Free agency is right around the corner and starts at 2pm MST on Tuesday, March 10th. On Saturday, teams started their three-day legal tampering phase, where player agents can begin to negotiate, but players can’t visit, or officially make offers or sign players, unless they are street free agents.
According to reports the Broncos have talked to agents of a few players, but their asking price seems out of the team's range. With the Broncos looking to spend cheaply and wisely in free agency this year, they may look to some on-roster players to fill certain holes. Those holes are, left guard, center, right tackle, tight end, slot wide receiver, both defensive end positions, and safety. I will also touch on nose tackle, inside linebacker and rush linebackers, which I do not view as needs and will explain why.
First up is the center position. Most fans are talking about Rodney Hudson from Kansas City, Steve Wisniewski from Oakland, Chris Myers, formerly from Houston (only street free agent) and Will Montgomery from Denver. Montgomery, Wisniewski and Hudson are all unrestricted free agents and cannot officially sign until Tuesday. Myers can sign as you’re reading this, since he was cut from his contract and considered a street free agent.
However, from reports, the Broncos coaching staff really likes 2014 sixth round draft pick Matt Paradis. He fits the scheme well and in limited preseason action last year, he looked good. He spent the season on the practice squad.
If the price tags are too high on the four free agents, Paradis can step in and handle the center duties. Then comes the concern of depth at the position. I would expect Denver to sign one of the four free agents. Hudson's price seems to have skyrocketed, so he will likely be out and Wisniewski probably will be as well.
A veteran like Myers or Montgomery, who both have experience in a zone blocking scheme, make a ton of sense, as long as it is at the right price. Signing a veteran would give Paradis more time to grow and potentially take over the center position in the future.
The pickings are slim in free agency, but the Broncos have Ben Garland. They tagged him as an ERFA (exclusive-rights free agent), which means he will be back in Denver next year. A zone-block scheme is a great fit for the smaller, former defensive lineman.
The Broncos could still target a few players who are on the open market to compete with Garland, but Garland has flashed potential when given the chance. Left guard is not a position they have to open their pocket books for. Instead, they can sign a cheaper veteran, use Garland and/or draft a mid-round guard in the NFL draft.
The right tackle market is drying up fast, but there are some still available. Ryan Harris and Jeremy Parnell both come to mind and both have experience in a zone-block scheme, and have done well therin. However, the Broncos used a third round selection on Michael Schofield in the 2014 NFL draft. He spent the season on the gameday inactive list, however.
It is unclear if Schofield's inactivity was due to John Fox not trusting rookies or if Schofield was performing that badly in practice. He was drafted to play either right tackle or left guard, and he might get a look at both positions this offeseason.
Like Paradis, it is reported that the coaching staff really likes Schofield. If they like him as much as reported, then they should roll with him, instead of signing someone outside the organization, besides a cheap veteran backup or drafting one in the mid-rounds of the draft.
Right tackle is a very popular pick among fans for the first round, but odds are none will be there at pick No. 28 who fit the scheme. Plus, there are a good group of zone-blocking right tackles in rounds two-five that Denver can pick up at a value.
Who does Denver have on-roster that can step in there? The only tight end they have under contract for next season is Dominique Jones. They have an offer out there for Virgil Green, which he is mulling over, and the Broncos reportedly have interest in Jordan Cameron. Hopefully, they can bring Green back in the fold, and pass on Cameron.
Julius Thomas was a below-average blocker and an injury risk. Cameron is an even worse blocker and a bigger injury risk, with multiple concussions over the last few years. This is a bigger need than many realize it is, especially with Gary Kubiak now in charge, who runs a lot of two-tight-end sets.
They don’t have to spend big at tight end, but they can find value. They can also look to the draft to find a tight end to replace Thomas. Tight end is one of the few positions where there is no viable option on-roster for the Broncos.
This one is easy. Don’t expect the Broncos to re-sign Wes Welker. Mainly, this position is covered up by scheme. With more 22 personnel (two tight ends and two backs) being used under Kubiak, they won’t use a slot receiver much. When they do go to three-wide-receiver sets, they can slide Emmanuel Sanders inside and have Cody Latimer take the outside, or they can use Jordan Norwood, if he recovers well enough from his ACL injury.
Like tight end, this next position is a bigger concern than many think. Right now, the Broncos have only two 3-4 defensive ends under contract for next year, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. The need is for depth and potential future players, as both Wolfe and Jackson are set to hit free agency a year from now.
There are a good amount of options in the draft, and even some cheap options in free agency. Bringing back Mitch Unrein would be a smart depth move. He can play at either end position, primarily behind Wolfe and even sub in at nose tackle, but more on that aspect later.
