The Denver Broncos finished the 2014 season with arguably the most talented roster in the NFL, but for a third straight season, they fell short in the playoffs. This led to a upheaval of the team's coaching staff, with Gary Kubiak coming in as the head man. Kubiak brings with him Rick Dennison and Wade Phillips as his sidekick coordinators.
Of the 53 men on the active roster last season and an additional 8 players on injured reserve, the Broncos have 19 impending free agents. Of those free agents, some will move on, as many do every year, but due to the change in coaching staff, the turnover rate may be higher than the norm, as players may not fit with the new coaching staff.
This is the one free agent where there is no debate for his immediate future -- he will be a Denver Bronco in 2015. How the team retains Thomas is the question. The Broncos front office has been in discussion with the Thomas camp since the 2014 off-season on a contract extension.
The team will likely work until the franchise tag deadline to get a long-term deal done with Thomas, which could be five years in length. Thomas will want big-time receiver money, based off of his last three seasons, with the price tag being in the neighborhood of $13-$15M per season.
If the team cannot work out a contract that works for both sides, then they will undoubtedly slap Thomas with the franchise tag, which is estimated to be about $12.8 million for the 2015 season. Ironically, that would actually be cheaper than what Thomas is expected to get in a free agent deal.
Verdict: At the end of the day, Thomas will be a Bronco in 2015.
Many believe that Green was the team's MVP for the 2014 season -- an assessment I have no problem with. In games where Green played 20 snaps or more, the team was 6-0, but when he played under 20 snaps, the team was 5-2 and without him in the lineup, the Broncos were 1-2.
The caveat here is the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, where Green had his worst game of the season, along with the rest of the offense. He the team's best hope for a dual-threat TE -- one who can block and catch.
Verdict: Green is a fit at the tight end position in Kubiak's offense. He was valuable to the team in 2014 and his 2015 price tag should be very affordable. He will likely be a Bronco in 2015.
Franklin was the team's best offensive lineman in 2014, which is more of an indictment on the state of the Broncos offensive line, than a compliment of Franklin's play. The line consisted of a left tackle coming back from a season ending injury, a free agent backup center, the starting center moved to right guard and an All-Pro right guard switched to right tackle. Nothing to phone home about. Franklin, of course, made the switch from right tackle to left guard for the 2014 season and finished the year as the NFL's third-most penalized guard.
Verdict: This is a toss up. Does the coaching staff view Franklin as an RT or as a LG in the zone blocking scheme? Most people believe that Franklin is a power blocker and doesn't fit the scheme, but stranger things have happened. If the coaches see the fit and the dollar amount works, Franklin could be back. He's made it clear he wants to remain in Denver.
Many fans are fed up with Thomas' act. He's a guy that catches a lot of touchdowns, but doesn't do much else. He's an awful blocker, a questionable route runner and seems to lack true grit.
That being said, he still caught 12 touchdown passes last year. Thomas is a phenomenal athlete, but there's no doubt that his back-to-back seasons of prolific production have more to do with who's throwing him the ball, than his own individual merit.
Verdict: Thomas coming back is contingent on what happens with Demaryius Thomas. If Demaryius is franchise tagged, I don't see Julius being retained. If Demaryius receives a long-term deal, I can see the team possibly using the franchise tag on Julius. However, at the end of the day, Thomas' future prospects with the team beyond 2015 seem grim.
Welker's production dropped off this past season. There are a few reasons for his decline, including his age, as well as the team having other targets to rely on. Welker still had a big impact on the offense and put up numbers more typical to the fourth target on a team.
Verdict: Welker likely won't be back. If he wants to win a Super Bowl and is willing to take around the veteran minimum, then he can potentially return, as Denver will continue to be his best chance to win. But Kubiak's system doesn't have much use for 3 wide receiver sets and slot guys.
Tamme was dogged by injuries for most of this past season. When he was healthy, he was plagued by inconsistency and not just a couple of uncatchable balls. Tamme is a plus as a special teams player, but seemingly a diminished tight end who can't block.
Verdict: Tamme is another guy whose performance warrants the veteran minimum. He's a great locker room presence, a solid special teams player and a serviceable third tight end. If Tamme is offered more elsewhere, I can see him taking that, but that is unlikely.
Montgomery was signed to a one-year deal last off-season to be the backup at center. He ended up taking the starting job midway through the season and outperformed his predecessor, Manny Ramirez.
Verdict: Having been a starter in Mike Shanahan's offense with the Washington Redskins, Montgomery is a fit for the zone blocking scheme. Unfortunately for him, this experience might not benefit him as the team is reportedly already making other plans at center.
Garland has had an interesting ride in the NFL. He was a fan favorite from the start as a former Air Force Falcon. He left the team to fulfill his Air Force duties and was moved to offensive guard, from defensive end upon his return. He played sparingly in 2014, and mostly as a special teams player.
Verdict: Garland can very possibly be back. He will receive nothing more than the veteran minimum if he does return and will have to prove that he can fit in the zone blocking scheme.
Cornick is a backup right tackle and a serviceable sixth lineman in jumbo sets. Cornick started three games at right tackle and struggled for the most part.
Verdict: Cornick will be in training camp. As an ERFA (exclusive rights free agent) his salary will be modest and the team can cut ties without any financial repercussions before the season.
The Denver Broncos still have a ton of talent on the roster, to go along with a ton of cap space. If Peyton Manning returns, they will reload and compete for the much elusive Lombardi Trophy.
Tomorrow we take a look at defensive free agents.