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.
Knighton is a fan favorite in Denver, and followed up his breakout 2013 season with another solid campaign. There are a couple of issues with Knighton -- the first coming with his loyalty to Jack Del Rio. Knighton came to Denver, in large part, due to the presence of JDR as the team's defensive coordinator.
Knighton has been at his best under Del Rio and has said he "wants to be where Jack is" in the past. The second issue is Knighton's playing weight, as it has been reported that he was playing around 50 pounds overweight and had racked up an unprecedented $300,000 in weight related fines.
However, with the Broncos moving to a 3-4 defense under Wade Phillips, they need a behemoth nose guard and Knighton fits that bill.
Verdict: This one is a toss up. Knighton has said he is willing to accept a hometown discount, but has also said he wants to play under Del Rio who is now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. If the Broncos have interest and the dollars are right, it is very possible remains in Denver, but he can just as easily become a Raider.
When Irving went down with a season-ending knee injury during the season, it abruptly stopped what was turning out to be not only a very solid season for the inside linebacker, but a breakout one. Irving has come back from injury before -- a gruesome car crash, in which he battled for his life. He returned from that and I have no doubt that he will return from this setback.
Verdict: Irving still fits with the team in the 3-4. His price tag after three lackluster seasons will likely be low. All of this leads me to believe that Irving will be back in orange and blue in 2015.
Marshall, like Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard, flourished when inserted into the starting lineup as the weakside linebacker in Jack Del Rio's defense. Marshall can play all over the field and wore the green dot on his helmet during the season, signifying the play-call radio.
Verdict: Marshall isn't going anywhere. He could play the "Mo" inside linebacker spot for Phillips and maybe the "Mike". As an ERFA (exclusive rights free agent), he will be back with the team in 2015.
Moore has had an up and down tenure as a Bronco. He is not the toughest safety in the league, nor does he have to be as a free safety. He finished 2014 with one more missed tackle than Seattle's Earl Thomas and more defensive stops than Philadelphia's Nate Allen and New England's Devin McCourty.
Contrary to popular belief, Moore fills his role and fills it adequately. But he's doesn't make game-changing plays. Moore also allowed only 3 touchdowns this season -- one more than McCourty and Thomas each allowed this season. He does not need to be a run stopper or a thumper. He does need to improve on the angles he takes and his awareness, which is something he can do.
Verdict: It has been reported that he was playing at 180lbs this past season; much lighter than he has been in seasons past. If Moore's contract expectations are right there with his realistic market value, he will remain a Denver Bronco. If he chases the largest offer, he could be gone, but I don't see another team offering Moore anything above what the Broncos will be willing to give him.
Carter's promising career has spiraled into the abyss, after a season-ending injury for the third straight year. Before his injury, Carter was up and down in 2014, but he was running with the first-team big nickel unit.
Verdict: Carter may get a one year veteran minimum deal, at best. It could be in Denver, or it could be somewhere else. But John Elway values him, as a member of his maiden draft class.
Carter continued his fall from grace in Denver, playing only 87 snaps this past season. Teams had interest in trading for Carter at the trade deadline, yet the Broncos held onto him, fearing an injury to the defensive backfield.
Verdict: Carter is a RFA (restricted free agent), so I would not be surprised to see the team place an original round tender on Carter, which would be valued at $1.431M. The Broncos saw value in him at the trade deadline and may want to keep the "Sticky Man" around another year. Unfortunately for Carter, the original round tender is more than the team should be willing to pay.
Johnson saw his first significant time with the defense as a result of the Irving injury. Unfortunately, his playing time on defense proved to be a liability to the team.
Verdict: Johnson is a solid special teams player, but proved he cannot be relied on when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Johnson, like Carter, is also a RFA, and may be offered an original round tender, but don't hold your breath. Johnson is replaceable and the team already has younger options on the roster in Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson.
Unrein is well liked in the locker room and is a fan favorite. However, he played only 46 defensive snaps this season, a career low.
Verdict: Unrein is a victim of a deeper and more talented roster. He may be back, but it is unlikely.
Youboty suffered what was seemingly a minor injury during training camp. The Broncos decided to place him on injured reserve and retain his rights for the 2015 season.
Verdict: Youboty is a young defender with upside. He is an ERFA and will be with the Broncos for training camp, at the very least.
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.
Next week we take a look at free agent fits.