The Broncos went out and signed T.J. Ward last year, but are looking at losing Rahim Moore in free agency this year. The Broncos do have options in David Bruton and were reportedly interested in moving cornerback Kayvon Webster to safety.
If they do and Webster does well, they are set at free safety, however, they still will lack depth at strong safety. The Broncos should look to add a veteran free safety, someone like Daniel Manning, and young depth at strong safety, preferably through the draft. Bruton stepped up on defense late last year as the third safety, but he is so vital for special teams that he shouldn’t be a full time defensive starter.
Many fans have misconceptions that the Broncos have needs at a few positions that they in fact are set at. First up is nose tackle. Under Wade Phillips, the Broncos will employ a single-gap slant 3-4 defensive front as their base package, instead of the traditional two-gap system.
The difference is, in two gap systems, the nose tackle is responsible for both A-gaps--the hole between the center's shoulders and both guards inside shoulder. In this style, bigger, stronger nose tackles are needed as they have to sit back, read the play and then react. But this is not what Phillips employs in his scheme.
Phillips runs the previously mentioned one-gap slant system. This means the nose tackle is responsible for only one of the two A-gaps. Instead of sitting back, reading and reacting, the nose tackle has to be small, quick, agile and athletic enough to shoot the gap off of the snap.
The other gap falls upon the linebackers to fill. So the Broncos don’t need those big Vince Wilfork,Terrance Knighton, Haloti Ngata-types. What they need are Jay Ratliff, Shaun Cody, Earl Mitchell-type of players and they have two on-roster in Sylvester Williams and Marvin Austin, both of whom are about 20-25 pounds heavier than nose tackles previously under Phillips, so they may be asked to drop some weight.
Both Williams and Austin showed promise when they were used to shoot a single gap this past season, but with Williams, he was not asked to do that often. Instead, he was asked to eat space, wait, read, then react to the play, something that is not his strong suit.
A one-gap system is what got Williams selected in the first round, so going back to it may finally bring out the potential. As for Austin, he also used a one-gap system in college and did really well (both of these players went to North Carolina). In Denver, Austin was used in the way Williams was.
Both of these players can handle the nose tackle responsibilities in Phillips' 3-4 front. Denver should look to add to the rotation with either a cheap free agent or a draft pick. This is where Mitch Unrein comes in. He fits the mold as a typical Phillips nose tackle, and can be used as such.
He has the skill set to play both left defensive end and nose tackle, which makes him valuable depth. In the draft, someone like Grady Jarrett out of Clemson makes a ton of sense. He was used in a hybrid front, but always was a one-gap system. He was primarily used as a 0 or 1-technique, which is the nose tackle.
Now, for inside linebacker, everyone screams size. However, Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are both less than three pounds lighter than the average 3-4 inside linebacker (Trevathan is less than a pound). They both can handle the responsibilities, due to their skills-set.
Behind them, the Broncos have Todd Davis, Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, all of whom were rookies last year. Davis grew as the games went on and he got more playing time. Barrow and Nelson are both question marks moving forward.
Could the Broncos use some depth? Yes, of course they can, but they have two starters, and a solid backup, if Davis continues to grow, and some questions marks. However, it is not a position they are in desperate need of to where they have to spend big in free agency, or reach in the draft. Also, a rookie, no matter when he's drafted, is just as big of a question mark as Nelson and Barrow.
Last up is the rush linebacker positions. With the switch to a 3-4 front, Denver has their two starters in place, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Beyond them are some question marks in Lerentee McCray, Quanterus Smith, Shaquill Barrett and Kenny Anunike.
Smith and Anunike both may be asked to add some pounds and stay as 3-4 defensive ends, or just be stood up as rush linebackers. Barrett and McCray are both natural rush linebackers and, if they can step up, possibly provide good depth. This is a position the Broncos really should not spend on in free agency.
If they want to add depth, they should look to the draft, which is ripe with rushers. Someone like Lorenzo Mauldin would be an excellent fit in the third round. However, as mentioned previously, a rookie is just as big of a question mark as Smith, McCray, Anunike and Barrett.
While rush linebacker isn’t a need, a team can always use pass rushers to help keep players fresh. The Broncos have a good amount on-roster, with some of them left unmentioned, to compete for 4 or 5 spots on the 53-man roster. Adding another would stoke the competition and help bring out the best in each other. A lot of responsibility falls upon the coaching staff to put it all together.
Jeremy Parnell is reportedly signing with Jacksonville and Rodney Hudson is signing for big money with Oakland.
FREE AGENCY POSITIONAL PREVIEWS
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Tight end |
Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker |
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback
SCOUT.COM FREE AGENT RANKINGS
Position: QB RB FB WR TE OT OG C DT DE OLB MLB S CB K P LS