Free Agency: Broncos Sign Trio of Tight Ends on Day One

The Denver Broncos didn’t wait long to get into the action on day one of the new NFL league year and the start of free agency, showing tight end Julius Thomas the door while opening it for three others.

Going into the new league year, the Broncos had one tight end (Dominique Jones) under contract with the team. After about two hours or so, they had three new ones under contract, starting first and foremost with one of their own in former 2011 seventh round pick Virgil Green.

Green, deciding between the Broncos and Bears, was obviously convinced by John Elway and the new coaching staff that his new role with the team, whatever that looks like, would be significantly expanded from what we have seen over the last four years. During those four years, Green has been learning to do the grunt work, something he was absolutely not known for coming out of Nevada, where he was one of Colin Kaepernick’s favorite targets in the passing game.

Showing incredible athletic ability, Green has shed a couple of labels in his time with the Broncos. First and foremost, that he is only a receiving specialist. Green has developed into one of the best blocking tight ends in the game, and that’s one reason the Broncos were so eager to get him locked in to a new contract.

The other label Green shed was one of being injury-prone, and having a shortened career because of it. That’s part of the reason why he fell all the way to the seventh round despite showing incredible athletic measurables at the Scouting Combine. Green’s long term health was a major question mark, but the Broncos obviously feel comfortable going forward that he is going to be okay, giving him a sparkly new three-year deal.

His role should undoubtedly expand going forward, but it won’t be without competition. The Broncos made a quick move to sign free agent tight end Owen Daniels, who has never not played for Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak in his time in the NFL.

Daniels, a former Pro Bowl tight end, is going to be 33 this season, and has played every season in the NFL under Kubiak whether with the Houston Texans or last season with the Baltimore Ravens, where he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ sixth ranked tight end.

The Broncos reportedly will pay Daniels $12 million over three years, a price that many felt a bit too steep for where he’s at in his career. We’ll wait to see what the guaranteed money is on the deal before we pass judgment, but the fit of Daniels in Denver is probably worth a bit of that price.

Daniels is familiar with the offense, he is a smart veteran, and despite some injury problems, I think he will provide the Broncos with a ton of value both as a weapon in the passing game as well as a blocker and someone that Peyton Manning can trust. Not that Virgil Green doesn’t provide that, but someone as comfortable with this offense as Daniels will be a huge help for Manning this season.

With Daniels and Green established as the 1-2 punch for the Broncos at tight end, most figure the draft will provide an avenue for at least one more guy, but the Broncos were not done with Green and Daniels on day one of free agency.

In the early evening, the Broncos added former Dixie State star Joe Don Duncan, who has automatically the coolest name on the team.

Or the worst.

Whatever your opinion, J.D.D. was added as a guy with size and athletic upside that was absolutely dominant in college and is, at worst, an intriguing camp body.

He was the guy at last year’s Scouting Combine who topped the class of tight ends with 35 bench press reps at 225 pounds. Duncan is 6-foot-3, 268 pounds and through whatever set of circumstances, will be considered a rookie in 2015.