The Denver Broncos have 19 upcoming free agents. Some of them are unrestricted, meaning they can leave no matter what. The others are restricted, meaning that Denver can choose one of three tenders and can potentially match an offer from another team.
Finally, there are exclusive rights free agents, where Denver can sign them for the veteran minimum. There are some players in each of those categories who need to be retained.
The reasons for bringing them back vary. Some of them may be near impossible to replace or upgrade, while others are cheap, young players with the potential to keep growing and have an impact moving forward. So, let us dive into who these players are and why.
This should be a no-brainer. Thomas is a top five receiver in the NFL. He had the second most receptions (111) in the league, tied for most targets (178), tied at seventh for most touchdowns (11), and second in the NFL for yards after the catch (668) for the 2014 NFL season.
On top of that, he tied and set league and franchise records for the Broncos, including consecutive 100-yard games (7) and total 100-yard games (10). While there are concerns with his drops (9), he is still a game changer and can change the momentum of a game in the blink of an eye.
Thomas is one of those players you just do not let walk. You build around him. If the Broncos are unable to get an extension done before free agency starts, they must place the franchise tag on him, since he is a unrestricted free agent and can just sign with another team.
Tagging him gives them more time to exclusively negotiate an extension, without having to compete with other teams. He is one player who must return to the Broncos next year. Being in a Gary Kubiak offense could make this great player even better. See Andre Johnson
Marshall is a restricted free agent, so the Broncos can place one of the three tenders on him. The tenders are a first, second or original round tender. That means that if a team were to offer to sign Marshall and the Broncos chose not to match the offer, the Broncos would get the other team's draft pick from that corresponding round.
Since Marshall was a fifth round pick, an original round tender would net a fifth round pick. To not risk a team coming in and offering a deal that makes it hard for the Broncos to match, they should place the first or second round tender on him.
With no defensive coordinator yet, it is hard to say just how Marshall would fit in the defensive scheme. However, he is the type of player you need to figure out how to incorporate into the scheme. He does a great job at reading run plays and correctly reacting to them. He is also, at worst, solid in coverage. He is one player that has to be kept, no matter what the scheme is.
TE Virgil Green
With the shift to more balance tight ends under Gary Kubiak, Green is a must to be brought back. He has established himself as one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.
He has not shown his ability as a receiver consistently, but has shown flashes when he gets a chance. He is the type of tight end who can be a star in the scheme that Kubiak and Rick Dennison run.
Green is a versatile player that can line up in multiple spots on offense and play multiple roles. He has lined up as a full back, in-line tight end and in the slot. He has caught, blocked and ran the ball, as well. He can do many things, and Kubiak utilizes versatile tight ends, like Green, in many ways.
Green would be a weapon that Kubiak could play with and potentially make a very good player. Green is a must to return to Denver because of the versatility he brings and the ways Kubiak can use him.
LB Nate Irving
After Irving was drafted, it took him a while to make an impact. However, he finally did when Von Miller was unable to play in the 2013 season, due to injury or suspension, at the strong-side linebacker position. Then, for the 2014 season, Irving was moved to the middle linebacker position, which he was drafted to play. Irving was performing at a high level, until he got hurt.
Irving plays the run excellently, but does struggle in coverage at times. Despite those struggles, he is a must-have for Denver. Not only does Irving give the Broncos someone to play the middle linebacker position, but he also helps the depth of the linebacker corps as a whole.
With Irving and Danny Trevathan back and healthy, along with Marshall and Von Miller, the Broncos will have many options. They have depth with players who possess experience. To stabilize the position, Irving is one who needs to be brought back, instead of using another draft pick on the linebacker position, who then has to be developed. That takes time.
OG Ben Garland and OT Paul Cornick
Both Garland and Cornick are exclusive rights free agents. They are young, cheap options to provide depth along the offensive line moving forward. Both are young players who were effective when they saw the field.
Cornick eventually took over the starting position at right tackle, and struggled some in pass protection, but helped the run game tremendously. As for Garland, he rarely saw the field in the regular season, but did a great job when he did.
Both of these players would likely be better fits in the Kubiak offense and the blocking schemes that he utilizes. Being as young as they are, they have plenty of time to grow and develop. Being exclusive rights free agents means that not a lot of money is tied up in these two depth players.
With the concerns along the offensive line, they could pay off in a huge way by competing and potentially taking a starting spot, or stepping in for a hurt or struggling offensive linemen and being effective.
These players are musts for the Broncos to bring back. They are either too talented to let walk, cheap options to keep around for depth, or a better option than what else is out there.
Even though there is no defensive coordinator and the defensive scheme isn’t known, Marshall and Irving are versatile enough to be incorporated into any defensive scheme. As for Thomas, he is just one you do not let walk. Green is too versatile and can be diversely utilized in Kubiak’s offense. As for the last two, they are just both young, cheap options who can be depth players at least.
All of these players are talented. If they weren’t, they would not be in the NFL. They all have their reasons to remain a part of the Broncos organization moving forward, and they should stay, at least for the upcoming season.