Denver Broncos 2020 free agency plan of attack at tight end

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 10: Eric Ebron #85 of the Indianapolis Colts in action in the game against the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 10: Eric Ebron #85 of the Indianapolis Colts in action in the game against the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos are going to be counting on Noah Fant to produce in a big way at tight end, but will they use free agency to add to the position?

The Denver Broncos will be able to take a number of intriguing routes this offseason to upgrade their offensive weaponry, and while the 2020 NFL Draft has been the main area of focus so far this offseason, free agency will also be critical in building this roster.

The Broncos will undoubtedly have no shortage of position groups to invest in during the 2020 free agent signing period, but what about tight end?

Some of you might be asking, “What about tight end?”

The Broncos currently have a number of players with intriguing potential and upside at the position, but behind 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant, the depth is largely unproven.

While the Broncos will certainly project a bigger role for Noah Fant in 2020, what will Jeff Heuerman’s fit in Pat Shurmur’s offense be? Troy Fumagalli? What are the Broncos’ plans with players coming off of IR like Jake Butt and Austin Fort? Can Bug Howard make a splash?

The tight end position is not a huge area of concern for the Broncos, but it’s an area the team could undoubtedly upgrade.

Is free agency a route they could take?

It might be the year to ‘buy low’ on the tight end market and add someone to pair with Noah Fant at the position.

As Ty Walden suggested, a trade for Browns tight end David Njoku, if that’s the direction Cleveland is going, would be a fun option. Njoku is a young player with tremendous athleticism who might cost only a day three pick.

Why would the Broncos not explore that idea?

In free agency, there are more playmakers than we normally see, and not many are talking about this year’s free agent tight end class because the quarterback market is so deep along with this year’s group of defensive players.

Here are some of the top tight ends in free agency before roster cuts come in:

  • Hunter Henry, Chargers
  • Eric Ebron, Colts
  • Austin Hooper, Falcons
  • Demetrius Harris, Browns
  • Tyler Eifert, Bengals
  • Jason Witten, Cowboys

Not all of these players fit with the Broncos in their current roster state, but there are some big names already out there before teams really begin cutting players, and this group could soon be joined with the likes of Jimmy Graham, Jordan Reed, Cameron Brate, Rhett Ellison, and others.

Although injuries played a role in this, three tight ends played 30 percent or more of the snaps in Pat Shurmur’s offense last year with the Giants, and there were five wide receivers in addition to those three tight ends playing 30 percent or more of the offensive snaps.

While Noah Fant isn’t likely to be best utilized in a 50-50 snap share, and the Broncos will certainly be looking to establish the run, a free agent tight end capable of making plays in the passing game would be a welcomed addition to the Broncos’ offense.

Because of the price likely to be commanded by Hunter Henry as the TE1 of this crop and Austin Hooper likely close behind him as TE2, I think the Broncos would be wise to try to ‘buy low’ on Eric Ebron, if that is at all possible.

Ebron, whose pass catching abilities and athleticism are his calling card, would be a tremendous ‘move’ player for the Broncos’ offense and would help Denver create a lot of mismatches in whatever formation they were using.

Although Jeff Heuerman has been outstanding as a tight end in the running game, the threat he poses in the passing game is nothing compared to what Ebron brings to the table. projects Ebron’s average annual value somewhere around $7 million per year. Signing him to a three-year deal worth $21 million to pair him with Noah Fant is very enticing. Although a $7 million APY seems like it would be a huge hit to the Broncos’ current cap space for the tight end position, keep in mind a couple of things.

First of all, if the Broncos come anywhere near to the $80 million in cap space they are projected to have after cutting Ron Leary and Joe Flacco, it’s going to go a lot further than people realize.

Second, the Broncos have zero — count ’em — zero top 10 cap commitments currently to offensive skill players besides Joe Flacco, who’s going to be released at some point. As a matter of fact, if Flacco and Ron Leary are released, the only two offensive players with top 10 2020 cap hits on the Broncos’ offense will be Ja’Wuan James and Jeff Heuerman. Heuerman’s cap hit is just north of $4 million.

The Broncos have invested some high draft picks on offense — Fant and Courtland Sutton specifically — but they need to add more playmakers. That doesn’t just have to be via the 2020 NFL Draft.

It’s tough to know where to fit all of the possible pieces for the Broncos leading into the 2020 offseason because this is a team with more than just one need offensively.

The Broncos have to approach free agency with an open mind and while spending money on a backup tight end, possibly at the expense of Jeff Heuerman, is not the highest on Denver’s priority list, it could be a huge difference maker for this team in 2020 as far as just simply putting points on the board and moving the ball.

Next. Denver Broncos: 20 free agent targets on the defensive line. dark

A player like Ebron paired with Fant would give the Broncos a couple of guys who can present mismatches for linebackers all day, create scoring opportunities in red zone work, and open up one-on-one opportunities for receivers on the outside or in the slot.