With a roster that will be trimmed down from its current 90 players to just 53, the Denver Broncos will be making some tough decisions in the coming days. Roster cuts always consist of a mix of older, veteran players who are looking to stick on team for one more season, and rookie free agents who need more development.
In these upcoming days and weeks, the dream of some NFL players will be cut short or, at the very least, will have to find new life with another team. The Broncos are no different than other teams who will be making hard and fast choices in the coming weeks. When the first rounds of roster cuts are announced, there will be eyebrows raised over some of the names on the Broncos’ list and on the unemployment line.
1. Jordan Norwood, WR
Norwood will go down both in the annals of NFL and Broncos history as the owner of the longest punt return in Super Bowl history, covering 61 yards. In returning from a serious injury that wiped out his 2014 season, Norwood proved to be a capable slot receiver in addition to returning punts during the playoff run that ended in a Super Bowl win.
Denver boasts considerable talent in their wide receiver corps, but the team still thought enough of Norwood to bring him back on a one-year deal, despite the seventh-year player garnering interest from the New York Jets and Detroit Lions. With Peyton Manning gone to retirement, his offense follows with him, which is to the detriment of a player like Norwood.
Last year under the hybrid offense devised under Manning and Gary Kubiak, it played to the 5-time NFL MVP's strengths to have a slot receiver who could work the shorter, intermediate routes. This year, in moving to an offensive philosophy that will feature more double tight end sets and demand more blocking from its receivers, the scheme does not fit what Norwood does well.
Norwood is a fine receiver and still has plenty to offer any NFL team, but with seeing less of him on the field during preseason and the rise of young wideouts like Bennie Fowler and Jordan Taylor in the passing game, in addition to undrafted rookies Bralon Addison and Kaliff Raymond in the mix for the punt return job, Norwood may not be a scheme fit for Denver for this season.
2. Juwan Thompson, RB/FB
Thompson, on any other team with a talent deficit at running back, could be a featured runner, racking up great production along the way. He's a physical, downhill runner with good speed for a back his size, Thompson is the victim of circumstance.
In limited action during the past two seasons, Thompson has shown well in spots, most notably against the Buffalo Bills a couple of seasons ago, racing for a 50-plus yard gain in spelling a dinged up C.J. Anderson. If you include his work on the special teams unit, Thompson is a jack-of-all-trades player that every team looks for—someone who can fill multiple roles within a team and do all of them well.
What hurts Thompson’s chances of making this year’s Broncos roster is, while he’s solid in several areas, he’s not a game-changer in any of them either. Thompson is a good running back, but he hasn’t been good enough to unseat Ronnie Hillman or Kapri Bibbs ahead of him, nor has he shown the same type of potential in moving to fullback behind the recently drafted Andy Janovich.
This Broncos team is loaded with pass rushers and wideouts that would easily find work with another team should Denver let them go in favor of keeping Thompson. On the flip side, with Denver moving more towards Kubiak’s zone blocking scheme, finding capable running backs among the college free agent ranks makes Thompson even more expendable. While most pundits believe that Thompson makes the final roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were shown the door soon.
3. Garrett Graham, TE
It wasn’t that long ago that Graham was a productive player under Gary Kubiak. In 2013, the last year that Kubiak would be the head coach of the Houston Texans, Graham would tally 49 catches for 545 yards and five touchdowns—respectable totals for many tight ends in the league today. In signing with Denver this offseason, Graham appeared to land in familiar surroundings that would allow him to continue to be a productive player, rather than the one that languished under Coach Bill O'Brien.
In a couple of short weeks, Graham has gone from second team tight end behind Jeff Heuerman and Virgil Green, to sustaining an injury and not seeing the field during the team’s last two preseason games. If you factor in that recent signee John Phillips and young rookie Henry Krieger-Coble have seized this opportunity to play well in his absence, it forces the team to make a hard decision.
Graham was brought in to bolster a thin group at tight end and through his own injury, an opportunity was created for equally-equipped players who may have taken his roster spot. A cruel bit of irony.
4. Mark Sanchez, QB
Mark Sanchez did not see any action during the Broncos 17-9 preseason win over the Los Angeles Rams, giving way to both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. There has already been rampant speculation, and some reports, that with the pick going to Philadelphia in the trade for Sanchez being conditional upon him being on the Denver roster, Denver might possibly want to part ways with him.
Many of you reading this are throwing up your hands and saying “Amen” at the thought of not having to suffer through the mistake of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is a lot of things but being a great decision maker isn’t always one of those things that shows through. However, both Siemian and Lynch have a combined zero regular season NFL throws. It may not be prudent to just discard a veteran quarterback who's had some success.
In his short time with Denver, Sanchez has proved that he is a capable backup and not much more, but with inexperienced signal-callers in front of and behind him, it would be hasty on the part of Denver to let him go just to recoup a seventh round pick.
5. Britton Colquitt, P
Colquitt knows his time in Denver could be coming to a close. The Broncos invested a seventh round pick this year in a punter—Riley Dixon. Colquitt is an above average NFL punter, but the Broncos don't plan on paying their punter $4 million this year.
The team could save $3.25 million on the salary cap if they cut Colquitt. They've already asked him to take another pay-cut.
Dixon has mostly acquitted himself well in this year's preseason. He excels at directional punting but needs to consistently put more air under his punts.
Dixon played the entire third preseason game. The Broncos got a good look at him as both the punter and place-holder for Brandon McManus. If Colquitt accepts a pay-cut, he'll likely remain a Bronco. If not, hello, Dixon.
Playing in the NFL means constant competition. It's a war of attrition where the strongest and the fastest rise to the top. It should be said that all of the above are good professional players and hopefully will find work with another team where their talents can be put to better use.
It is unfortunate that, despite all the hard work and dedication that goes into making a NFL roster, some players will be updating their resumes with the title of “former Denver Bronco” sooner rather than later.
Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.
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