offseason. Even if their team doesn’t look much different from last year, moves will be made to keep it looking similar.

The Broncos have a billion or so free agents this offseason. And these aren’t just guys at the end of the 53-man roster or guys sent up and down from the practice squad. A lot of the Broncos free agents this offseason are at least quality players that would be so on most other teams.

I said the number of free agents they have is close to one billion. They actually have 20, according to Spotrac. There are 13 unrestricted free agent Broncos: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Virgil Green, Jacob Tamme, Orlando Franklin, Ben Garland, Will Montgomery, Terrance Knighton, Mitch Unrein, Nate Irving, Rahim Moore, and Quinton Carter. There are a lot of starters there, guys the Broncos, in a vacuum, would want back.

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Something also to note is that in that group of 13, three of them are tight ends, more than any other position for the Broncos. Not only will it be interesting to see what the Broncos do in regards to their tight end position just because of the sheer number of guys that could leave, but also because it’s an important position in the new offense (that may or may not be run this year) by new head coach Gary Kubiak.

So what should the Broncos do? Of course, there are different variables at play here and many ways the Broncos could go with this. But of the three guys they have to make a decision on, I think there’s already a philosophy in place for how to handle each one of these guys.

Let’s start with Julius Thomas.

JT is one of the two Broncos’ UFA’s that might be considered for the franchise tag the other being Demaryius Thomas. But I won’t spend much time on that since I don’t personally think there’s much of a chance that he gets tagged.

Were Julius to get tagged by the Broncos, he would get roughly $8.3 million for next season. This would make him the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL, behind Rob Gronkowski and in above Jason Witten. There’s little doubt that Thomas is one of the best receiving tight ends in the game.

But paying him that much money, if only for a year, seems excessive for a guy that cannot block in a new scheme that calls for tight end blocking. Thomas will also be coming off of a year in which he injured his ankle and it seemed to linger even when he came back later in the season. Not to mention the Broncos have other free agents to sign, one of them being Demaryius, who will garner a hefty contract.

Oct 5, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) pulls in a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While I think it’s unlikely Julius Thomas comes back, I think there is a hypothetical scenario in which I could see why the Broncos would give him the tag. As P.O.’s fearless leader Sayre Bedinger explained, it’s possible that, even with DT re-signing, the Broncos could still tag Julius. The big piece to make this work is a restructure of Peyton Manning’s contract (should he come back [he will]).

While I don’t think this is a perfect scenario, it does make sense. If/when Peyton comes back, the Broncos are likely to have a hybrid offense that features some of what Gary Kubiak does and some/a lot of what Manning does, which JT has thrived in. This Julius-friendly offense will likely be in Denver for one more year (since Manning will likely retire after 2015), the length of a franchise tag contract.

Tagging Julius Thomas would definitely be a last-ditch type move to win a Super Bowl. After the one-year tag expires, depending on how Thomas’s season goes, the Broncos would likely let him walk, at least in my opinion.

Either way, I don’t think Julius Thomas plays many more games for the Broncos, if any at all. And with the direction they’re going, I think that’s a smart move.

Virgil Green, on the other hand, is a tight end I would like to see kept around. Green probably isn’t as purely talented as Thomas, but he has more of an all around skillset. He can catch, block, and was even lined up as a running back and asked to run the ball (I highly advise Kubiak to end this experiment).

Green was inarguably the best blocking tight end the last few years. When Green missed weeks 9-11, the Broncos had 2 of their three worst rushing weeks. Some of this can be chalked up to the Broncos running backs not being quite settled after Hillman got banged up, Montee Ball was trying to return from injury, and C.J. Anderson had yet to be unleashed. Even still, they were able to get 118 yards on the Raiders (ha) in week 10.

Pro Football Focus even graded Green as the 2nd best run blocker on the whole team in 2014. I think the Broncos re-signing him, perhaps getting him more involved in the passing game, and bring in a veteran and/or rookie would pay off for the Broncos in this system.

Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme (84) catches a pass in front of New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler (21) during the fourth quarter of New England

The third and final UFA Broncos tight end is Jacob Tamme. Believe it or not, but Tamme was actually the highest paid tight end on the team last year, thanks to Thomas and Green still on their rookie deals. He was actually the only Bronco TE to make over $1 million. Not bad for this group.

Unfortunately, that might be the last time Tamme will get paid that much. Even at just 29 years old, I don’t think he has much left to offer. Especially with his buddy Peyton Manning’s career on the ropes, there’s not much value to having him on this team. He can’t really block and his all around receiving abilities seem to be slipping away.

I think my peak realization of this was in week 14 against Buffalo. The Broncos were at the Bills 20 yard line. Tamme got a hold of a reception and had a good amount of open field in front of him. However, he slowed almost to a complete stop to brace for contact. He curled up in a standing ball yet still managed to get the football punch out. It was one of the uglier plays of the season for the Broncos.

The only reason Tamme should be brought back is if/when Manning comes back. Even then, I don’t think it would be that hard to find a better replacement.

The Broncos also have the option to pick up new tight ends on the market via free agency or the draft. A few names that I’ve seen come up the most are Owen Daniels, who’s played every year of his career under Gary Kubiak, Maxx Williams from the University of Minnesota, and Clive Walford from the University of Miami.

Daniels is a two-time Pro Bowler who spent last year with the Baltimore Ravens after spending his first eight years in Houston. I didn’t see much of Daniels last year. His production was respectable – 48 catches, 527 yards, 4 touchdowns – despite seeing people on Twitter saying his legs were gone in preseason. He turns 33 in November, so he shouldn’t be expected to carry the load for a tight end group. However, I don’t think it would hurt to bring him in as a third TE.

Williams and Walford aren’t guys I’ve seen yet, but I’ll be sure to do so soon and give you my thoughts on them. I wouldn’t mind taking a tight end in general, even if it’s in the first round. I’ll just have to evaluate if I think either are worth it. Williams is the one guy out of these two that I’ve seen consistently labeled as a first rounder, so we’ll see.

Another guy that may be an interesting option is Jordan Cameron, who’s expected to leave the Browns in free agency. Cameron should come at a cheaper price than Julius Thomas given that he’s produced less in his career and he’s suffered from a number of injuries. And for what it’s worth, I think his blocking, while not great, is a bit better than JT’s. There have been times where I’ve seen competent blocking from Cameron.

Two years from now, I think the only holdover from the 2014 Denver Broncos tight end group is Virgil Green. If I had to predict at this very moment what this group looks like next season, it’ll be a combination of Green and some combination of three free agents/rookies.